Belfast Telegraph

'Summer milk' is helping Northern Ireland's butter and cheese to be cream of the crop

This week, we hear how Northern Ireland's milk is among the best in Europe for making cheese, a chef taking part in a European festival and a Brexit warning

By Rachel Martin

Northern Ireland milk is among the best in Europe for making cheese and butter, Dale Farm boss David Dobbin has said. Mr Dobbin spoke as his company showcased its Fivemiletown portfolio of brands, which was bought two years ago when the Co Tyrone cheese-maker hit financial difficulties.

The popular range includes Ballyblue, Ballybrie and Oakwood smoke cheddar - and its famous Boilie goat's cheese pearls.

Guests at the re-launch included MasterChef 2016 champion Jane Devonshire and Simon Dougan, owner and head chef of Yellow Door.

Speaking at an event at the Merchant Hotel, Mr Dobbin said: "It was always an ambition of mine to get our hands on Fivemiletown and the problems in the company were almost an opportunity that we couldn't resist.

"So we got into the business and retained the employees and the speciality cheese side, made some of the investments, but the reality is that those people who were there are really driving the business."

"The company is back in profit and sales are going up and this is part of a real relaunch of the business into the British Isles cheese market."

He said his focus was now on pushing the company's exports.

"You can get our product in New York, you can get the product in Hong Kong and you can get the product in London - already it's in some of the key places we want to be and we just want to drive it that bit further," he said.

"It's never going to be a product you'd buy every day, but it is a better product.

"It's something you'd buy when you wanted to treat yourself or when you want something that wee bit different."

However, despite its growing popularity, he said Fivemiletown would continue to aim for specialist markets and would still be produced using traditional methods.

Speaking about Dale Farm's products in general, he said the firm uses so-called 'summer milk' in its butter manufacturing between May and September.

As the cows are kept outdoors and fed grass during these months.

The result is a creamier, easier-to-spread product - though winter butter has its uses and is popular for food service.

Mr Dobbin said: "Because much of our cows' feed intake is grass, it's a much creamier milk, it's got more natural, softer fats in it and that's why Northern Ireland butter spreads easier from the fridge or why Northern Ireland cheese or milk tastes that bit more creamier."

The dairy boss - who will retire soon after 16 years as chief executive of Dale Farm and its parent, United Dairy Farmers - said it exports around £1bn of dairy produce a year, around one third of its output.

And as well as Fivemiletown's existing brands, Mr Dobbin said that the company may look at producing other varieties, such as Norwegian cheese Jarlsberg, a mild cow's-milk cheese.

Last month Mr Dobbin announced he'd be retiring from the company. However, he is set to continue his other roles in the industry, including as chairman of Dairy UK and the Northern Ireland Dairy Council, as well as continuing to serve on the Agri-Food Strategy board. Mr Dobbin will also remain as chairman of the Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association (Nifda).

Kilkenny-based Glanbia Ingredients Ireland Ltd (GIIL) acquired the assets of Fivemiletown. It kept the milk supply contracts but sold on the cheeses.

Belfast Telegraph