Sophie brings Indian favourite to Irish kitchens
A trip to India proved the inspiration for a new Irish food product launched earlier this year by Blackrock native Sophie Van Dijk.
One of a growing number of young food entrepreneurs, Sophie has taken the most traditional of Indian food ingredients ghee and given it a twist by making it from Irish butter.
Ghee, which is clarified butter with a very high smoke point, is used extensively in Indian cooking but, as Sophie points out, has a variety of uses from frying eggs to roasting potatoes.
Sophie's first encounter with ghee came when she was growing up in Blackrock where it was a staple in the family kitchen.
'My sister Poppy's cello teacher, Aisling Drury Byrne, used to make ghee and my Mum would use it when doing Indian dishes, cooking curries,' she recalls.
Then, when she was at UCD studying business and commerce, she travelled to India with UCD Volunteers Overseas doing charity work and rediscovered ghee.
'I love cooking, it's my number one passion and the most fascinating thing about being in India was the food.'
Back home she began experimenting with ghee, using it with Irish ingredients as well as Indian recipes.
After graduating, Sophie joined Tesco under the company's graduate programme, working as a fresh food buyer for a few years.
'I absolutely loved it. I was sourcing ready meals, soups, and sandwiches so it was very varied.'
But she wanted to start her own food business, so took the courageous step of leaving her job last August.
She then embarked on a three month course at the world famous cookery school at Ballymaloe, Co Cork as she wanted to bridge the gap between being a buyer and a producer,
A fellow student, a fabulous Indian lady was extolling the virtues of ghee she had made using Irish butter and Sophie realised that this was the project she was looking for.
'I began working on the product once I'd finished the course.'
She spent a couple of months testing and testing, before launching Dollop in January, having worked with local firm Element Design, Creative Spark, to come up with the branding.
Sophie makes the ghee from 100 per cent unsalted Irish butter.
'There is no other Irish ghee available and ghee made from Irish butter is so much tastier than the products which are imported,' she says.
At the moment Sophie is making the ghee in the kitchen of her home at Lis na Dara, with help from her boyfriend Steven Hoey, as well as her parents Ingrid and Jan, and sisters Poppy and Lucy.
'It's a domestic kitchen which was designed with HSE food preparation requirements in mind but we will probably have to move into a bigger facility in Dundalk in the future,' she says.
She is currently taking part in The Food Academy programme with SuperValu, assisted by Bord Bia and the Local Enterprise Office.
Sophie enjoys getting feedback from customers as to how they use Dallop and is delighted that people are experimenting and using it outside of Indian cuisine.
'People are using it for all sorts of unusual ways, from crispy fried eggs to roast potatoes. Because it has a really high smoke point, it's great for any sort of frying.'
She is delighted that Ireland's leading Indian chef, Sunil Ghai of Pickle Restaurant, Lower Camden Street in Dublin, will be using Dallop for his cookery demonstrations at Taste.
'We will be at The Cattleboat Food Festival taking place at The Spirit Store at the end of June,' says Sophie.
She welcomes this initiative being taken by Great Northern Larder and The Spirit Store, saying that its evidence of a growing food culture in Dundalk.
'I love living here, I really really love it,' she says.
Dallop is currently stocked in 60 shops around the country, including Strandfield Cafe, Trainor's butchers, Kieran's butchers, McAteer's Food House, Centra, Blackrock, Oak Gym, and The Brown Hound Bakery, Drogheda, or on-line at www.dallop.ie