A FAMILY of fourth-generation dairy farmers are part of the Irish food export success story that saw total exports soar to almost €10bn last year.
It is a long way from Tipperary to specialty food stores in Dubai, Singapore and Hong Kong, but that's where the Maher family from Cooleeney Farm, in Thurles, are targeting sales for the year ahead. Breda Maher, her husband Jim and son Pat, produce the niche farmhouse cheeses using milk from their own pedigree Friesan herd, as well as a range of goat's milk cheeses.
The family started the cheese business in 1986 on their farm, but were fortunate that their first customer was Superquinn, who provided a great springboard to growth.
"We started with a bucket but we had great quality milk and we thought, what can we do with this," said Breda.
The family now employs 18 people, exporting around half of what they produce to Britain, Holland, France, Spain, Italy, the US and Dubai, and with ambitious plans for further Asian growth in 2014.
Although Breda doesn't want to disclose their exact sales figures, she said it's a small company with a turnover of under €3m.
Exports increased by 12.5pc last year, with the launch of sales in Dubai a key element of that.
Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong are next on the list.
"It's hard work because we're a small company and we have to do everything ourselves. It can be hard to find the right wholesalers and that's a key part of the business," said Breda.
Cooleney, Tipperary Brie, Gleanoir, Gortnamona, Daru and Dunbaire are their main export cheeses.