Indie Fude, the popular business which operates two successful retail outlets in Belfast and Comber, has been named Producers’ Champion for 2022 by Blas na hEireann, the organiser of the hugely successful Irish National Food Awards in Dingle, County Kerry.
The prestigious award comes as Indie Fude, which has become one of Northern Ireland’s leading cheese outlets, has linked up with Velocheese in Belfast to create an innovation-led enterprise.
The new business, Velocheese x Indie Fude, is creating a range of Italian and other cheeses at the Banana Block in east Belfast.
Announcing the award, Artie Clifford, Blas na hEireann chairman, said it recognised the dedication to local artisan food by business partners Johnny McDowell and Laura Bradley.
Artie made the presentation during a visit to Balmoral with Fallon Moore, the chief executive of Blas na hEireann.
Artie continues: “Our Producers’ Champion is selected annually by Blas na hEireann producers, based on a survey that goes out to the entire Blas network – a network that covers every county in Ireland with producers from across the food industry.
“Indie Fude started out as an online business in 2014 created by Johnny McDowell, a chartered accountant with a passion for sourcing and selling the finest Irish food and ingredients.
“He was subsequently joined by food blogger Laura Bradley in the small deli in Comber, their first business.
“The deli was built on selling artisan food from the island of Ireland.
“They then moved to larger premises in 2018 and opened another on Belfast’s Ormeau Road specialising in artisan cheese, known as The Cheese Edition. Johnny has since teamed up with Italian cheese maker Davide Thani to create Velocheese x Indie Fude in Belfast to create artisan cheeses,” adds Artie.
It stocks over 700 artisan foods in the small Comber shop, which they also used for supper clubs with local chefs and cheese sampling sessions.
The deli also took the cheese and artisan food message to farmers’ markets in Comber, the Inns Belfast and Causeway in Coleraine.
Johnny says: “It’s fantastic to be named Producers’ Champion. We love being at the centre of the community with the opportunity that brings to showcase some of the exceptional Irish produce on the island. We’re honoured to be part of the Irish food scene.”
The unique joint venture between Indie Fude and Velocheese is geared to promote the development and increase awareness of artisan cheese being handcrafted here.
It is described as “a collaborative enterprise that blends the art of cheese-making, a love for community and sustainable business practices”.
The new cheese venture is based at the Banana Block within a former linen mill in east Belfast that also features a living museum, space for community events and scope for smaller businesses.
Johnny explains: “Davide has been making cheese for well over a decade, beginning his journey in his native Sardinia, before bringing his unique skills to Belfast in 2014.”
Davide subsequently set up Velocheese, the first producer of mozzarella and other typical Italian cheeses in Northern Ireland.
Born in Cagliari, the Sardinian capital, Davide is a former radar engineer in the Italian air force who has been handcrafting cheese, including fresh Italian mozzarella, stracciatella, burrata, scamorza and maple wood smoked scamorza, for much of his life.
He started making them in Belfast shortly after his move here with his locally-born wife.
Davide is also planning to craft other Italian cheeses such as ricotta.
“Our venture will have a signature Italian style range of cheeses as a result of our head cheese-maker’s rich family history,” Johnny explains.
“Davide’s recipe development can be traced back to his family in Sardinia. He is blending his expertise with the best of local milk for cheeses offering rich and authentic Italian flavours which are ideal for dishes such as pizza and pasta.
“Our cheeses are made with the morning milk, and when it arrives with us has travelled less than five miles.
“By hand stretching and shaping we retain a unique control over quality and ability to focus on the desired characteristics of each cheese for consumers,” he adds.
Johnny has been part of cheese-making courses at the School of Artisan Food at Welbeck in Nottinghamshire and has carried this passion forward into the development of his first deli in Comber and in the creation of dedicated cheese maturing room at the second on Belfast’s Ormeau Road.
Johnny and Davide were encouraged to set up the new cheese enterprise in east Belfast by an opportunity they spotted developing in the local market from pizza producers.
“We saw scope to offer pizza producers a local supply of premium Italian cheeses crafted by an expert,” Johnny says.
“Our new operation will also focus on traditional local cheeses and help to raise awareness among people here of the quality and taste of produce from here,” he adds.
They’ve just launched a special brochure for wholesalers on Velocheese x Indie Fude products for the hospitality sector and the wider food industry and are building on relationships with other artisans such as Bullhouse Beer in Belfast for events for the public within the Banana Block.
Bullhouse is developing a pub specialising in craft beers and spirits at the Holywood Arches, a few minutes from the Velocheese x Indie Fude operation.
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