As part of this week’s dairy segment, That’s Farming speaks to Tom and Norma Dinneen of Bó Rua Farm.
Tom and Norma Dinneen have embraced farm diversification by establishing a cheese business on their dairy farm in Ballynoe, East Cork.
Bó Rua Farm is operated by the couple who have three children: Méabh, Áine, and Tadgh. They run a 100-cow herd of Montbéliard and Friesian cows.
The inspiration for the name of their farm and our cheese came from our gentle Montbéliarde cows, a breed that originated in France where they are synonymous with traditional cheesemaking. They have beautiful rust coloured markings, hence the name Bó Rua, the Irish for Red Cow.
Norma, now the head cheesemaker, originally worked as an electrical engineer for an American multinational. It was during the first week back to work after the birth of her second child, when she was asked to visit a client in China.
Her immediate thought was: “I need to do something about my work-life balance”. Within six weeks, she left the company.
Conversations over the kitchen table started to circle around the idea of making cheese. Norma returned to University College Cork and undertook a part-time diploma in speciality food production.
Over the next couple of years, the couple left no stone unturned, through Tom’s Nuffield Scholarship study on the topic of dairy farm diversification, extensive product testing and constant questioning.
“We were starting with the best quality milk; the herd has received numerous AHI Milking for Quality Awards.”
New cheese dairy
The couple considered all their value-add options, from creating yoghurts, ice creams to soft cheese. They decided to choose the product they were most passionate about putting their name to, and so they set about developing Bó Rua Farm Cheddar.
They worked with the artisan food specialist, Ed O’Neill at Teagasc, Moorepark. With innovation voucher funding from Enterprise Ireland, they developed their unique yet traditional cheddar cheese recipe and designed their state-of-the-art cheese dairy.
In 2018, with funding from LEADER, the Dinneens completed their new cheese dairy. Their first batch of cheddar was mature and ready for sale in the summer of 2019.
From there, they commenced selling their farmhouse cheese through speciality food stores and cheesemongers throughout the country. In their first year of production, they were honoured to win the Gold Medal for Best Irish Hard Cheese at the 2019 Blas na hEireann, Irish Food Awards.
Adapting to Covid-19
Bó Rua Farm, like many other businesses, has had to adapt to the changes brought about by Covid-19.
“2020 was to be our first full year trading. We had secured a listing to supply a national foodservice distributor, which was a huge achievement so early in our business. Our first order was delivered to them when less than a week later, the first lockdown came into effect. That was a huge blow; we had to pivot very quickly.”
“We started looking at how we could get our produce into new retailers and speciality food stores. Thankfully, we got great support. We also set up an online web-shop within the first week of lockdown and to my delight; there has been a great response to it.”
While there have been many challenges for Bó Rua Farm over the past year, the highlight was, without doubt, their cheddar winning a coveted 2-stars at the Great Taste Awards in London.
While farmhouse cheese is the main focus of the Dinneen’s diversified farm business, the couple also realised there was a demand for pasteurised whole milk, unhomogenised, with cream on top.
They trialled selling their Bó Rua Farm whole milk in nostalgic glass bottles, directly from the farm, and this grew further to supplying their local NeighbourFood market.
They went on to enter it in Blas na hEireann, Irish Food Awards where it was blind tasted and scooped the gold medal for the best Irish dairy milk. While they have further cheese types in development, they are now considering expanding the bottled milk side of their business.
A significant step for Norma in developing the business was being accepted for ACORNS which is a free, peer-led support programme for female entrepreneurs in rural Ireland.
Over six months, established female entrepreneurs in different locations around the country lead monthly, round-table sessions with groups of women who have been running a business for less than two years or are about to start one.
Last year, Norma was asked to come on board as one of the programmes lead entrepreneurs, which is a voluntary role.
Through COVID, she has been facilitating monthly meetings virtually for her group, focusing on different topics each month, such as marketing, sales, finance and employment.
“It is wonderful to be able to offer support and guidance where I can to other ladies, many of whom are facing very similar challenges to those we have overcome in establishing our diversified enterprise.”
“In the day-to-day running of a household, a farm and a business, you can get consumed by the small details. ACORNS provides the chance to take a step back, talk to other women and tap into their experiences.”
“There will never be an absolutely perfect time to follow your dream and start a new business. Life will put obstacles in your way and fear might make you believe now is not the right time. Take the plunge, we are just sorry we did not do it sooner.” Norma concluded.
Click here to access Bó Rua’s online store
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