Northern Irish Cheesemakers Take Over The Belt

I was very fortunate, on the last Tuesday in February, to be one of just over 30 guests attending a rather special evening, celebrating Northern Irish cheeses and fine foods at the legendary Pick & Cheese bar in London’s Seven Dials Market.  

Invest NI Irish Cheesmakers Takeover of Pick & Cheese

Cheese makers of Northern Ireland a collaborative effort

The event, a collaboration between the Academy of Cheese and their patrons, Invest NI, was hosted to showcase some of the most exquisite cheeses currently being produced in Northern Ireland.  The restaurant, founded and run by Mathew Carver, and famous for being the first cheese conveyor belt in the world, was chosen for its stellar reputation within the cheese industry for championing British cheese.

Invest NI has been working with Academy of Cheese to offer training to our Northern Ireland cheesemakers and cheesemongers.  This has expanded our cheese knowledge, networking potential and probably waistlines too… culminating in a wonderful evening at Pick & Cheese.  We thoroughly enjoyed presenting NI cheese and accompaniments to buyers and media and the Academy did a tremendous job pulling it all together with Mathew and his team.

Michelle Charrington, Invest Northern Ireland

The small, but selective guest list, was compiled of buyers in the industry and international trade representatives, giving this emerging market a deserved platform to promote their splendid produce.  

Ballylisk Mark Thomson chats to Invest NI Peta Com and Steve Harper
Ballylisk‘s Mark Wright chats to Invest NI’s Peta Com and Steve Harper

Inspired Cheese Pairings

Mathew’s team of talented chefs curated a bespoke menu for the evening, pairing a selection of cheeses and accompaniments from Northern Ireland; the whole menu shining a very bright spotlight on the outstanding quality and provenance of the region’s produce.  

Some were more orthodox pairings, such as the Ballylisk Triple Rose with an Apple Chutney from Burren Balsamics, which was in no means orthodox in flavour: the Triple Rose fudgey and decadent, against the sharp, yet mellow tang of the chutney.  And then there were those more leftfield. Take the Irwin’s Nutty Krust Bread, generously filled with grated Dromona Mature Cheddar and Tayto Cheese and Onion crisps: memories of student hangovers, but with style and panache added. 

Blue Cheese & Dark Chocolate

One of my favourite pairings of the night was Mike’s Fancy Cheese’s Young Buck with Dark Chocolate squares from NearyNogs.  The smooth, yet savoury spice of the blue cheese, setting off the rich and slightly salty Ecuadorian chocolate. With your eyes closed, this perfect flavour and texture combination almost fooled you into thinking you were eating an immensely grown-up, dark and decadent chocolate brownie.  

The Cheese Menu

There were 11 different combinations in total, each from Northern Ireland and all paired perfectly and with great thought – respectful of both the cheese and the accompaniment.

The CheesePaired With…
Dromona Mature CheddarTayto Cheese & Onion Crisps and Irwin’s Nutty Krust Bread
Young BuckNeary Nogs Salt Water Days Dark Chocolate
Kearney BlueSalted Caramel with Irish Stout and Miso & Ditty Oatcakes
Ballylisk Triple RoseBurren Balsamics Blood Orange Marmalade
Ballylisk Single RoseMushroom Duxelles
Ballylisk Triple Rose SmokedBurren Balsamics Apple Chutney
Sperrin BlueFlapjack
Banagher Bold Ale WashTomato Chutney
KilcreenCook’s Cowl
Meany Hill GoatForest Feast Chocolate Dipped Cherries
Dart Mountain DuskRoasted Potatoes
Ballylisk Single Rose with Mushroom Duxelles

The Cheese Conveyor Belt of Dreams

As I chatted with the guests, I was able to split the bar into two camps: there were those who went systematically along the belt in a numerical fashion, starting at Number 1 (that was the Dromona), ticking the dishes off, thus ensuring none were missed.  Whilst there were others (myself included), that reached with excitement and abandon, for whatever came round next.  I couldn’t help but liken it to waiting for your suitcase at an airport baggage carousel, desperately reaching across your neighbour to avoid missing the target.  It didn’t take long to realise that, unlike Heathrow, you wouldn’t have to wait five minutes for your suitcase to come back around; the belt constantly being replenished by Pick & Cheese’s restaurant manager, David and his team, as they put up dish after dish of elegantly paired, glass-cloched, cheese plates.

Invest NI Pick & Cheese Takeover

All the pairings looked beautiful and tasted sensational; a real testament to the cheesemakers and the terroir of Northern Ireland, which has long been renowned for the superb quality of milk produced by happy cows grazing on its lush green fields.

Meet The Cheesemakers

I had the pleasure of meeting two of the region’s cheesemakers on the evening: Mark Wright from Ballylisk and Michael Thomson from Mike’s Fancy Cheese Co.  As big names within the cheese industry, one might feel humbled in their presence, but their warmth, humility and charm dispelled those misconceptions and I found them both happy to chat cheese, without any of the accompanying sales patter.  

As a cheese maker it’s always nice to see Young Buck being used inventively… it was especially nice at this event, as a seller of Irish cheese, to see all the other amazing Northern Irish cheese plates being enjoyed by the great and good of UK cheese!

Michael Thomson, Mike’s Fancy Cheese

Michelle from Invest NI shares a selfie with Tracey and Rachel from the Academy of Cheese

I left the celebration in full swing and headed out into the heaving jubilance of London’s West End.  My heart and belly were full and my cheeks were glowing, having had more than my fill of delicious cheeses and perhaps one too many of the equally delicious Irish Apple Rum by Symphonia Spirits, which added a welcome sweet balance to the cheese.  All-in-all, a delicious, enlightening and stylish event.


Rachel loves a good cheese and wine session. Her love of all cheeses, artisanal or otherwise, has grown from her early years of working on the cheese counter at Fortnum & Mason.  She has a personal mission to taste as many cheeses as possible and to encourage this passion in others.