Tell us a bit about you
Hello, my name is Michael Finegan and I am a goat farmer and cheesemaker from Slane, Co.Meath, Ireland. I am married to Jenny (who is from Cheshire, whom I met in New Zealand) and we have two daughters, Julia 6 and Ruth 3. I am from a farming background myself. We had 50 milk cows when I was younger and a lot of beef cattle, sheep and crops. After agricultural college, I spent 4 years in New Zealand managing dairy farms. I met my wife on a farm where we were milking 3,500 cows. We then went on to manage a 400 cow farm together before we came home.
When I came home to farm, we had to make a lot of changes; my father was getting old and wanted to retire. The dairy cow herd was sold because the milking facilities were too old and that is when the idea of goats came up.
We milk 250 goats here on the farm and we have a few cattle as well. The rest of the farm is given over to corn. I farm in partnership with my father, though he is semi retired now. My wife, who is a staff nurse in the local hospital is a great help to me on the farm too. The goats are the main enterprise. I milk the goats twice a day through a 20 aside rapid exit milking parlour. It takes about an hour and a half. I built a purpose built goat shed in 2008 for the business when I started. Half my milk goes into cheese and the other half goes to Glenisk where they produce yogurt and cartons of fresh milk for the supermarkets.
My pastimes are riding horses in the winter months and playing a bit of tennis in the summer.
I got into cheesemaking because the milk price can be volatile. It occurred to me that if I had a product of my own it would insulate me a bit. I might even make some more money! If I wasn’t cheese making I would probably be milking an awful lot more goats. But I’m too busy for that now.
The farm I am on now is an out farm we have, (a block of land that is not the home farm where the house is). None of our family has ever lived here before me. My grandfather bought it in the mid 1930’s. It is the centre of an old estate. We have the very old stone house and yard buildings along with over 100 acres of farm land. I have researched the property online and found out that noblemen were living here since 1511. There is an awful lot of history attached to the farm.
What do you make and why?
I make a blue goats cheese, Boyne Valley Blue and a white goats cheese, Boyne Valley Bán (white). I decided to make a blue goats cheese because there was no other one being made in Ireland, and I am quite fond of blue cheese myself. I only started making the white cheese last year as experiment just to have a non blue cheese to sell.
The blue cheese comes in a 3 kg wheel. It is mild to medium strength and creamy in texture with a natural rind. It has won numerous awards over the years. Last year it won ‘Best Blue’ in the blue cheese category at the Artisan Cheese Awards and a bronze in the British Cheese Awards and in May 2018, it won a bronze at the Artisan Cheese Awards. (Iona – big congrats!)
Our white cheese ‘Boyne Valley Bán’ is similar in style to a Tomme de Savoie. It is lightly pressed to give a firmer texture but still a semi-hard cheese. It is a mild to medium strength cheese. It won a bronze in the Artisan Cheese Awards last year and also a bronze in the British Cheese awards 2017.
Tell us about your dairy
My dairy is fairly new. I upgraded and expanded it in the 2016 so that I can now make more cheese more efficiently. I converted a 200 year old stone shed in our farm yard in to our dairy. It is three rooms mainly: the cheese making room, the ripening room and the handling and packaging room. I have two cheese vats but I only use one at the moment. My cheese is ripened on wood boards, though I need to have a better shelving system in my ripening room to make better use of the space, something I am looking into this summer.
How has the dairy industry changed since you started making cheese and what advice would you give to anyone thinking of being a cheese maker?
I don’t know if the dairy industry has changed dramatically since I started. Advice I give to people who ring me about cheese making is mainly about the paperwork – there is an awful lot of it.
Where can we find your cheese?
My cheese is sold to Sheridans Cheesemongers who have cheese shops all around Ireland. It is also sold to a wholesaler who supply restaurants and hotels nationwide in Ireland.
Favourite cheese making music?
I just have the radio on, usually Radio FM, which is similar to Radio 1 when I’m making cheese. So I could be listening to anything. I must get myself a little speaker to connect to my phone so I can listen to stuff online.
Thank you, Michael, it has been really interesting talking to you, thank you for your time and long may you win awards for your fabulous cheeses.
Facebook: Boyne Valley Farmhouse Cheese
Coming up, Elizabeth, Whitby Cheese and Sophie, Sheffield Cheesemakers.
If you are or know anyone who is a small cheesemaker who would like to take part, get in touch!