Ireland’s biggest farmhouse cheese-maker has just got bigger. The Cashel Blue dairy that has been churning out cheese by the barrel for the best part of 30 years hit a ceiling a few years ago in terms of the volume it could produce. At that time, the dairy was producing five tonnes of cheese a week.
However, that is all set to change following a €6m investment in a new dairy that was opened last week.
Designed by family member and heritage architect Brian Grubb, the Grubb family hopes to eventually double production to 500t a year.
It’s a far cry from that day in 1984 when Jane Grubb cut her first Cashel Blue curds in her mother-in-law’s copper preserving pan in the kitchen of Beechmount House and then matured it in their earthen floor cellar.
Jane had been experimenting with several different types of cheese since she and her husband, Louis, had decided to move back to the family farm in Co Tipperary in 1978.
Louis had spent the previous years studying agriculture and botany and working as an agricultural adviser in the west of Ireland.
When he returned home, the farm was still being run as a mixed enterprise, with a few hens, pigs and a range of livestock.
Deciding to heed the advice he had been dishing out to farmers for the best part of a decade, Louis set about establishing a dairy herd.
Using her experience garnered during her time as a chef, Jane set about capturing the fresh, rich and creamy qualities of the farm’s milk and experimenting with different styles of cheeses.
Despite morphing into a business with an annual turnover of €2.5m over the years, the enterprise remained true to its farmhouse credentials. Indeed, the company’s phone continued to ring directly into Jane and Louis’s kitchen until late last year.
The new dairy is located just a stone’s throw from the farmhouse and the Grubb’s continue to pride themselves on the fact that the company remains family owned and operated.
Jane and Louis’s daughter, Sarah, along with her husband, Sergio, have now taken over the day-to-day management of the business.
In addition, Ireland’s only blue sheep-milk cheese, Crozier Blue, is also made at the Grubb’s premises with milk from a flock belonging to their cousins, the Clifton-Browns.
The Grubbs are also proud of the fact that the average length of service among their 25 employees is more than eight years.
More than 50pc of the cheese is exported, mostly to Britain and the USA, although there is growing interest in the product in France, Italy and Germany.
The cheese is available in SuperValu, Superquinn, Tesco and Dunnes Stores, as well as through cheesemongers Sheridans and Lago’s in Cork.
Speaking at the opening of the new facility, Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney said: “Cashel Blue fits so well with the Harvest 2020 targets for the milk sector and for specialty foods.
“The Grubb family are to be congratulated on their vision and commitment to achieving their plans. I am particularly pleased to see completion of an important project supported under the Dairy Investment Fund, which is operated by Enterprise Ireland with funding from my Department.”
Cashel Blue was the first softer-style blue cheese to be made in Ireland or Britain. In latter years, this style of cheese has become popular and is now a cheese category in its own right called Modern British Blues.
In turn, this has spawned increased competition for the Grubb family, but Cashel Blue continues to hold a premium position in the market, winning its third consecutive gold at the Nantwich International Cheese Awards in the summer.(September, 2011)
– Darragh McCullough
The Association of Farmhouse Cheesemakers
During the late 1970’s a few enterprising dairy farmers commenced making farmhouse cheese. For at least a quarter of a century before this cheese-making in Ireland had been exclusively confined to large scale factory production mainly concentrating on cheddar production and mainly owned by the dairy cooperatives. One exception to this was a small scale production operated by the Franciscan Missionaries of Mosy at Lough Glynn in Co. Roscommon. However, even they had ceased producing cheese by the late 1970’s, by 1983 there was a small number of farmers successfully producing a range of cheeses between them. The National Dairy Council which has responsibility for promotion of dairy produce in Ireland realised the potential of Farmhouse cheese production and facilitated the forming of the Irish Farmhouse Cheese-makers Association in 1983 and helped its development in the earlier years. Among those initial founding members were the following all of whom continue to produce cheese to this day:
- The Steele family who produce Milleens.
- The Willems family who produce Coolea.
- Jeffa Gill who produces Durrus.
- The Berridge family who produce Carrigbyrne.
- The Ferguson family who produce Gubbeen.
- The Brodie family who produce Boilie.
- The Maher family who produce Cooleeney.
- Bill Hogan and Sean Ferry who produce Gabriel and Desmond.
Cheeses & other founding members have either subsequently ceased production or sold on their businesses.
Combining creativity and innovation with respect for traditional craft simplicity, Irish cheesemakers are at the forefront of a new and diverse culture. Their cheese offers the complex world of international retailing and foodservice a simple product which appeals to today’s consumer. Traceability of Irish farmhouse cheese extends not just to a region, but family, to a small valley, even to the slopes of a mountain. Irish farmhouse cheese gives you an opportunity to offer a food to your customers which encapsulates the essence of the brand that is Ireland her lifestyle and her pleasant environment. Give your customers a taste of the salty winds of the atlantic, the soft rain on mountain slopes, the lush grasses of the hills and valleys, the delicate wild herbs growing in rocky fields, the wild and the gentle Ireland.
Bord Bia has recently produced a guide and wall chart for the Irish Farmhouse Cheese sector. The guide includes useful background information on Ireland’s farmhouse cheesemakers along with descriptors for each of the cheeses and references to seasonality, where applicable.
The wall chart was designed to accompany the booklet and is ideal for foodservice and specialist retailers. It is intended that the guide and wall chart will act as educational tools for industry.
To order a hard copy or for bulk orders please email Eimear O’Donnell –[email protected]