Many of us of a certain age have fond memories of ferrying churns of milk to the local ‘creamery'.

The word itself, so evocative, has largely fallen out of use (it’s now the ‘co-op’) but one wonderful farm family in Leitrim have succeeded in recasting their creamery as an on-farm centre for the production of a truly delicious ‘boutique’ range of farmhouse cheeses and ice creams.

Lisa Gifford manages the smallholding in Drumcong on which Leitrim Hill Creamery proudly sits, along with her daughter Gypsy and daughter-in-law Richelle, not forgetting granddaughter, Shiloh.

Each family member brings a particular skillset: Lisa is farmer-in-chief, rising every morning at 5am to gather her goats for milking. Gypsy is a skilled chef and makes the cheese and ice cream.

Richelle is the marketeer, helping brand and sell the products (three cheeses and multiple ice-cream flavours, including ‘gooey-goat’) at the ‘Hidden Corner Cheese Shop’ in Carrick-on-Shannon, at farmers markets, and through Sheridan’s Cheesemongers.

Shiloh is taster-in-chief, a dream job and one which she clearly relishes!

Coming home

Lisa, a remarkably energetic and enthusiastic woman, bought the farm in 2016, a ‘homecoming’ of sorts for the former nurse and US citizen whose grandparents were ‘poor Irish’. Lisa learned about goat husbandry while living in Serbia.

Once landed in Ireland, she applied for a herd number, bought some goats and started milking in 2017. Her early forays into cheesemaking were mostly just a way of using the goats’ milk to stay healthy, and to connect meaningfully with the community.

Today, Lisa keeps 15 goats along with pigs (consumers of the whey) and chickens (eggs used for ice-cream making) on her idyllic smallholding, perched fittingly atop a Leitrim drumlin.

Famine-era buildings (whitewashed and with picturesque red roofs) are used for the milking, while an old hay shed has been cleverly converted for milk processing.

The goats are rotated around paddocks, with ample fresh grass, hay and hedgerow browse available, supplemented with some added ‘crunch’ for milking.

Raw creativity

Lisa’s cheese was so good that it lured Gypsy and Richelle to Drumcong in 2021, a far cry from LA where Gypsy was corporate chef of Disney Studios (preparing food for luminaries like Michelle Obama).

Gypsy had an abiding interest in artisan foods and so Leitrim Hill Creamery was the ideal canvas on which to make her own creative mark.

The cheeses are made from raw milk sourced from Lisa’s hand-milked (once a day) goat herd, but also from other select goat and cow herds. Great care is needed working with raw milk; the creamery itself is a no-go area for visitors without proper clothing.

The cheeses are made using natural processes, including starter culture from their own goats.

Labour of love

The cheeses have already earned rave reviews, winning a Gold and two Bronze medals at the 2024 CÁIS Irish Cheese Awards. The cheeses, and ice creams, borrow heavily from the local landscape.

Nearby ‘Sliabh An Iarainn’ (Iron Mountain) lent its name to the gold medal-winning, mixed-milk cheese, while elderflower and bog myrtle are used as ice cream flavourings when in season.

The family work hard but it’s clearly a labour of love, undertaken in what appears to be a spirit of great generosity and gratitude. They employ local help on the farm and in the shop and, when sourcing milk externally, they pay double the market price.

It’s wonderful to witness an old-style creamery reimagined in this way by a remarkable family, who embrace traditional values such as hard work, cooperation and respect for people and place, values which were so widely held when the creameries were in their heyday.

As Lisa summarises of her burgeoning legacy: “This farm has allowed me to be part of yesterday, today and tomorrow.”

Lisa Gifford owner of Leitirm Hill creamery.