Farmhouse cheese is one of the great products of Ireland and holds its own in world famous company such as Irish beef, Irish soda bread and Irish smoked salmon. Eamonn and Patricia Lonergan have done their bit to add to the food reputation of the country by producing rich milk for the farm’s award winning Knockanore Farmhouse cheese.
Artisan food producer Knockanore Farmhouse Cheese has its sights set on the US market, with a major distribution deal on the cards for the Waterford firm. Dairy farmer Eamonn Lonergan established Knockanore in 1987 to produce a range of luxury hard cheeses for the Irish market. The company has since expanded into the British and Danish markets and hopes to secure more overseas distributors in the months ahead.
Knockanore sells a range of six hard-pressed, mature cheeses made with raw cow’s milk from Lonergan’s own pedigree Friesian herd. Exporting successively to the massive US market requires a strategic approach to new product development, Lonergan said. “When you’re talking about entering the US market, you are talking about having half a palette of cheese going onto a container, so in a way you’re piggybacking your products,” he said.
At home, Lonergan believes that the changing consumer habits of recent years will continue despite the recession. “Although there is a downturn, there are still opportunities out there. Because of the Celtic Tiger, our palate has been broadened and that won’t disappear overnight,” he said. “People want to know where their food is coming from nowadays and there is a demand for home-grown foods.” Lonergan began to research the possibility of setting up a cheese-making venture in the mid-eighties to supplement his farming income.
He completed cheese-making courses run by University College Cork and Moorepark Technology in Fermoy, and launched Knockanore in 1987 with support from the LEADER Partnership and Waterford County Enterprise Board. The family-run firm employs four staff and sells its products to wholesalers, distributors and retail chains Tesco and Aldi. Clever branding and continual product development are crucial to business success in the artisan food sector, said Lonergan. “The whole area of marketing and packaging is a minefield really when you are trying to get your products accepted and listed with retailers,” he said. “If you are not getting the repeat business you expected initially, you have to ask yourself ‘how can I improve what I am doing?’”