Cheese firms seek business boost from national awards for quality

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Dale Farm’s Dromona cheddar cheese has been named Ireland’s best and one ofthe best in the UK in a record sweep of awards.

And Portadown’s artisan Ballylisk of Armagh soft cheese has also won in the UK awards for quality and outstanding taste.

The two producers were recognised at the prestigious International Cheese and Dairy Awards 2022 at Staffordshire County Showground in Britain. Dale Farm took the gold award for Irish cheddar, any variety, and an impressive host of awards for its range of cheddars, produced in one of Europe’s most modern cheese plants at Dunmanbridge, near Cookstown in Co Tyrone, including Best Irish Cheese and a trophy for its mature variety

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Dale Farm and Ballylisk were the only Northern Ireland cheese producers to win awards in the recent International Cheese and Dairy Awards (ICDA) 2022 in Staffordshire County Show one of the world’s most important competitions in the international industry. ICDA is the most important event in the UK dairy industry’s annual calendar.

Ballylisk of Armagh’s Mark Wright and Andrena Nash, winning at International Cheese and Dairy AwardsBallylisk of Armagh’s Mark Wright and Andrena Nash, winning at International Cheese and Dairy Awards
Ballylisk of Armagh’s Mark Wright and Andrena Nash, winning at International Cheese and Dairy Awards

Dale Farm, based in Belfast, is Northern Ireland’s biggest farmers’ co-operative with an extensive portfolio of dairy products especially cheddar cheese. The co-operative exports its cheese to many international markets.

Family-owned Ballylisk of Armagh, from Portadown, gained gold, silver and bronze awards at the annual event. The small company, which sources its milk from the Wright family’s pedigree dairy farm at Tandragee and processes it at a modern plant outside Portadown, gained gold for its oatcake biscuits for cheese and other awards for its original and smoked Triple Rose soft cheeses.

The oatcake biscuits, celery and sea salt flavour – are made for Ballylisk by Ditty’s Bakery in Castledawson, one of Northern Ireland’s most respected and successful artisan bakeries. In addition to oatcakes, Ballylisk has created condiments to accompany the cheese.

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Ballylisk owner Mark Wright expressed the small batch producer’s delight on being endorsed by judges in the influential awards, saying: “We are thrilled to have won three awards for our cheeses and oatcakes developed with master baker Robert Ditty who knows everything about the production of award-winning oatcakes.

“Winning at ICDA is a very substantial boost for a small dairy like Ballyisk and will help to raise awareness in Britain of the originality and quality of our cheeses especially the Triple Rose products which are already on sale with major retailers such as Fortnum and Mason in London, Sheridan’s in Dublin and key supermarkets in the Republic including Aldi. We are now focused on growing sales in both these important markets for our cheese.”

ICDA is the world’s biggest platform to champion world-class producers of cheese and dairy products attracting more than 5,500 entries from both large and small producers.

The prestigious awards were part of Love Cheese Live, one of the UK’s largest and most influential food and drink festivals, which was held as part of Staffordshire County Show.

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Winning one of the coveted awards means being a part of an elite group and 125-year old tradition of the very best cheese especially in the UK and Republic of Ireland. Success at the event means high profile for cheesemongers, delis, retailers and food service companies across the British Isles and even further afield.

Cheese producers in the Republic, such as Carbery, Glanbia, Dairygold, and Cashel Farmhouse, also fared extremely well in the UK awards. The renewed national recognition for Dale Farm comes as the leading dairy cooperative Dale Farm has reported record turnover and profit in its latest financial results.

The dairy, which also produced milk, butter, ice cream and yoghurt, is owned by more than 1,300 dairy farmers who supply the cooperative with fresh milk. For the year ending March 2022, overall group turnover was £591 million up from £524 million in the previous year.

Group operating profit also jumped from £14 million to £25.6 million with pre-tax profit rising from £8.2 million to £22.1 million and EBITDA standing at £33.8 million up from £20.8 million.

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Group chief executive Nick Whelan said: “I am pleased to see this strong performance by our cooperative and the talented people within it. Our focus is ensuring that our business is as efficient and profitable as possible so that we can pay the most competitive milk price – whilst also building a stable future for Dale Farm and the farmers who own our cooperative.

“In recent years, turnover has grown by 60% and profits have almost tripled. Achieving that means constantly adapting to change and taking difficult decisions, reviewing those areas that can no longer deliver for us and investing strongly in those that do. This year’s results are evidence that this approach is working.”

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