Great cheese maker, farmer and innovative entrepreneur.
Like so many in the food and farming community I was deeply shocked and saddened to learn of the much too premature death of dairy farmer and cheese maker Dean Wright. He was a true gentleman and an innovative entrepreneur. I will always remember the first time we met Dean and he told us “We live right in the centre of the Food Heartland and it is time we made some cheese”.
After a successful career in the meat industry, Dean Wright decided to start his own business, making cheese with milk from his family’s farm at Ballylisk near Portadown in Co Armagh. Dean’s original idea was to make cheddar, but he was advised that the market was saturated so Dean pioneered his own style of cheese and began manufacturing a range of triple cream cheeses using milk from his own pedigree Friesian herd that graze the grass and clover on the family farm at Ballylisk.
Cheese making is both an art and a science, and a very difficult and challenging craft to master. Within a short-time Dean had developed the skills and techniques to create three Triple Cream cheeses – the original Ballylisk of Armagh Triple Rose, a variety of the cheese that is washed in Armagh apple juice from Armagh and a blue version. The dairy was expected to launch a soft creamy Brie-style cheese shortly.
Dean’s was a talent that shone brightly and his engaging personality soon won him customers. He launched Ballylisk at the BBC Good Food Show in Belfast and he was soon winning business throughout Ireland as well as with high profile retailers such as Fortnum and Mason and Heritage Cheese in London. His cheese was available at the food lovers’ mecca of Borough Market in London and export sales were achieved in Europe, the Middle East and Asia.
The Ballylisk presentation was always a magnet for visitors to the food pavilion at Balmoral Show where he collaborated with Erin Grove Preserves to make a range of Ballyliskrelishes. Dean was always someone we at Food NI loved to spend time with as his professionalism, intermingled with dry wit, enthusiasm and determination was inspiring.
When the pandemic hit in March 2020, many businesses, like Ballylisk, lost a huge proportion of their business. With restaurants and hotels closing overnight, high quality food producers suffered. However, with his traditional determination, Dean decided to open a milk delivery service and included other artisan food producers in the doorstep delivery option. This was a lifeline for both local producers and the local community. At the time Dean spoke about being driven by his passion to help those who were particularly vulnerable and shielding. His actions were an inspiration to many.
None of us expected to hear the news that Dean had passed away on Saturday. Like many people who strive to help others, Dean probably didn’t know how well he was admired and liked or how much he was respected for what he had achieved.
In a very short time, Dean became one of Northern Ireland’s artisan food heroes.
Our sincere condolences go to Dean’s entire family circle.