There are a few phrases that Naomi Sheridan often hears from customers.
“Have you heard about this product?”
“You should really stock this.”
“I buy this product somewhere else but it would be great if you could stock it here.”
Generally, she just stocks food products that her customers ask her to stock, says Sheridan, who owns Noms, an organic food shop in Phibsborough.
When a customer messaged Sheridan on Instagram about a new vegan cheese, Flying Squirrel, she was sceptical.
“Vegan cheese is notoriously bad,” she says. “But this one was just incredible.”
Colm Farrell, the man behind Flying Squirrel, turned vegan around eight years ago, he said, on the phone last Thursday.
He was helping his uncle on the farm on Christmas Day. “We delivered a calf and there were no vets around.”
“It was pretty tough going for the cow. It took four to six hours, there was a lot of blood and we had to use ropes,” he says.
The cow later died because of the birth.
“I didn’t know what veganism was but I just felt that there had to be a better way,” he says.
After doing some research, Farrell decided to go vegan. But there was a barrier. He didn’t know how to cook.
Farrell enrolled himself in cookery courses in the United Kingdom. “There was very few cookery courses in Ireland at the time.”
Four years ago, while learning to cook over there, Farrell looked into making cheese alternatives.
“It just came natural to me and I wanted to learn more about it,” he says.
How It’s Made
Farrell still works as a legal executive three days a week.
He spends the rest of his time running his cheese business from his Leixlip home.
“My last day off was in August 2019,” he says.
He starts by making the “milk”.
For camembert, he blends cashew and macadamia nuts together with water. “To make the cheese, you are transferring a liquid into a solid.”
This is done by adding the culture – a bacteria or fungus that ages the cheese.
“That gives it its sharp taste and it grows the white mould on it,” he says.
It takes 10 to 14 days in a cool humid place for the white mould to form around the cheese, he says.
Other vegan cheeses are mainly used from starches and oils, Farrell says. “Everything is mixed in a pot and then it is ready straight away.”
But Farrell ferments his cheese. “The culture that I use are used on dairy cheese,” Farrell says.
Farrell uses the culture, penicillium camemberti. It gives the cheese its tangy aged taste, he says.
“People buy Flying Squirrels in twos,” Sheridan says.
But it’s still hard for small businesses like his to get onto the shelves of big supermarkets, Farrell says. “Shelf space is prime retail space.”
Managers in bigger supermarkets don’t want to take risks on unfamiliar products, he says. (He is stocked in Supervalu, after he did a mentoring programme, The Food Academy with them .)
“If you are small it can be hard because most customers already know what they want before they come in,” he says.
Sheridan in Noms used to work for bigger food distributors. “There’s a lot of box-ticking that has to be done,” she says.
Small food groups have to meet certain prices set by the supermarkets, she says.
On top of that, big food suppliers have already built up a relationship with the supermarkets, she says. “ It’s very difficult for new suppliers to get in.”
Farrell says: “But this year, the demand for local produce has been great.”