Picture by Michael Cooper
Pictured at Leggygowan Farm is, left, Dr Rosemary McKee from CAFRE, with Olive Hill, Invest NI, and Adam Kelly, Leggygowan Farm.
Leggygowan Farm in Saintfield, Co Down is pioneering the development of goat’s blue cheese with assistance from Invest Northern Ireland.
The farm-based company is producing Northern Ireland’s first goat’s blue cheese using an Invest NI Innovation Voucher which has enabled it to access the knowledge and expertise in cheese production at Loughry Campus of the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise.
The company, formed in 2010 as part of a farm diversification project, is now producing a semi-soft blue cheese from milk from a herd of almost 100 goats in the 20-acre holding. Running the small artisan cheese business are three brothers, Adam, Ryan and Jason Kelly. The farm, which is managed by Jason Kelly on a full-time basis, also has small herds of cattle and sheep.
Innovation Voucher assistance for the development of goat’s cheese was announced by Olive Hill, Invest NI’s Director of Technology and Process Development, who said: “Leggygowan is developing a unique product for Northern Ireland and one which could, in time, have export potential.
“Over the past two years we’ve assisted several food ventures with Innovation Vouchers and these are helping, in particular, to create the type of vibrant farmhouse cheese industry in Northern Ireland which exists in other parts of the British Isles and indeed in many other parts of Europe.
“The vouchers are assisting the tremendous work being carried out by Loughry in promoting farmhouse cheese projects and in guidance for enterprising start-up businesses. Leggygowan Farm is the first and only project involving a goat’s blue cheese.
“Innovation Vouchers are proving to be a very cost-effective and increasingly successful means of introducing smaller companies in food and other industries to innovation and are helping to embed innovation and new product development in particular within the Northern Ireland economy,” added Mrs Hill.
Adam Kelly, Leggygowan Farm Director, said: “The decision to set up a goat’s cheese business is the outcome of a research project that we undertook to help us to identify a new direction that would enable us to develop the small farm.
“We saw a gap in the market for an artisan blue cheese using milk from our mixed herd of goats. Unlike the Republic of Ireland and Great Britain, Northern Ireland doesn’t have a farmhouse cheese tradition and goat’s blue cheese is not readily available here. Our contacts with delis, farm shops and independent grocers found a growing interest among consumers in handmade soft cheese.
“The Innovation Voucher was fantastic in that it enabled us to access very practical guidance and support from cheese experts at Loughry in refining our product and the overall production process which led us to upgrade our milking parlour and build a new cheese processing room. We are now producing the cheese, which is matured over a five-week period, in 1kg moulds and also intend to make the cheese available in 5kg blocks.
“Loughry, in addition, is helping us to flesh-out other product ideas that we have for the milk. We are currently holding back some milk for local consumption.
“We’ve test marketed the cheese around the Saintfield area and received very positive feedback, Indeed a number of local retailers have agreed to stock the cheese, when we have finalised some issues including branding and packaging.”
Joy Alexander, Head of Food Technology Development Branch, CAFRE, said: “We are delighted to have worked with Leggygowan in the development of their goat’s blue cheese.
“The company is about to take the project a stage forward by embarking upon the Food Enterprise Development Programme at Loughry. This will enable Leggygowan to manufacture cheese for sale using the excellent food technology facilities at the campus for a period of about nine months.”
She added: “This programme has been very successful in helping artisan food producers test market their product and make the challenging transition from product development to commercial manufacture.”