Posted by Jim on September 10, 2014  /   Posted in Blog

SPERRIN Blue Cheese, hand made with milk from contented cows grazing the scenic slopes of the Sperrin Mountains, has been brought to a wider market by a new partnership of small food producers.

Supported by the Supply Chain Development Programme the Sperrin Dairy Group, established in 2013, enables artisan producers to combine in marketing a range of value added products.

Their first product, Sperrin Blue, a creamy blue veined cheese is made by Julie and Kevin Hickey at Park, a small settlement on the northern slopes of the Sperrins.

As Kevin explained, “We were already in business as Tamnagh Foods supplying cakes, preserves, granola and cheeses both to food service companies and internet shoppers.

“However the Supply Chain Development Programme, managed by Countryside Services, is helping us build an artisan food producers network across the Sperrins, the largest mountain range in Northern Ireland. An amazing swathe of Counties Londonderry and Tyrone where tourism has huge potential be that food tourism, outdoor pursuits such as hill trekking or a combination of both.

“The success of Derry City as UK City of Culture shows that giving the right product the right promotion creates a popular tourist destination!  As the slogan says Derry did indeed become Legend Derry!

“So at the Sperrins Food Group we are aiming to add value, business and employment opportunities to the output from local farms. An Artisan dairy product, be it a cheese, yoghurt or butter adds value to milk produced in this area of outstanding natural beauty. Extra value means extra income going back into our rural economy. An economy that can then develop given the synergy between artisan food production and an area becoming a high end tourist destination as seen in Co Cork.”

“Thus the Sperrin Dairy Group is keen to encourage more food producers to join them in offering food service companies and consumers a one stop, easily accessed range of quality foods. Artisan products reflecting the unique lifestyle and landscape of an area virtually unknown even to most people in Northern Ireland.”

For Julie Hickey, a native of Boston USA, developing Sperrin Blue cheese followed 18 years experience as a chef and restaurateur. When studying at Columbia University, New York City Julie had accepted the opportunity to study abroad and ended up at Queen’s University Belfast.

There she met and married fellow student Kevin Hickey from Derry City as they embarked on a career in the hospitality sector.

“Then came the opportunity to acquire an historic house in the Sperrins and turn former stables into a state of the art artisan cheese making facility with adjacent marketing and distribution facilities,” Julie explained..

“Built in 1790 our home was a hunting lodge used by the Lyle family of Tate and Lyle sugar fame and their relations, the McCorkells, who played a pivotal part in developing the port of Derry.

“Today it is both home to our family of four, from toddlers to teenagers, and an expanding artisan food business, whose membership of the Sperrin Dairy Group is helping us build better supply chains to two markets. The individual consumer ordering over the internet and food service companies supplying the hospitality sector and retailers.

“Individual artisan food makers simply do not have the time or expertise to reach top end markets as far afield as Dublin and London, but in a group these exciting opportunities open up. Joining the Supply Chain Development Programme, delivered by UFU owned Countryside Services, gave us access to a lot of expertise, including that of group facilitator Jim Coyle.

“When you are busy developing and making cheeses by hand having help building a supply chain is unbelievably useful, “Julie affirmed.

Sperrin Dairy Group is an expanding business so more members are now needed as demand grows for artisan food of known provenance.

For further information on Sperrin Blue Cheese and other artisan foods from the Sperrins tel; 07779 580542, e mail info@sperrindairygroup.com or browse website www.sperrindairygroup.com

About Jim

James is a director with JCR Network Services Ltd, which provides sales, marketing and business development expertise to local SMEs in Ireland and the UK. Many businesses have developed their growth strategies through our focussed actions. We specialise in helping the agri-food , emerging technology, manufacturing and services sectors.

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