As a country, we are so spoilt with quality Irish dairy that we sometimes take it for granted. But in 2019, when Omar Haqqi arrived to Clonmel from Jordan, he looked at Irish dairy with fresh eyes.
“I make cottage cheese for fun and I couldn’t get over the yield I was getting using Irish milk.”
As an agronomist, Omar was immediately interested in – not just drinking the milk but – developing something new. “Admittedly, my experience in cheese making was limited,” he says. “But I did have some. When I was in Jordan, I worked for the Royal Palace, running the gardens and organic farm and we were doing some work with cheese, developing cheese jams. I could see there was an opportunity to develop international cheeses using Irish dairy.”
Two friends from Jordan had also arrived in Ireland, Ayman al-Zou’bi and Anna El Rifai. They came on board as business partners and in the summer of 2020, the halloumi-making process started.
Omar says it was a bit of a rollercoaster ride. “We’re still very new in the game, but we have had great support from Teasgasc, especially in Moorepark Technology where our cheese is made and we got on the Bord Bia Food Works Programme. By the end of 2020, our halloumi was exactly how we wanted it.”
The Proper Dairy Co uses 80:10:10 ratio, 80% cows milk, 10% goats milk and 10% sheep’s milk. Omar says: “Oliver O’Gorman who has a hybrid Jersey herd close to Clonmel supplies our cows milk while our sheep’s milk comes from the Cross brothers in Cashel and our goat’s milk from Sean Leahy in Newcastlewest. The quality of the milk has been key to the taste of the cheese.”
Omar says there is already excellent Irish halloumi on the market but they wanted to produce something different. “We see our competition as the imports, we want to be the local replacement option. It goes back to when Anna lived in Cyprus, she still talks about this amazing local halloumi. She has never been able to experience it since as so many of the exports are highly industrialised. We wanted to hold onto the authentic way the cheese is made, using excellent Irish milk.”
In fact, this is the company’s strategy as they look towards developing more international cheese. “We have started making paneer, which is an Indian cooking cheese and we are also looking into developing our own ghee. Nabulsi is an unripened cheese from Palestian which we think would also work fantastic using Irish dairy.”
The Proper Dairy is now stocked in many independent food shops and health food shops and is expected on the shelves of Dunnes Stores nationwide under the Simply Better’ range this coming November. “It’s been an exciting, whirlwind journey so far and we’re excited about the future. At the moment, we’re looking to partner with another small artisan cheese company, to share equipment and grow the business further. We’ve had great support from the people of Clonmel and even though we’re only here a short time, it definitely feels like home.”
www.theproperdairy.com | €2.99
It’s the end of the day, you’re relaxing in front of the TV and for many, that nightly ritual comes with a cup of tea in hand and “something nice”.
However, often that ritual can be counter-intuitive because for a time in the day when we are trying to promote sleep, often that “something nice” can be a sugary treat. No one knows this better than Deirdre Hynds, founder of Unwind bars, who has suffered from insomnia for nearly 20 years.
She says: “For years, I have looked at ways of promoting sleep-chamomile tea, yoga, diet, meditation – natural holistic ways of getting to the root of the problem. But like everyone I wanted that ‘something nice’ in the evening. I started researching and realised there were plenty of ‘time-appropriate snacks’ – breakfast bars, elevenses, post-gym, but there was nothing for the evening. I thought there is an opportunity here.”
This isn’t Deirdre first step into the world of entrepreneurship. For eight years, she has been running Sound PR a public relations company that specialises in ethical, sustainable and organic PR with clients such as Glenisk, Folláin Jam and Fairtrade Ireland. Life is busy – with her husband Pat an organic beef and tillage farmer on the banks of the Shannon.
So how did she add a whole new product into the mix? Laughing she says: “It’s been a busy few years and if life wasn’t busy enough, I started a master’s in consumer psychology and business which was really interesting and certainly helped with the business. It gave me direction to start some consumer research.
“They (the bars) are made with 100% natural ingredients without any artificial sweeteners. There is nothing in them that you couldn’t already buy in a health food shop.”
The result is three bars with one delicious ingredient shining through: chocolate.
“We have malted milk and chocolate; roasted nut and chocolate; and dark chocolate and orange. A lot of people ask is chocolate a good idea before bed but we did a huge amount of research and people want that small treat in the evenings and chocolate is the favourite treat by far. Since launching, Unwind bars are now stocked in 130 stores nationwide, mostly health food stores, as well as selling online.
“It’s been a rollercoaster and developing the bars has caused a few sleepless nights,” she laughs, “but it’s so exciting to have our product on shelf and we’re getting great consumer feedback.”
www.unwind.ie | €37.50 for a box of 15
That exciting sound of ice twirling in a shaker is like music to your ears in a cocktail bar. That sound went silent in the pandemic, but it inspired a whole new venture for Daria Caffrey.
Dacha Drinks is a range of natural cocktail mixers that elevate alcohol and non-alcoholic cocktails to a level that most bartenders aspire to. Daria explains how it came about.
“I am a wedding photographer, so when the pandemic hit my business dried up overnight. Suddenly, I was in this limbo land. I needed a project, something to keep me busy.
“My husband Michael and I love eating out, going to restaurant openings and cocktail bars. So when lockdown hit, we started making cocktails at home. A friend was telling me about a rhubarb margarita that they tried so I got some rhubarb from our garden and made a syrup. I posted it on Instagram and the reaction was huge. People started messaging me asking where they could buy the syrup and with a bit of research, I realised there was nothing like it using natural ingredients, so I started experimenting.”
Luckily, Daria had a lot of ingredients to experiment with. After meeting Michael on a J1 in 2005, she moved to Ireland in 2008 and – apart from a stint in London – she has called Cavan home since then. Originally though, she is from Russia.
“In Russia, many people have a ‘dacha’ – which is a little country cottage surrounded by gardens and allotments where you grow your own fruit, vegetables and herbs. I was a child when my parents bought their dacha so I grew up watching them making homemade liquors and syrups, I guess that’s where I developed my knowledge of growing food, how to pair ingredients and understand what flavours go well together.
“When we brought our house in the countryside just outside Virginia, Co Cavan, we started growing our own fruit and vegetables and what was in our garden inspired some of the concoctions.
“Our first flavour was rhubarb. Then came orange and basil, a really lovely fusion which is so versatile, perfect for Tom Collins and whiskey sours. Then we had raspberries in the garden which I paired with thyme from our polytunnels. Those were our three original flavours and since then we had added with pineapple and mint; strawberry, meadowsweet and lime; and grapefruit, rosemary and cardamon.
“There are some exotic flavours, but the Irish ingredients are still shining through. We are foraging meadowsweet from the meadow beside our house and using our own basil, mint and rosemary.”
The result is delicious cocktail mixes made from natural ingredients. “The interest has been amazing. It means people can make cocktails at home without loads of effort or buying lots of ingredients and they are also great for non-alcoholic cocktails. We’ve got lots of orders for baby showers.”
Primarily, the cocktail mixes are being sold online but the couple are working on getting them stocked in shops, bars and restaurants. “I’m looking forward to the day when I’m photographing a wedding and the couple are drinking one of my cocktails,” she laughs.
www.dachadrinks.com | prices start at €42 for a pack of two