“I grew up on a farm where butter making was a weekly chore. We made yogurt from the milk also so milk process was always second nature to me.”
The words above come from Breda Maher, co-founder and director of Cooleeney Cheese, an artisan cheese producer based on the farm of the same name in Thurles, Co. Tipperary.
Producing a range of handmade cow and goat’s milk cheeses on their farm, the team at Cooleeney are kept very busy. Speaking to Breda recently, she recalled how she realised her passion from a very young age:
“From a very young age my love of food production was always my passion. As a child I loved to create and produce food dishes and I learned this love of good food from my mother.”
She added: “My love of food production grew through my years at school and were encouraged by teachers. I went on to college in Cathal Brugha Street, Dublin to continue my education of food production and management of same.”
A dedicated learner, Breda continued to improve her skill and knowledge in the field after meeting and marrying her husband, especially when an idea took shape:
“I married a dairy farmer and after some time, saw the opportunity to add value to our milk production by producing a food with the milk. I researched many different foods and eventually decided on cheese production.”
In order to gain a knowledge in cheese production, I spent some time with a cheesemaker from Co. Cavan, Anne Brodie, who generously gave me a knowledge for the production of hard cheeses.
“Following my time with Anne I spent some time in U.C.C. participating in courses on cheesemaking and eventually in September 1986, we launched our first cheese on the Irish market in the then Superquinn chain.”
An impressive feat, Breda has been in business for 32 years. She remembers that “1986 saw the inception of Cooleeney Cheese and then in 1989, we built a cheese production unit and have continued to add to our plant ever since”.
While everything has “taken time to develop and grow”, it has clearly been an exciting process. Describing their products, Breda explains:
“All our cheeses are hand made by a team of fully trained cheesemakers who look after the cheese with care and passion. We use the milk from our own pedigree dairy herd for the production of cow’s milk cheeses and we source our goat’s milk from local Tipperary goat farmers.”
Wondering which of their products is the most popular, I asked Breda and she revealed that “our signature cheese, Cooleeney, is the most popular, but there was just one cheese on the market for the first 13 years. That was until we purchased the Dunbarra brand.”
She added: “Following the purchase of Dunbarra, which added a variety to our cheese range, we went on to develop a range of cheeses from the milk of the cow and the goat.”
Cooleeney Cheese can be found on the menu in a number of restaurants around the country, including Ashford Castle, Mitchel House, FIacri House, Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud, Campagne, l’Ecrivain, Micky Ryan and The K Club to name a few.
Breda has been in business for 32 years and that length of time is sure to yield some pretty great memories. Remembering a highlight that sticks out in her memory, she mused:
I was in one of the most famous cheese stores in London many years ago and while waiting to meet the owner, a gentleman entered the shop and asked for some of the wonderful Cooleeney Cheese he had purchased the previous weekend.
“I stood frozen wondering if I was hearing things but was later introduced to the gentleman by the shop owner and then realised his appreciation of our cheese. This gave us great confidence and trust in our production.”
You can sense Breda’s passion from a mile away in the way she speaks about her work. She explains that her favourite part of the job is “creating new cheeses”. She doesn’t mind that it’s a “slow process” because “sometimes it takes years to perfect your dreams”.
When asked if there was any part of her job that she didn’t like, Breda couldn’t come up with one, saying instead: “There is simply no part of my job that I do not love.”
It is so wonderful to work with our team at Cooleeney Cheese producing great cheese, marketing the cheeses and travelling to many countries to reach out to new customers.
Speaking about her partnership with Pallas Foods, Breda said: “To date, we have enjoyed a wonderful partnership with Pallas Foods and together we have the opportunity to open many more markets for our handmade cheeses. Pallas Foods are a highly professional organisation and assist in so many ways to help grow our cheese business, through their staff training, shows and customer meetings.”
Looking to the future and Breda is feeling “very confident that we will have a great future in the cheese business”. However, she admits that this “requires a lot of dedication to the production and creating new and wonderful experiences for our customers”.
For more information about Cooleeney Cheeses, visit cooleeney.com.
Sarah has always had a great love of travel, food and photography. Following her journalism degree at DCU, she developed a passion for travel writing while living in Spain.
Named Best Break Out Travel Writer at the 2018 Travel Media Awards, Sarah loves exploring new places and sampling the local cuisine. Working with TheTaste.ie combines her love of food and travel.
A big people person, especially when it comes to hearing other people’s stories, Sarah loves interviewing chefs, food producers and more.