By SAM BUTLER
Award-winning Dart Mountain Cheese is expanding its operations near Claudy in County Londonderry to increase sales here, Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland
The small artisan business, which is owned and run by husband and wife team Kevin and Julie Hickey, has planning approval to increase the size of its existing cheese maturing room, provide additional office space and create exhibition and visitor facilities.
Work on the expansion will begin in early 2023, according to managing director and joint founder Kevin Hickey.
Wife Julie, who’s originally from the US, is the cheese maker. The company also intends to hire an additional member of staff.
“Our expansion had to be held due to Brexit and then the Covid pandemic,” explains Kevin.
“We weren’t clear initially how Brexit would affect our business and our sales in Britain and the Republic.
“We had just overcome this challenge when the pandemic came along. It’s been very challenging time for an artisan business like Dart Mountain.
“We are now having to factor in the cost of living crisis and rising energy costs,” adds Kevin.
The business has been boosted by outstanding successes in national and international cheese competitions such as the recent World Cheese Awards in Cardiff, an event which attracted around 4,000 cheeses from around the world.
Dart Mountain, the most successful local cheese producer, gained gold and silver for two cheeses, including a goat’s milk variety which uses fresh milk sourced from a neighbouring Craigbane Goat Farm in the rugged Sperrin Mountains outside the tiny Park village.
“The expansion of our cheese shed will enable us to meet the growing demand from existing customers and also enable us to explore new opportunities we’ve spotted in key markets such as Scotland, England and the Republic,” continues Kevin.
“We also need the extra space to support our focus on maturing our cheeses longer than many other artisan producers,” he adds.
The planned visitor/information centre is a response to the growth in food tourism here, especially those covering craft breweries as well as Dart Mountain.
“We are now included in many local food tours in County Derry and from further afield.
“The exhibit will highlight our range of award winning cheeses and how these are being produced by Julie,” he continues.
Dart Mountain’s Meeny Hill Goat cheese collected gold in the World Cheese Awards, while its Kilcreen gained silver.
Kilcreen is an Alpine style pasteurised cows’ milk cheese aged for a minimum of three months. It was Ireland’s first Alpine style cheese.
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