Farm Ireland

Saturday 18 November 2017

Innovation is flourishing with a churn of tradition

Small-scale Mayo butter producer mixing it with big boys thanks to its blast-from-past methods

Tom and Sheila Butler's dairy business uses traditional methods, such as the wooden churn, to create a distinctive flavour in its products
Tom and Sheila Butler's dairy business uses traditional methods, such as the wooden churn, to create a distinctive flavour in its products
Tom and Sheila Butler's dairy business uses traditional methods, such as the wooden churn, to create a distinctive flavour in its products
Chef Phelim Byrne and Michelle Costello are employees

Paul McCarthy

Cuinneog Irish Farmhouse Butter and Buttermilk is a family business owned by Tom and Sheila Butler. In our house, we frequently use their buttermilk to make the best of brown bread.

Despite the product having to compete with many of the mainstream brands, such as Kerrygold and Dairygold, the business is now 20 years old, employs eight staff and continues to go from strength to strength.

Cuinneog is the Irish word for 'churn', and the seed was sown when the Butlers realised there was a market beyond their own household for country butter and buttermilk produced in their old wooden churn.

Irish country butter, once made routinely on most small-scale dairy farms, is now hard to come by. Traditional methods are still used in the Butler's plant today, with fermented cream being the basis for the butter's distinctive taste and flavour.

Although these days they are using modern, stainless-steel churns, the design and function of the churn remains unchanged.

Despite recession, the past year has been good, with sales up 8.5pc and around 1t of butter being sold a week.

It will come as no surprise that the company has won numerous awards and was recently the recipient of a Euro-toques 2010 Food Award and a Gold Great Taste Award. Its products are widely available in multiples such as Dunnes Stores, Tesco, Superquinn, SuperValu and independent retailers, and it has also made the breakthrough overseas, supplying Waitrose and Asda.

The Butlers are shining examples of how the small producer, using old traditional methods and skills, can compete at the highest level. It shows that people can innovate and create successful rural enterprises by looking to products and methods of the past.

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Meanwhile, on what has to have been one of the darkest days for the Irish economy, with the IMF at the door, political instability and banks being blasted left, right and centre, is it quite extraordinary that the Bank of Ireland could pull off an event where opportunity and positivity would be its main themes.

However, the Bank of Ireland sponsored 'Enterprise Week' turned out to be a real success and one that highlighted the entrepreneurial spirit that still exists in the country despite all of the current problems.

With far fewer jobs on offer these days it is hardly surprising that more people are looking at the feasibly of starting their own business. However, turning an idea into a viable business is not an easy task and can be a daunting challenge.

As part of the series of events organised for Enterprise Week, more than 200 people attended the 'Developing Your Agri Business' seminar in Gullane's Hotel, Ballinasloe, Co Galway. The organiser in chief was Gerry Real, the manager of Bank of Ireland in Ballinasloe.

It was his idea that this year's programme would focus specifically on agri and rural enterprise.

The speakers included IFA chief economist Rowena Dwyer, Bank of Ireland regional business manager PJ Kavanagh, Macra na Feirme national chairman Dara Kavanagh, Roger Fahy of Linnalla Ice Cream's, Padraig Fahy of Beechlawn Organic Farms and enterprise builder and deputy chairman of North Mayo LEADER, Robert Grealis.

My own role was to facilitate a panel discussion between the latter three. It is only natural that, on such a day, the bank staff would be somewhat nervous of a public event but most of the crowd hung around after drinking tea and talking about the positive lift they got.

In my opinion, these days we need events such as this one to encourage enterprise development and get the country moving.

The key take-home messages from the event were:

  • Agriculture and rural Ireland is now valued for its economic and export potential.
  • Prospects are brighter for the agriculture sector, with employment growth already evident.
  • Farming and related activities are now seen as a fashionable and good career choice among younger generations.
  • A few hens and pigs at the back of the house are the new sign of fashion and style, and this trend is giving consumers a closer affinity and respect for food produced locally.
  • Farmers must think beyond traditional approaches and take responsibility for their own destiny.
  • A total of 75pc funding is available -- up to €30,000 -- to pilot and research new potential businesses on farms.
  • 100pc is available for specific training from LEADER.
  • Irish farms have low levels of debt and better access to finance than much of the economy.

Mentoring can help small business and farmers to grow their enterprises. For Bank of Ireland customers, the Enterprise Builder scheme provides an initial free business mentoring session from an independent panel of consultants.

This service is also open to farmers.

Irish Independent