Cheesemakers urged to bid for global acclaim

Cheesemakers in Northern Ireland will have an opportunity to benchmark the quality and taste of their original creations against the world’s best next month.

Saturday, 4th September 2021, 5:00 pm

The seven cheese producers, including six artisans, here are being urged to enter the influential World Cheese Awards organised by the UK Guild of Fine Food as a key feature of the International Cheese Festival in Oviedo, capital of Spain’s Asturias region and the country’s main dairy producer.

John Farrard, managing director of the Guild of Fine Food, describes the colourful and popular World Cheese Awards as “a truly global cheese event that brings together cheesemakers, retailers, buyers, consumers and food commentators worldwide to judge nearly 4,000 cheeses from over 40 countries”.

“We’d welcome participation from Northern Ireland for an event which provides the best platform in the world for cheesemakers to test their products, gain worthwhile feedback from experts and meet contacts which could lead to international sales. It’s a tremendous business opportunity and networking experience which could benefit the developing cheese industry.

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David Thani os Velocheese in Belfast produces Italian mozzarlla

“A number of Northern Irish producers have won UK Great Taste Awards for their creativity over the years. There’s every reason for them to take part in this genuinely global event,” he adds.

Michele Shirlow, chief executive of Food NI, the local food and drink promotion body, is another who’d “love to see our cheesemakers taking part is such an influential gathering”.

“We have a growing cadre of fine cheesemakers in Northern Ireland who produce a range of varieties including blues, bries, Italian style mozzarella, Dutch gouda and edam, emmental, beer washed semi hard, goats, and, of course, classic cheddar. Many have won national awards and could do well on such a significant global stage,” she explains.

Dale Farm, NI’s biggest dairy co-operative and a major producer of cheddars at its production plant at Dunmanbridge in Cookstown, was the most recent local company to win a national award for quality and taste. Dale Farm gained first place in the Virtual Cheese Awards 2021 with its Dromona branded mild cheddar. The Dromona cheddar brand is now well-established in the UK and Republic of Ireland. It has also exported cheese as far as Asia and Russia.

Mike Thomson of Mike’s Fancy Cheese in Newtownards produces Young Buck, a creamy blue cheese which has won UK Great Taste Awards

In addition to Dromona, NI’s high volume cheese brand, there is a group of artisan cheesemakers, some selling in Britain, Ireland and further afield. They are: Mike Thomson of Mike’s Fancy Cheese in Newtownards, an award-winning producer of Young Buck Blue; Ballylisk of Armagh, a crafter of bries; Kearney Blue from Castlereagh; Dart Mountain, near Claudy in Co Derry, a venture by Kevin and Julie Hickey producing Sperrin Blue and others including a goat’s cheese, the only one in Northern Ireland, as well as craft beer washed and ash rind semi hard cheeses; Velocheese in Belfast, a business run by Italian David Tani who produces mozzarellas; and Carol and Olav Kloster of Carrickfergus Cheese making Dutch style edam and gouda cheeses. The World Cheese Awards are being held in Oviedo, as part of the Asturias Paraíso Natural Internacional Cheese Festival from the November 3 to 6.

Cheeses are sent from all round the world to be judged in a single day by carefully assembled teams of technical experts, buyers, retailers and food writers. Judges work in teams of three, to identify any cheeses worthy of a gold, silver or bronze award. They look at the rind and the body of the cheese, its colour, texture, consistency and, above all, its taste. Each of the teams then nominates one exceptional cheese as the Super Gold from their table.

These top-flight cheeses are the best in the world and are then judged a second time by the Super Jury of internationally-recognised experts, who each select a cheese to champion in the final round of judging. The Super Jury, representing all four corners of the globe, then considers the final cheeses in front of a live consumer and trade audience, before choosing the World Champion Cheese live on WCA TV, with cheese lovers across the globe tuning in for the drama.

As well as striving for bronze, silver, gold and super gold, there are country and cheese specific trophies.

Carol Kloster and husband Olav of Carrickfergus handcraft gouda and edam classic Dutch cheeses

It’s the second time in the past five years that the World Cheese Awards have been held in Spain by the Guild of Fine Food and follows an earlier event in San Sebastian, capital of the Basque Country. Both events signal the position of Spain as one of the great European cheese producers. There are currently upwards of 50 varieties of cheese in Asturias, most of which are sold throughout the country and further afield. Four of the cheeses have EU product of origin protection. The region also shares with NI a great heritage in cider processing.

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