This year we are celebrating our 40th birthday here at Neal’s Yard Dairy. As part of our celebrations, we are of course celebrating the eclectic group of wonderful cheesemakers and farmers we work with. On reflecting on the past 40 years, we feel so privileged to be part of such an engaged and dedicated community. Our Dairy Diaries blog series brings you a snapshot of what’s happening at some of the farms we work with.
The first in our series comes from Siobhán Ní Gháirbhith, the Owner and Director of St Tola Goat Farm.
I am a native of Inagh, Co. Clare on the West Coast of Ireland, where we make our cheese. I’m a former school teacher turned cheesemaker. I have grown St Tola from a small local cottage industry to a recognised brand producing a range of artisan cheeses that are still handmade and are of the finest quality. We farm 65 acres and have a herd of 300 goats, of which around 200 are milkers. We have a small team of seven employees. In 2019 I am celebrating 20 years at the helm! I’d describe myself as a fervent believer in sustainable farming practises, a fluent Irish speaker and a passionate advocate of Irish food, culture and music.
I’ve been working closely with Neal’s Yard Dairy since I took over the business 20 years ago. During this time the technical expertise of Neal’s Yard Dairy has been invaluable in maintaining & developing quality standards especially in the tricky art of geotrichum rind development on St Tola.
At the farm this month we still have a few ladies kidding so there are still some lively kids about. The weather has improved hugely so we have been able to transition our feeding from winter haylage to fresh grass. This always gives a boost to the volume of milk production. This is quite early, last year we were not able to do so until mid May!
In the cheese house we are making our St Tola cheese as well as Greek style cheese and some fresh cheeses we sell in Ireland. We hope to start making hard cheese soon.
We have a few other projects on the go at the moment. We are currently working with scientists from the University of Limerick where they are studying the possible benefits of our cheese for people with cardiovascular disease. The project is ongoing but so far, the results look very promising.
We have been looking at the business as a whole to try to improve our sustainability in areas that include energy, water, raw materials and packaging. We have been members of the Bord Bia Origin Green Programme since 2012. We are also part of BEN (Burren Ecotourism Network ) as part of our sustainability plan. We have reduced our energy consumption by 20.64 % and we have reduced water consumption by 21 % over the lifetime of our first Origin Green plan. We have also tried to improve the biodiversity of the farm by planting 30 native Irish apple trees and we have also made significant effort to maintain hedgerows at the farm.
As the tourist season opens, we have started once again to conduct farm tours and cheesemaking demonstrations. If any of you are visiting the Burren, we’d love to meet you! You can find out more about visiting our farm here.