Mikes Fancy Cheese
Mikes Fancy Cheese is a cheese-making business based in Northern Ireland, run by a qualified cheesemaker with experience at some of the UK’s leading dairies.
I plan to start my business producing a single type of raw milk, artisanal, blue cheese from a single herd of award-winning Holstein-Friesian cows based in Newtownards, County Down.
I hope to have a presence at Belfast’s St George’s Market and plan on running regular cheese-tasting and cheese-making events, encouraging direct sampling and distribution, tapping into the huge interest in artisanal foods and traditional, hand-crafted foods with strong provenance.
I'd also direct and wholesale my own high-quality product into the UK market for a larger reach.
I believe in the values of small production by many.
I want to create an unhomogenised product of which I can be very proud, rooted in Northern Ireland but sold across the UK (and eventually internationally).
I plan to make the cheese and sell it direct to the public, whilst showing them every aspect of the cheese-making process. By doing this I hope to instil a pride for Northern Irish produce and create a culture of secondary production and adding value to our great raw products.
I plan to pay our farmer a very fair price for his milk, enabling him to produce the best quality milk from very well-kept cows.
At the proposed cheese-tasting events I will show people the array of tastes that can be made from the same raw ingredient and show them the joy of tastes and textures of cheese.
Substantial accomplishments to date
I am a fully qualified cheesemaker, with a diploma in dairying from the School of Artisan Food. I have already sourced and received estimates for my equipment and fit out of premises.
I have recently appeared in a variety of media talking about my business, including BBC Radio Ulster, Insider Media, Northern Irish food magazine "Flavour", a popular Belfast food blog, and I am working hard to create a community and a buzz about not only my own trade, but the craft food movement in Northern Ireland.
Cheese making can be a profitable business. However, the start-up costs are high. Despite that, there is a great potential mark up from the price of milk to the price of cheese at the end. Also, I expect to be able to reduce the overhead of wages as most work can be done by me at the start. The more direct sales than can be made, the better, so as to cut-out the fees of wholesalers. I plan to buy milk at 30p/l and sell my cheese for approximately £10-12/kg wholesale and £22/kg direct.
I also plan to hold monthly cheese-tasting events for 12 people at a planned charge of £20 a head, as well as a bi-monthly cheese-making day course for 10 with a charge of £85 a head.
I think these events would not only give the public a greater awareness of my own produce, but help spread the popularity of artisanal foods generally.
Use of proceeds
The proceeds will be used to fit out a unit with refrigeration and suitable cheesemaking equipment, as well as pay additional fees, including the costs of fund raising.
The space would use energy-efficient heaters and refrigeration to keep ongoing overheads as low as possible.
The business would lease an electric vehicle to transport the milk and cheese, allowing us to keep variable running costs as low as possible, as well as being ethically minded.
The target market would include:-
1. UK and Ireland cheese wholesalers. I anticipate that the majority of my cheese would be sold to UK cheese wholesalers. I would hope to use publications like the Guild of Fine Food's Fine Food Digest (which has already profiled this new venture) to spread word of my cheese to UK and Irish delis. Through these channels it would also be sold to the expanding US artisan cheese market in the near-future.
2. Young local ethical foodies. I believe there is currently a vibrant young-person food movement and by showing them the craft of cheesemaking and the quality cheese I produce, I would hope to build strong relationships and show many ways of utilising the cheese in recipes to build a long-term following.
3. Local restaurants. Northern Ireland has a selection of world class restaurants that pride themselves in their use of local produce and I hope to fill the gap of local cheese for these restaurants.
Characteristics of target market
I have previously worked for Leicestershire Handmade Cheese on Sparkenhoe Farm, and have built strong relations with Neal’s Yard Dairy, who have given strong indications of support for this venture. The cheese I plan to produce would be aimed at the needs of, for example, Neal’s Yard Diary, as my experience shows that demand for unpasteurised blue cheeses is currently outstripping supply.
Like other Irish cheese-makers, I plan to send my cheese to England and distribute it to wholesalers.
However, I would also expect strong sales in Northern Ireland, and plan to have a presence at Belfast’s St George's Market, which runs a weekly craft food market, featuring local producers selling the very finest Northern Irish foods. Not only would I expect this market stall to encourage direct sales, but it would also allow people to actually taste the cheese before they buy it.
I have a strong link with multi award-winning Belfast fine food store, the Arcadia Delicatessen. It stocks a large range of cheeses, and I soon hope to have my own products on offer there. I also plan to run a number of “meet the cheesemaker” events through them.
I have also begun to cultivate a strong media presence, both traditional and online. I have been featured on the BBC, in food blogs, and have begun to develop a social media following which I expect will be a powerful tool in developing my brand.
One of the main competitors in the market for unpasteurised blue cheese is Stichelton, which I believe to be at full production capacity. Another similar high-end Stilton producer is Colston Bassett.
My experience of this market leads me to think that there is an enormous demand for artisanal, hand-crafted products such as mine, and I believe that the rarity of such cheese has sparked major interest. I have spent the past two years training and making cheese to ensure the quality and safety of my product. I believe that many new blue cheese makers produce a product which lacks the taste of my proposed three month ripened raw milk cheese.
Although I would expect to be the sole producer of raw milk blue cheese in Northern Ireland, I plan to use this position to not only attract a major market share, but also to mentor and otherwise help up-and-coming cheesemakers.
By making it day in, day out, I will ensure a product of the highest quality. Whilst most cheesemakers have to hire other people to make the cheese for them as the business grows, I feel I have found the most efficient size to ensure output of the highest quality with the lowest possible overheads.