Norma Dinneen

Bó Rua Farm


What’s your background?

I hold a B.Eng in Electrical Engineering from UCC and an M.Eng in Electronic Engineering from WIT. I had over a decade of multinational industry experience when I decided to take my career in a new, entrepreneurial direction. 

Can you provide an overview of your company?

My husband Tom and I run a dairy farm in East Cork. Back in 2014 we started exploring our options in terms of value-added diversification, as an alternative to intensification of the dairy farm.

What is your role in the company?

I am now the owner/manager and head cheesemaker at Bó Rua Farm. We produce a range of award winning farmhouse cheese, using the milk from our own herd.

What problem inthe marketplace were you trying to solve? What were your business objectives?

With an increasing demand and interest in local produce we began by exploring value-added product options that we could produce on our farm, within the farm gate to ensure our farm business was sustainable into the future. 

We knew we were starting with a fantastic ingredient, in the milk our Montbeliarde and Friesian cows produce - it has won numerous Milk Quality Awards over the years. 

The product we were most passionate about was farmhouse cheese. We set about researching the market and developing our unique cheese range. The time I spent in UCC studying for the Diploma in Speciality Food Production proved to be a vital first step on our journey to becoming farmhouse cheese producers.
How was the problem affecting you?  

As we set about setting up our farmhouse cheese business, we needed a broad grounding in all things associated with food business and food production - the Diploma in Speciality Food Production provided many of those vital ingredients for success.

What possible solutions did you consider?   We are fortunate that our farm is located within a 30 minute drive of the Moorepark, were Teagasc have a pilot scale cheese plant. Along with professional guidance from the artisan food specialist at Teagasc (who I met through the DSFP) and innovation voucher funding from EI we set about developing our cheese range using our cows milk in the Teagasc pilot plant. This was a very cautious and safe way of undertaking the initial development work and testing the market. Once we had tested the market (through the Food Academy Programme) we then decided to take the plunge and build a custom designed cheese dairy on the farm. 
Who helped you on your professional journey?  
  • UCC- FITU - Diploma in Speciality Food Production 
  • DAFM - Bursary toward DSFP
  • Teagasc - Farmhouse Cheese Training
  • Enterprise Ireland - Innovation Voucher Funding 
  • LEADER - Capital grant assistance
  • Bord Bia - Market research and training
  • Local Enterprise Office - Business Mentoring 
  • EXXCEL - Entrepreneurship accelerator CIT
  • ACORNS - Entrepreneurship accelerator
What risks did you consider?   Setting up the business required significant financial investment. Fortunately LEADER and the LEO have been very supportive in this regard.
Were there any pain points during your process? What were the key challenges you faced? 

The most significant challenge was undertaking the build and commissioning of our custom designed cheese dairy on farm.

Fortunately Tom had some construction experience and I had project management experience to draw on. 
Did you have any reservations? What were the key changes you made as you went through this journey?  

At a personal level, I have made dramatic changes - I went from being an electrical engineer to becoming a cheesemaker & dairy farmer. It was not a decision I took lightly to give up financial security to pursue this project. 

However, I have achieved a dramatically healthier work-life balance. I have eliminated the two hours per day commute, I’m not at work in less than 2 minutes. 

Tom and I take huge pride in what we have achieved in a very short time. We are hugely proud of our farms produce which has won numerous Blas na hEireann Gold Medals and 2 Stars at the Great Taste Awards. 

The future looks very bright for Bó Rua Farm, our produce is now available nationally and we are currently looking to develop export opportunities.
What are the benefits you have seen?

The diploma in SFP provided an excellent grounding for us at a time when we were starting out. It provided us with a strong network of people. 

I can honestly say that if I had not done the course in speciality food production, I would not have set up our cheese business.
If you were to start the process again, would you do anything differently?   Well… If I knew COVID-19 was coming down the tracks we would have 100% focused on retail as opposed to food service from the get go- but because we are small we have been able to pivot quickly and have successfully increased the retail side of the business. Having a tech background has proved to be very useful!

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