Tasty ideas from farming brothers setting smokin’ pace in soft cheese

Interview SM Farm

Farming brothers Mark and Dean Wright are shaping an impressive reputation as cheese innovators.

The Tandragee-based cheese makers launched a delicately flavoured smoked triple cream cheese in the Food NI Food Pavilion at Balmoral. It proved another taste sensation for all those who sampled the new cheese. And there are other exciting cheeses in the pipeline from the innovation-led and inspirational farm business.

The stunning smoked cheese joins the original and hugely successful Triple Rose, a unique triple cream cheese which has recently been listed by the iconic Fortnum and Mason department store in London’s Piccadilly in what is seen understandably by the brothers as “a huge endorsement of the cheese’s quality and taste”.

Triple Rose is handcrafted from pasteurised milk sourced exclusively from the family’s grass-fed pedigree Friesian herd on the 200-acre Wright family farm in Tandragee and was launched in 2017.

The enterprising family has been farming there since 1820 and now has one of the Ireland’s most highly regarded pedigree dairy herds. The exceptional soft cheese is processed at their state-of-the-art creamery in Portadown, which is also the centre of new product development.

In addition to the original Triple Rose and the new smoked cheese, Ballylisk has developed an apple cider washed variety which has also won widespread acclaim. And, according to Mark, other original soft cheeses are being developed.

The new triple cream cheese is smoked slowly over beech wood by the brothers, who intend to substitute apple wood for beech shortly for an authentic Armagh ‘smoke’. This is a further indication of the small company’s commitment to source as much as practicable from local suppliers.

“We’ve been working on a number of soft cream cheeses – in addition to those already introduced – to meet market opportunities that we’ve identified over the past few months,” says Mark. “We’ve also been encouraged to look at other cheeses by wholesalers in Ireland. Smoking the cheese ourselves gives us total control over the process and a cheese that we enjoy,” he adds.

Ballylisk of Armagh is an immensely impressive, progressive and ambitious business with a tremendous heritage in dairy farming and in premium products offering complete traceability, authenticity, heritage and, of course, outstanding taste.

What also sets Ballylisk apart is its position as the only artisan cheesemaker in Northern Ireland with its own milk pool.

The diversification into cheese production in 2015 followed an extensive period of market research to identify new business opportunities in premium dairy products.

Triple Rose cheese is now stocked in delis and farm shops across Northern Ireland and is on the tables at many top restaurants. Business has also been won from a specialist cheese retailer in Borough Market. Export business has so far been secured in Portugal with a premium hotel chain and a leading supermarket operation.

The artisan company is taking soft cheese production here in a new and exciting direction. The brothers, furthermore, have created a range of delicious chutneys and preserves to accompany the cheeses.

Soft brie-style cheeses, especially blue-veined and smoked varieties, were pioneered in Northern Ireland by Tyrone’s Fivemiletown Creamery in the mid 70s under the direction of Bill Curry and Mervyn McCaughey, who both spotted the potential in speciality cheeses. Sadly, Fivemiletown is set to close next month and many of its award-winning cheeses appear likely to disappear. The closure brings to a end dairy processing in the Clogher Valley after more than a century.

Fivemiletown, a small dairy co-operative, was the first in Ireland to develop a blue-veined brie, Ballyblue, and the first in Europe to come up with an oak-smoked variety, Ballyoak, from oak wood chips from Caledon Forest. The novel cheeses, launched 40 years ago, subsequently earned a host of cheese plaudits ranging from the UK Great Taste Awards to the International Cheese Awards.

It pioneered the development of a reduced fat cheddar and had plans to develop a cheddar aged in the iconic Marble Arch Caves in Fermanagh. The company’s unique Boilie goats’ cheese pearls also gained the main award for food innovation in the Speciality Food Show in New York in 2013, the first and still the only Northern Irish product to do so.

Fivemiletown cheeses were in Harrods, Harvey Nichols, Sainsbury, Tesco, Asda, Ocado and Morrisons as well as over 2,000 delis across the UK. Orders came from the influential US Dean and Deluca gourmet food business and from stores in Europe and Hong Kong. Galleries Lafayette in Paris selected Fivemiletown brie for stores across France, the home of brie!

British Airways and Emirates Airline both served the cheese to first class passengers.

Fivemiletown was launched by Hugh de Fellenberg Montgomery, who owned vast estates in Tyrone and Fermanagh, and 11 dairy farmers to strengthen the local economy through butter processing in 1898. It won an award for butter in 1901 at an international dairy festival in London.

A collapse in dairy prices led to Glanbia buying the Fivemiletown milk pool in 2014.

Dale Farm acquired the cheese business at the same time and has now decided to cease processing cheese in town.

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