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Cheese company celebrates 10th Birthday 29.01.08

DONEGAL Cheese nestled in the foothills of Lisfannon is celebrating a big birthday. The food producer - supported by the Health Service Executive - is ten years in operation this year and continues to go from strength to strength.
Its award-winning story lies in its unique paneer cooking cheese which is a top seller among Hindu Indians in Britain. It is made daily from the milk of dairy herds grazing on farms in the Ludden and Fahan areas and because it is made without rennet, is ideal for vegetarians.
Donegal Cheese production staff from left to right Joe Sherrin, Andrew McClure, Edward McLaughlin, Anna Kemmy, Pat McLaughlin, Gerard Wallace and John Farren.
Just off the phone from one of his major Hindu Sheikh buyers in England, manager Peter Canning said his team of 14 staff including production staff, food scientist, sales and marketing officer and administrator, are delighted to reach their milestone anniversary.
"We have kept our main customers in Britain and have even added a few new local ones such as the Simple Simon health food shops," said Peter, who is training services manager with the HSE North West.
He commends the HSE and its predecessor, the North Western Health Board for their "foresight" in backing Donegal Cheese as a new social enterprise in 1998 and continuing to support it ten years on. He also praised Donegal Creameries, from whom the company buys its milk and which was also instrumental in supplying plant and equipment during the start-up phase.
Joe Sherrin with some Donegal cheese products. The local company was set up with funds from the Horizon strand of the European Employment Initiative and was designed to promote rural development in tandem with providing employment and training for people with disabilities.
"The board deserves great credit for its foresight in supporting this project which still has a very good future," added Peter, who is Leitrim-born but Buncrana based for many years.
He explains the success of their unique product which is made under licence by the Department of Agriculture and Food.
"It contains half the fat of cheddar and
is a great alternative to meat. It is ideal for any meal in the day from breakfast to dinner. It is very versatile and can be grilled, oven-baked, pan-fried, deep-fried or served in a curry or casserole."
Based at the Lisfannon Business Park, Donegal Cheese forged its enviable position as a major supplier to an important niche British market with the help of Teagasc - the agricultural advisory agency. They were discovered when they showcased their product at the prestigious food fair in the National Exhibition Centre (NEC), Birmingham. The company's export market now has two strands and includes the supply of 250g blocks of cheese direct to Britain's ethnic stores and supermarkets as well as the supply of 3k blocks to Indian food distributors, who produce popular dishes from the delicious product.
So what next for Donegal Cheese? Plans to produce fromage frais and yoghurt is funding-dependent but still remains on the company to-do list. Meanwhile, Donegal Cheese has joined the European 'Happy Farms' initiative to help similar social enterprises get off the ground in former eastern bloc countries such as Romania and Slovenia. In the meantime, the team will be ‘saying cheese’ plenty of times in the coming weeks as the cameras capture their anniversary joy.
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