Award-winning cheese producers target expansion in British market

CHEESE producers Helen and Robert Finnegan of Knockdrinna Farmhouse Cheese are expanding the distribution of their award-winning cheeses in Britain.

Having won the Supreme Champion award at the British Cheese Awards for its Kilree Goats cheese a few days ago, Kilkenny-based Knockdrinna was contacted yesterday by distributors for the John Lewis retail group to supply products to its chain of speciality stores throughout England.

Knockdrinna joint owner Helen Finnegan said: “We are working on the opportunities as quickly as we can. An award win like this can quickly become old news.

“We’ve have been trying to expand into England. We’re already in some independent stores and high-end delis, so it’s great that we’ve just had a call to supply the John Lewis stores,” she said.

“We have been setting up distribution and sales links for the past few days. It’s all a bit terrifying and exciting at the same time.

“Bord Bia have been great in helping with networking and publicity. The UK already has a huge variety of cheeses, so you really have to try to have something that stands out from the crowd.”

Helen and Robert were delighted with the Supreme Champion award. Kilree Farmhouse Cheese, a homemade goat’s cheese, wowed the judges, an esteemed panel of cheese experts, food writers, chefs and culinary figures.

Helen Finnegan said: “For us, this win is huge. It just opens the door to the UK market and allows us to trade to independents and big supermarkets.

“We anticipate that the cheese will be available for the Christmas market. It’s amazing how many people love cheese. This is a real celebration for cheese-making,” she said.

Knockdrinna Farmhouse Cheese has been making cheese since 2004 at a farm in Stoneyford, Co Kilkenny. Kilree Goats cheese was part of the cheeseboard served to Queen Elizabeth at the state banquet in Dublin Castle earlier this year.

Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney was also quick to congratulate the Finnegans. Noting that a further 30 Irish cheeses enjoyed success at the awards, he said a record total of 905 cheeses were entered into this year’s British Cheese Awards.

The production of farmhouse cheese in Ireland experienced a revival and now has some 50 farmhouse cheese-makers with an estimated turnover of €12 million in Artisan and speciality foods.

Seeking out local food experiences has risen on the agenda of visiting tourists with the market for food tourism in Ireland valued at €2.2 billion.

Mr Coveney said: “I am extremely proud of the recognition of the new Kilree Goats cheese from Knockdrinna. I hope that this recognition will successfully launch your products into new retailers and suppliers. ”

Irish farmhouse cheese plays a fundamental role in the growth and development of Ireland’s artisan dairy sector.

From its beginnings, only 30 years ago, the sector has grown to encompass 47 producers and over 127 individual cheese types.

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