There is a lot of experience involved in ensuring Dromona cheese meets its award-winning standard. That’s why we have Olive Murray – she’s one of only five cheese graders in Northern Ireland and she spends her days guaranteeing Dromona cheese meets the quality and taste it’s known for.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I was born and raised in Portaferry, Co Down. I attended Loughry College in Cookstown where I studied food technology. I later moved to Fermanagh to work in the cheese industry and I’ve never left!
I have been working in various roles within the cheese industry for more than 30 years, and am now a cheese grader full time. I also serve as a judge at cheese shows throughout the year, including the International Cheese Awards in Nantwich, the world’s largest international cheese show.
When I’m not working, I enjoy dancing, swimming and gardening.
How would you briefly describe cheese grading? We know there’s a lot more to it than tasting cheese all day!
Cheese grading involves using four of the five senses (sight, touch, smell and taste) to make sure a cheese is the right standard before it is ready for consumption. Cheese is very much a living product and many factors can affect the quality and taste, including the weather and how the cows are fed, through the production process and storage conditions.
How does the cheese grading process work?
First I look at the cheese to see the colour of the cheese and surface characteristics, before taking a core of the cheese and smell it to test the aroma. Next, I look at the back of the cheese iron to assess the coating, which can be smooth, ‘feathery’ etc. I then work the cheese between my finger and thumb to assess the texture and body of the cheese. And finally, I taste the cheese to grade the flavour.
What is a typical day like for you?
I will grade anywhere from 100 to 300 cheeses a day. My days vary because I grade in two time slots. I start with an initial grade, which is the first assessment of a cheese. If the cheese is not ready by that point, I regrade it. I regrade approximately every three months to make sure each cheese is at its best for the supermarket shelves.
What does it take to become a cheese grader?
To become a cheese grader, you have to train for 6 – 12 months to simply understand the basics of the job. Every batch of cheese is slightly different and it takes time and experience to learn the differences. It’s also important to be a foodie. You have to really appreciate food to succeed in this job!
Another element of my job is training apprentices, and I love that I can pass on my knowledge to the next generation.
Do you have a favourite cheese?
A good cheddar when it’s properly matured is my absolute favourite.
What makes Dromona cheese so special? What sets it apart from other cheeses?
For me, Dromona cheese is special because so much effort goes into every piece of cheese I grade.
Something many people don’t know about cheese is that its area of origin affects the final product. The same type of cheese can taste slightly different between regions as the grass and cows differ. Northern Ireland mature cheeses have a lovely savoury flavour, and why Dromona cheeses stand out around the world. They really have a special taste and quality.