Dromara couple are cream of the crop as Fortnum & Mason joins Heston in placing order for their handrolled butter
You might think this would be the worst time in the world to launch an artisan food product – but the Abernethys can prove you wrong.
They have only been producing handrolled butter at their sleepy Dromara farm for the last few years, but now they are set to start supplying swanky Piccadilly store Fortnum & Mason just months after winning a deal to provide butter to Heston Blumenthal's restaurant, The Fat Duck, in Berkshire.
Even more amazingly, they've achieved this deal with a business that is based purely around the hard work of husband and wife team Will and Allison Abernethy – and Allison is fitting the work in around her 32-hour a week day job as a nurse.
The small company is the only manufacturer of handchurned butter in Northern Ireland and came into being after Allison's dad Norman Kerr began creating handchurned and rolled butter on his farm for a charity event in 2000.
Allison told the Belfast Telegraph: "He was a farmer all his life and he knew how to do all that and he taught us how to do it. He started going to vintage shows and doing butter and people liked the product.
"We realised there was a market and took over from him. In the last three years we started to supply shops and restaurants, then last year we started to supply Heston Blumenthal's restaurant and Fortnum & Mason contacted us.
"We thought it would be quiet in January but we haven't stopped. Last week we were working to 10 or 11 every night."
The Abernethys actually farm sheep, so to produce the butter they buy pasteurised cream from Draynes in Lisburn.
The traditional process of making butter is labour-intensive – it has to be handchurned, then washed five or six times to get the buttermilk out, then salt is mixed in.
After this, it is handrolled and then hardened off in the fridge and wrapped in greaseproof and brown paper.
As for the secret of how to enjoy such a success during a recession, Alison said: "It's about having a really good product and hard work.
"People will treat themselves, even with the recession. They won't buy jewellery and pictures, but they will always treat themselves at the weekend to something tasty."
Last year Abernethy Butter won two gold stars at the Great Taste Awards and a bronze award in the dairy category at the Royal Highland Show.
Will said: "Our new business with Fortnum & Mason is a marvellous and immensely exciting endorsement of the quality of our handcrafted butter.
"It's immensely rewarding to bring a traditional technique back to life and it's now proving extremely popular."