Highbank Orchard

There is a limestone substrate that runs deep beneath the soil of Highbank Orchard in Co Kilkenny. It is buried 18ft underground allowing the apple trees to stretch their roots deep down to reach the nutrients.

High above, the sun ripens the fruit throughout the mild summer months in the sunny southeast, with of course, our reliable watering of rain. And that it is.

Nature runs its course, producing some of the sweetest, most flavoursome apples in the country.

The juice of these apples are then poured into Simply Better’s Apple Syrup and Apple Cider Vinegar.

Ron and Julie Calder-Potts credit their sweet apples with their decision to farm organically.

“Chemicals have not passed the farm gates since 1986, long before there was consumer demand for organic products,” says Ron.

However, the Calder-Potts don’t think of themselves as being ahead of the trend. Quite the opposite in fact, they were going back, back to the old ways of doing things.

The health benefits of apple cider vinegar come from polyphenols in the apples. Some apples naturally have higher polyphenols than others

Ron says: “There were lots of reasons for us to go organic and that included the quality of the apples. We were thinking of all the beautiful apple trees in people’s gardens up and down the country, from city gardens to farmhouses.

“There isn’t a drop of chemical put on those trees, in fact, most of them aren’t even pruned and year after year without fail, they produce a glut of the most beautiful apples.”

Julie and Rod Calder-Potts of Highbank Orchard, Cuffesgrange, Co Kilkenny. \ Patrick Browne

However, the road to organic farming wasn’t easy or straightforward. “The first 10 years were very difficult. It took a long time for the natural growing process to re-establish itself and aesthetically, our apples didn’t have the same cosmetic finish as others, especially French apples that had just entered the Irish market.

24/05/2021. Highbank Orchard, Cuffesgrange, Co Kilkenny with owners Julie and Rod Calder-Potts. Picture: Patrick Browne

“Just because they didn’t look pretty though didn’t mean they weren’t good so we used them for processing, supplying cider companies.”

They also started making their own products, two of which are now part of the Simply Better range.

“Our apple syrup came about completely by accident,” laughs Julie. “I had this idea that I could make baby food with our apples so I had a big pot of apples cooking when the phone rang. I forgot about them and when I went back to the pot, it had formed into the most beautiful substance.

“I took a taste and thought gosh, that is delicious, maybe others would like it. We bottled it into our apple syrup and started selling it at our local market. Eleven awards and many years later, it gives us such pride to see our product used as part of the Simply Better range, that this syrup that we first created in our kitchen is now on shelves across the country.”

The apple syrup gave the couple the confidence to create more products which led to their apple cider vinegar, also one of their hero products.

Julie and Rod Calder-Potts of Highbank Orchard, Cuffesgrange, Co Kilkenny. \ Patrick Browne

Many people know that apple cider vinegar has lots of health benefits. It can help lower blood sugar levels, balance your gut bacteria, aid weight loss, reduce cholesterol and help with arthritis. But did you know that not all apple cider vinegars are equal?

Ron explains: “The health benefits of apple cider vinegar come from polyphenols in the apples. Some apples naturally have higher polyphenols than others, Granny Smiths for example have very little. Because many vinegars are being made from reject eating apples, their levels of polyphenols can be very low.

“For example, a lot of apple cider vinegars have levels of about 200ml of polyphenols per litre, ours is much higher, around 1,250ml per litre. We believe it’s down to the natural symbiosis of organisms in our orchard.”

The decision to be part of the Simply Better range has been more straightforward than they anticipated.

“As an artisan company, supplying a big brand such as Simply Better was a big leap for us but we have been supported throughout the journey.

“From branding, labelling, the paperwork, we had a person dedicated to support us. We are immensely proud of our products and when getting involved with a multiple, we had to make sure it was the right fit. Simply Better is definitely the right fit for us.

Dan Aherne’s Jersey Milk

Milk from one farm and one farm only, Dunnes Stores Simply Better’s Jersey Milk comes straight from Dan Aherne’s organic farm in east Cork and with its rich, creamy flavour, it’s got that distinctive farmhouse flavour

Back in the day, it was quite common to have a Jersey cow sitting outside the farmhouse producing creamy, rich milk full of goodness.

You might remember it yourself, perhaps not the cow but certainly the taste. Maybe you’ve even said to yourself, that the milk of today just doesn’t taste the same. If you’ve ever experienced that pang of nostalgia, Simply Better’s Jersey Milk could quench that thirst.

Dan Ahern and his son Seamus.

\ Donal O'Leary

It comes from one farm, and one farm only, the Aherne’s organic farm just outside Midleton in east Cork. Run by Dan Aherne who farms in partnership with his son Seamus, he has been building his herd of Jersey Cows since 2016. With a constant focus on improving genetics and grass quality, the result is creamy, thick, unique milk.

Dan converted the farm to organic in 1999. Seamus was just two years old at the time so he doesn’t know any other way of farming.

Dan says: “We went organic purely for commercial reasons. At the time, we were doing well but we were spending a huge amount on sprays and fertilisers.

“We wanted to cut costs, be more efficient with our operation. Going organic seemed like the obvious solution.”

For many years, Dan Aherne’s name was synonymous with quality eggs, he also grew grain for Flavahan’s and Connolly’s and had some sucklers. However, after the abolishment of quotas, he went back into dairy.

“We wanted to keep our organic status but we also wanted a cow with good solids. We travelled to Denmark to look at organic cows. We came across some pure Jersey cows that were doing decent milk and extremely high solids so we bought 42 there and later another 40 in the UK and we continue to expand our herd.

“They have thrived in east Cork, especially on our grass-based system. We’re using New Zealand genetics as they are all outdoor there as well, and their fertility is good. They are out on grass from mid-January until mid-November and that contributes to the quality of the milk.”

As a result, the milk that is poured into your glass is about 5% fat – sweeter, thicker and full of natural goodness. The protein content is also higher, at about 4% versus the usual content of 3.3%.

Simply Better brand ambassador Neven Maguire says the milk foams up to make the best rich and creamy coffee and it’s a huge hit as the ultimate hot chocolate. But to really appreciate it, you have to try it just as nature intended, cold and creamy.

Because it makes such great coffees, a lot of Dan’s milk was being used in hotels and restaurants but when lockdown hit, that all changed.

Noel Barcloe in the Village Dairy, who processes and bottles their milk says: “I supply to the Simply Better team in Dunnes Stores and when I put a glass of Dan’s Jersey milk in front of the team, well I didn’t have to say anything, it speaks for itself.

“Simply Better were keen to support a local milk producer at a time when it was needed, and although it is a relatively new venture, it’s now a product that people are looking for on the shelf.”

Dan converted the farm to organic in 1999. Seamus was just two years old at the time so he doesn’t know any other way of farming. \ Donal O’Leary

Noel adds, “It’s quite unique to pick up a bottle of milk in the supermarket, knowing that it is coming from just one farm. It’s good for Dan as the farmer, it’s good for us as a small dairy and its good for the consumer, knowing they are getting a quality, niche product.”