Hard graft sees Kevin and Liz feted by the food industry

A couple have received a top food award a year after setting up their business, writes Majella Flynn.

A family-run dairy in West Cork has won two gold awards for its milk and cream at the prestigious Blas na hÉireann Irish Food Awards — just a little more than a year after it was established.

Gloun Cross Dairy, set up by Kevin and Liz O’Donovan on the family farm near Dunmanway, produces and supplies pasteurised, non-homogenised fresh milk and double cream to shops, supermarkets, restaurants, hotels, and homes all around West Cork.

Both the products and the production processes of the dairy are distinctive, and its special selling points are not lost on a growing list of customers.

“We milk our own cows and bottle all our own milk. It’s not homogenised, it’s the old-style milk. You’ll have cream on top of the bottle in the morning, same as before,” says Kevin.

“A lot of coffee shops like our milk because it is not homogenised. They have no trouble clotting the milk for the coffees, the old-style milk will froth for the cappuccinos. It makes a big difference to them.”

Kevin says that there is a big demand for the dairy’s double cream across the country, especially from hotels.

“Hotels from around the country look for the double cream. It’s completely different to what they are used to. It’s the old-time full cream; milk isn’t added to it, so it whips a lot faster, and it’s a completely different taste and different texture. A lot of them use it to make ice-cream.”

And the dairy is doing its bit for the environment, supplying its full, low-fat and skimmed milk in glass bottles, and at the same time meeting customer demand.

Kevin says: “People love to go back to glass again. They return the glass bottles to us and we reuse them.”

Kevin and Liz set up Gloun Cross Dairy in June 2016.

Having sold their milk to the local co-op for many years, the husband-and-wife team turned into reality their long-held idea of setting up their own dairy and selling their milk in a different way.

It was the low milk price over a period of two to three years that was the trigger.

“We were thinking about the dairy idea for a long time. Then, we started it because the price of milk was so poor. We have a small farm, and we thought that surely there was another way to sell what we were producing,” says Kevin.

“You have to wait for the right time. These things can be just a gamble, it’s a different way of selling, and it’s a different product,” he says.

Kevin and Liz have put a huge amount of work into developing their business and, in a short space of time, getting it to a level that has seen it win two prestigious awards.

They constructed a purpose-built dairy on the family farm, learned how to pasteurise and bottle their own milk, dealt with all the red tape that goes with setting up a business, and ensured that they met a raft of stringent food safety regulations.

“It’s hard at the start. When you start from scratch, you’ve nothing, and have to build from that,” says Kevin.

“There are very few in the country doing what we’re doing, selling milk ourselves. We had to go to England and Scotland to get the equipment for the dairy. There’s so much involved in getting set up; there’s a lot of hurdles, getting over the red tape, building a plant and making sure everything is right.”

The dairy is subject to Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine inspections and controls that are implemented to verify that it maintains quality and safety standards. The level of inspections is greater than that of a conventional dairy farm supplying milk to a co-op.

“There are a lot of extra inspections. We have testing ongoing the whole time. The Department of Agriculture comes to us regularly to take samples, and we are taking samples ourselves,” says Kevin. Also the local creamery samples the milk surplus that Kevin supplies to it.

Two gold awards were achieved, for Gloun Cross Dairy Farm Fresh Milk and Gloun Cross Dairy Double Cream, at the tenth Blas na hÉireann Irish Food Awards. These are the biggest food awards competition for quality Irish produce on the island of Ireland, held in Dingle, Co Kerry, with over 400 finalists competing.

“It was our first time competing in the awards, we got gold in the two categories, and we were delighted. The Blas awards are well recognised and well organised,” says Kevin.

“It’s good too for the restaurants that we supply, it gives them assurance and a boost as well. They like to see that happening too.”

Kevin sees the awards also as a reward for the work that the family has put into the dairy, saying that his children Eabha and Caolan are very interested. “It’s nice for all the family. Our two children are involved and do a lot of work, so it’s good for them to get a reward as well.”

Gloun Cross Dairy can now use the Blas award logo on its milk and cream products and, according to Blas na hÉireann, the logo is a guarantee of a top-quality Irish product and encourages consumers to buy that product.

In the time since Kevin and Liz started the dairy, the price of milk being offered by the co-ops has risen. Kevin says: “This year the prices are good, they have improved a lot. But people would want two or three years of good prices to get over the three years that were bad.”

Now the focus is on building his market, continuing to produce and supply a top-class product and keeping his customers happy.

“Our biggest aim is to keep the product right and keep our customers. We’re not intending to grow madly, we’re not aiming to cover the whole country. There is a big population in West Cork, with tourist towns, and there are a lot of good shops there stocking local products, and we are lucky to have them.”

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