Velvet Cloud is a small specialist sheep dairy business in Co Mayo just outside the town of Claremorris, it was founded just over three years ago by husband and wife team Aisling and Michael Flanagan.
Both of us grew up in homes where good food was appreciated, however back then it was fairly basic Irish food when the norm was the typical Irish diet of meat and two veg. In our early twenties having met in college while studying Agricultural Science in UCD we were both lucky enough to live and work in Italy and then in France for over a decade and it was during these years that our real passion and love of good food was fostered.
Aisling is originally from Dublin and Michael grew up on a traditional dairy farm in the west of Ireland and kept sheep. So he had always had an interest in dairy and sheep. But it was while we were living in Italy and then in France that we noticed the prevalence of sheep dairy products. We often asked ourselves why, with so many sheep in Ireland, there weren’t more people milking them. When we came back to Ireland to live on Michaels family farm to give our expanding family a better lifestyle, we started to look into the potential for sheep’s milk dairy products a bit more.
Velvet Cloud Sheep’s Milk Yogurt
Our sheep’s milk yogurt contains just two ingredients: Fresh sheep’s milk which comes straight from our flock of grass fed ewes which we milk twice a day and live probiotic yogurt cultures.
There are many benefits of sheep’s milk yogurt. Sheep milk has a higher solid content and higher nutritional value compared to cow’s milk. It’s popular with chefs because it is thicker and creamier than cow yogurts with a milder, less tangy and slightly sweeter taste. So it works very well in both savoury and sweet dishes. It’s popular with those interested in their nutrition and digestion because of its unique properties. It suits many with digestive challenges or who are allergic to cow’s milk, so we have a growing presence in the health food sector. It also has higher levels of “heart healthy fats” (or what in food chemistry are call “polar lipids”) compared to cow’s milk. In retail our typical customer is the consumer who is avoiding dairy, doesn’t like the strong taste of goats milk products, and doesn’t like the processed nature, high carbon footprint and long list of ingredients on milk alternatives. In food service it’s the discerning chef who really cares about his or her ingredients and where they source them from.
Our fresh sheep’s milk is heated to over 90 degrees, then cooled to 40 degrees when the live cultures are added. Its left then to incubate overnight for the cultures to work on the milk, at the end of this time you have a thick creamy yogurt, which we pack and chill down to 4 degrees before sending it out to customers.
What makes Velvet Cloud unique?
Velvet Cloud is the only Irish made yogurt commercially available here. It is also unique in that the sheep’s milk comes from the same farm where the milk is produced and this milk comes from a flock of grass fed ewes. There are other sheep’s yogurts produced in Europe and in the UK, however for the most part they don’t come from grass fed flocks. This is a huge advantage living in Ireland as we are able to keep our animals outside on grass for almost the entire year.
Other Velvet Cloud Products
We also produce both fresh and frozen sheep’s milk, and last year we launched our first few batches of “Rockfield” by Velvet Cloud our sheep’s milk cheese. This is a semi hard 90 day old sheep’s cheese, it is loosely based on a French Pyrenees style Osseau Iraty type cheese. When deciding on what cheese to produce we had a look at what was already available in Irish sheep’s cheeses on the market and decided to go for something different.