07 May 2021 • Delicious dining
We are delighted to have partnered with Rockfield Dairy for the past six years.
The family have been farming for generations in County Mayo in the West of Ireland, where the mild wet climate means that the ewes can graze on an abundance of grass and clover pastures for almost the entire year. We serve Rockfield Dairy's delicious sheep’s cheese yogurt and sheep’s cheese on our menu in Wilde’s. Here, we meet the husband-and-wife team behind this local product…
How did the partnership first start?
When we launched the business one of the places we started to try to spread the word was Twitter. As a new Mayo food brand, a lot of the great West of Ireland chefs (including The Lodge’s Executive Chef Jonathan) were on Twitter and got in touch to ask if they could they sample what we had made. We were of course delighted to oblige and we have been lucky to be featured on the menu at The Lodge ever since. It’s been a great partnership and we’ve got involved with VIP events in The Lodge and Castle, and so it’s a relationship that has benefited both of us.
How is your product used in our restaurant?
Our sheep’s milk yoghurt is used in both sweet and savoury dishes, in particular, we’ve heard a lot of people rave about a tiramisu made with Velvet Cloud, but because of its versatility it can be used with fish, meat and vegetarian dishes as well as on vegetables and salads. Our Rockfield sheep’s cheese is one of only a few Irish sheep’s cheeses, so it features on the Irish cheese board, but is also a good melting cheese and is used on the Irish beef burgers as well.
What three words would you use to describe your product?
Creamy, velvety, cloud-like.
Tell us about the history of your business?
This is a husband-and-wife business. Both of us grew up in homes where good food was appreciated, however back then it was fairly basic Irish food when the norm was the typical Irish diet of 'meat and two vegetables'. In our early twenties, having met in college while studying Agricultural Science in UCD, we were both lucky enough to live and work in Italy and then in France for over a decade. It was during these years that our real passion and love of good food was fostered.
Aisling is originally from Dublin and Michael grew up on a traditional dairy farm in the west of Ireland and kept sheep. So he had always had an interest in dairy and sheep. But it was while we were living in Italy and then in France that we noticed the prevalence of sheep dairy products. We often asked ourselves why, with so many sheep in Ireland, there weren’t more people milking them. When we came back to Ireland to live on Michael’s family farm to give our expanding family a better lifestyle, we started to look into the potential for sheep’s milk dairy products a bit more, and we decided there was an opportunity.
What is the proudest/most memorable moment in your partnership with the Ashford Estate?
Attending an event as part of Food on The Edge where international chefs from all over the world attended an event on the Ashford Estate, to experience what Irish hospitality had to offer. We were one of a few Irish food suppliers invited to supply our cheese and yoghurt at the event but also asked to create a display of our products and meet with these world-famous chefs. Also for that evening an 'Ashford Estate Sheep’s Milk Yogurt Sorbet was created'; we were so chuffed to see our handmade local product promoted beside the Ashford brand! We tweeted madly about it that night and I still have the photo of the sorbet as a cherished memory.
How is your location/connection with your local area reflected in your product?
We are the only farmers on the Island of Ireland milking sheep throughout the year. Our yoghurt is a totally natural product with only two ingredients: sheep’s milk and live yoghurt cultures; the taste and consistency of the yoghurt is a function of the quality of the milk we produce. This in turn is a function of the grass-clover pastures our flock of ewes graze on.
What plans do you have to develop your product/your partnership with Ashford?
Up until now our sheep’s cheese has been seasonal, because as a small business we’ve had limited volumes and each year we have sold out of cheese, but this year we are expanding our capacity and hope to be able to provide both The Lodge and Castle with cheese whenever and in whatever quantities they need it in.
Describe a typical day in creating your product - what is the farm-to-table story?
Our sheep are milked twice a day every day. We then take the fresh milk to the dairy, heat the milk to pasteurize it, and also allow it to arrive at a temperature where the live yoghurt cultures can grow and work on the milk. Once we add the cultures it takes about 12 hours before we get a thick creamy yoghurt. Cheese is a bit more complicated; we start in the same way by heating the milk, but the cheese-making process then involves more complicated steps and it takes three months of turning the cheese, washing the rind to encourage ripening, regularly turning each round, until eventually, you get the semi-hard three months matured Rockfield cheese that has been selling out each year up to now.