Business Articles



Building a Local Food Artisan Culture with Tamnagh Foods

Kevin and Julie Hickey founded Tamnagh Foods


Nestled in the heart of the Sperrin Mountains, Tamnagh Foods Limited have carved out an international following with their range of delicious hand-crafted produce. The brainchild of husband and wife team, Kevin and Julie Hickey, the Derry company create award-winning artisan cheese for their label, Dart Mountain Cheese, and hearty granola and relishes from their picturesque home base. 


Supporting Local Food Producers

Avid foodies, the Hickeys were prompted to start making their own artisan food after spotting a gap in the market while running a restaurant in Derry. Keen to support local food producers, Kevin says: “When we had our restaurant in Derry, we looked at how we could add value to our menu.

We really wanted to work with local producers and source ingredients locally, but there wasn’t a lot available. We’d identified making cheese as an opportunity and thought about what would make our cheese different? Or add value to it? So, in that way, tying it to the names of the landscape and having a local brand is very important.”


“Each batch of cheese is produced on a particular day of the week. We source our milk locally from the Sperrins and use that to produce our cheese. It’s then aged over a period of time, anything from three months to a year, and is really reflective of the area around us.”

Julie adds: “People are really interested in buying local and knowing where the stuff is coming from and that’s great. They want to see that farm to fork connection. Down South, there’s always been an abundance of cheeses but up here there hasn’t been as many. 


Now, there are a number of producers doing this in the North and that is going to continue to develop.” 

Julie makes the cheese in batches



A Passion for Cheese

Passionate about creating delicious artisan cheeses, Julie has spent years perfecting the brand’s distinctive flavours. With five different types of cheeses currently wowing customers, she now works daily on crafting batches of the couple’s Dart Mountain Cheese collection.

She enthuses: “Even though I make cheese day in, day out; it never ceases to amaze me that you start out with milk and end up with cheese. No two batches are the same - I’m always in there scheming what my next cheese is going to be. I love watching the rind develop and seeing all the different flavours come out.”


An enthusiastic home cheesemaker before moving into batch production, Julie loves to test out new flavours. “There is a lot of trial and error,” she explains. “I’m banned from buying cheese books because I’ve read every one going. It’s about adding different cultures and experimenting to find the perfect flavour. We make granola and relishes as well. It was something we started making in small batches and then people kept asking for it and we kept scaling up and up. It’s all about developing a range of products.”


She laughs: “And there is a lot of time waiting for the cheese to age! I have to do something to keep me out of trouble, so I make those too.”

The cheese is made in the couple’s base in the Sperrin Mountains



Planning for the Future

As demand for the company’s tasty produce continues to rise across the globe, the duo are excited to move into the next phase of growth. Kevin says: “We’re hoping to double the maturing space for our cheese and add an educational room within the next 12 months. We want to bring in visitors and give local schools and tour groups the chance to see where the cheese is made.”


Help from the couple’s local First Trust Bank* team has been crucial. Kevin notes: “The relationship we have with First Trust Bank is excellent. They’ve been very supportive in getting our accounts set up and opened as well as with our expansion plans. We’ve also been able to use online banking, which is so important to us given our location in the Sperrins.”


“They’re very welcoming and helpful in the branch when we go in and very contactable,” he adds.


The cheese has won awards around the world



Award-Winning Local Produce

Along with building onto their County Derry site, fans can look forward to some more delicious flavours coming soon. Julie reveals: “I’m working on a new goat’s cheese currently and Kevin is working on a smoked cheese. We listen to customers coming up to us and asking for different types.”


With big plans in the pipeline, it’s clear that the Hickeys have hit upon a winning formula. And while their products are winning fans across the globe, the cheese has also captured the attention of the expert culinary community.


Julie explains: “We have a very close working relationship with a local beer company in the city of Derry and we use one of their pale ales to wash one of our cheeses in. We’re based here in the parish of Banagher, and we’ve named it the Banagher Bold cheese because the beer gives it that hint of boldness. We were delighted when the cheese won gold at the World Cheese Awards last year in Spain. To get something like that and have it be a gold is really great.”


“When Kevin called and told me, I thought he was having a laugh! It was just so nice. I would be making cheese no matter what, but it gives you that little push. Who knows what might happen next?”


For anyone considering a move into setting up a craft or artisan business, Julie advocates taking the leap. She notes: “Everyone’s journey is going to be different. I would say don’t be scared, but it is scary. It’s more hours than you could have ever dreamed of, but it really is worth it.”


Find out more about how First Trust Bank can support your Start-Up business. Contact your local advisor today.


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