Northern Irish Dart Mountain success in Artisan Cheese Awards

Northern Ireland’s Dart Mountain gained three medals in this year’s Artisan Cheese Awards held in Melton Mowbray, the birthplace of Stilton Cheese, in the English Midlands.

Food NI member company Dart Mountain, based near Dungiven in county Derry, gained a silver and two bronze awards for two of its handcrafted cheeses, which are made by Julie Hickey at a small creamery in the remote Sperrin Mountains.

The successful cheeses for the family owned and run business were:

Sperrin Blue, a creamy blue cheese from pasteurised cow’s milk sourced from local farmers; and

Tirkeeran, a soft cow’s milk, which gained bronze in the Cow’s Milk Soft Cheese category and in the New Cheese section.

Cheesemaker Julie Hickey, originally from Boston, and businessman husband Kevin set up Dart Mountain in 2012 as part of Tamnagh Foods, an artisan business specialising in muesli and conserves. Their aim was to develop a portfolio of handmade cheeses that reflected the rich heritage and traditions of the Sperrin Mountains, one of Northern Ireland’s most picturesque upland regions.

The small producer has won UK Great Taste and World Cheese awards for its range of cheeses.

Julie, commenting on the latest awards at the artisan cheese event, says: “We are delighted to have gained this important recognition and will benefit from the enhanced profile it brings for our cheeses in Britain.

“It’s immensely encouraging to be part of the tremendous achievements of Irish cheeses at the awards in which a record 25 cheesemakers took part.”

Twenty-five Irish cheesemakers entered the awards with 107 entries between them. Irish cheeses won both overall winner and runner up in three classes; semi-soft, goats and new cheese.

Irish cheeses dominated the goat’s cheese class, comprising nearly half the entries and taking overall winner, runner up, four golds and four bronze awards.

Dr Matthew O’Callaghan, organiser of the awards, adds: “Irish Cheesemakers really made their presence felt with the number of awards that they won this year. The judges were delighted with the range and variety of cheeses that were entered from Ireland for judging. Given the imminence of Brexit, anything that can showcase Irish products to the wider UK consumer has to be worth trying.

“The awards are followed by the Artisan Cheese Fair 5/6th May at which a number of Irish cheesemakers sell their cheese direct to around 8-9,000 visitors of whom a number are key wholesalers and retailers of cheese in the UK.  Consumers in the UK love Irish cheeses for their quality, authenticity and provenance. Their success at this years’ Awards can only enhance this reputation.”

The Artisan Cheese Awards were only open to entries from artisan cheese makers in the UK and Ireland producing less than 300 tonnes of cheese a year.  There are around 80 artisan Irish cheesemakers eligible to qualify for the Artisan Cheese Awards.

Pictured above: Winner: Julie Hickey of Dart Mountain Cheese in Dungiven