The Proper Dairy Company is producing halloumi cheese at its base in Clonmel, Co Tipperary, in what is the first venture of its kind to take place in Ireland.
Omar Haqqi who is originally from Jordan is the brains behind the initiative — the wheels of which were set in motion last year thanks to
The programme is a government-supported accelerator programme that provides a launchpad for scalable and export driven Irish food and drink businesses to grow and is run by Bord Bia in conjunction with Enterprise Ireland and Teagasc.
Its supports include consumer market research, business plan development, technical advice, and commercial viability testing.
Successful applicants can gain fast-track access to research and development (R&D) facilities, potential investors and State funding.
Food production represents 12.3% of total export revenue in Ireland, and the industry is projected to be worth €19bn by 2025.
Meanwhile, the focus of the Proper Dairy Company is to become Ireland’s first efficient producer of halloumi cheese and added value halloumi cheese products.
The business manufactures halloumi cheese that promises to combine efficient production and artisanship. It is a cheese that is made farmhouse style with the full profile of the milk intact and a method of cheese production no longer feasible or carried out by most commercial or large-scale producers.
“We want to bring this experience back to the market and offer consumers an unbeatable culinary experience,” Omar told the.
“We also produce a market-first chilled halloumi breaded cheese stick product and a halloumi burger patty.”
It was towards the end of last year when Omar’s product got the break its producers had been waiting for.
Dunnes Stores has since invited them to be listed on their ‘Simply better’ range of products and the Proper Dairy Company is planning to launch its own direct distribution channels in Munster later this year.
But, the effort came about by chance, and it was only when Omar lost his job in 2019 that he realised the potential that was available to him.
“I was considering different options and then I thought about doing a small pet project for myself where I would make some cheese for the Mediterranean community here in Ireland,” he said.
“People suggested to me that I should make a cheese that is more widely accepted like halloumi.
“The techniques and methods to making that particular cheese are actually similar to ones that I was using.
“One thing led to another and after carrying out some market research on the demand for halloumi I sent out some emails and we got a reply from Sheridans Cheesemongers.
“They invited us to meet with the buying team at Dunnes Stores in November 2020 — this was like a dream come true for us — and they have a big interest in our cheese now.
And, it was the Food Works Programme that encouraged doors to open for the Proper Dairy Company.
“It was like an incubator for food startups and it was a perfect match for our company; we were at the development stage and the programme was specially designed for small companies like us,” said Omar.
“It helped us with branding, finance, and planning and all of that was really helpful to us at that particular stage of development.
“And, most particularly, it started opening doors for us — that I think was the most valuable thing.”
He says too that his base in Clonmel puts him at the very heart of food production in Ireland.
“One advantage is that all of the milk produced in Ireland is grass-fed and that is a massive bonus to the production of good halloumi cheese.
“We are focusing on selling our product as grass-fed halloumi and if we succeed with that then we will have very interesting times ahead.
“These types of cheeses are being made in France, Germany and in parts of the UK but not in Ireland and we believe there is a market right here in Ireland for this, so we are tapping into that.
“Sheep and goat farms could expand by becoming involved with our company as well because we blend three types of milk including a lot of sheep and goats milk.
“There is also scope for the export market and of course we are reducing the need for importing halloumi into Ireland if we are making it here ourselves.”