Women Of The Irish Food Industry – Avril Molloy, Cheesemonger
Avril Molloy is the counters manager for Sheridan’s but her simple love of cheese and Irish food makes her a cheesemonger.
I’ve been online friends with Avril Molloy for a good couple of years now and I finally got to meet her in person the time Sheridan’s contacted me to come to their new store to open a wheel of parmesan. She was as warm and passionate in person as she was online. It’s always such a relief when someone you’ve befriended on the internet turns out as good as you’d want them to. Given the new friendship and the fact we were surrounded by cheese, this surely counts as the best online date in the world. Move along Tinder.
I also had the pleasure of working with Avril, for half a day, just before Christmas. She’d mentioned in passing that she needed a hand at one of the shops, and I jumped in to offer myself for the afternoon. I’ve always wanted to play at cheesemonger. So we worked together for a few hours, stocking shelves and helping people select their cheeses for Christmas. It was a most enjoyable afternoon and I was delighted to get to know Avril Molloy that bit better. She is spoke of Irish cheese makers with such pride and enthusiasm. She loves Irish food dearly and it shows.
It is a pleasure to see a woman in the right job in the right company. Read below for my chat with Avril.
I’m talking to women in the food industry, what brought you into this category and what do you do?
I have always had a keen interest in food and cooking. Increasingly, I found myself exploring ingredients at food markets and speciality shops. I had worked in human resources management in large corporate organisations for many years but, I wanted a different life. So, I decided to combine my job with my passion, and work for an artisan food business would be perfect, even if I had to start from scratch.
After months of research, everyone I spoke to in the food world recommended Sheridans as the best place to get the training I was looking for. I accepted a job as Cheesemonger at Sheridan’s new flagship concession in Dunnes Stores Cornelscourt. My first day was a trip to Cashel Farmhouse, where we were shown the entire cheesemaking process, including milking the sheep. Bit of an eye-opener for a city girl, used to working in a formal, corporate environment. I felt like I had landed in heaven. The Cashel and Sheridans teams were extremely passionate about good food. It was so refreshing.
I spent the most fabulous year learning all about Irish and European artisan cheese, charcuterie, olives, pasta, oils, vinegars. We were trained in the history and stories behind the producers so we could share that with our customers; to have a conversation about the food we were selling. Then, this year, an opportunity arose to be Assistant Manager for 8 Sheridans outlets in Dublin, Waterford and, most recently, Cork.
Day-to-day I provide operational support and people management support to the team leaders and cheesemongers for 8 outlets in Dunnes Stores and Ardkeen Quality Food Stores in Waterford. Anything from recruitment, to finding sickness cover, dealing with product quality queries, stock deliveries and financial reports. I help the counters operate properly and support the teams to be successful. We recently opened three new stores in a three-week period in Dublin and Cork. I was responsible for the recruitment and training of staff for these stores, assisted in the design of the outlets, and was part of the team from design right through to opening day.
How does your career fulfil you?
I get to work alongside and learn from the best in the business; people who have a wealth of knowledge and who are passionate about providing beautiful food to as many people as possible. It is a positive, energetic and creative work environment, with a diverse, inclusive and open culture. I can work from home and flex my hours to fit my family life. Standards of work and quality are extremely high, but it is not at all bureaucratic. I have gotten to know the producers of many of our products like St. Tola, Killeen, Ardsallagh and Cashel Blue and attended lots of interesting lectures and food events.
It is therapeutic to work in the world of ‘your hobby’ and energising to work with people who share your appreciation for the love and care that goes in to producing exquisite food, and supporting producers to bring their product to as wide an audience as possible.
What are your ambitions for the next 2 years?
To continue to expand my knowledge of artisan food, to visit more producers in Ireland and abroad, to learn more about wine (some friends will say I’ve researched it extensively already), whilst retaining the balance between work and home.
What do you think can be done to help raise the profile and visibility of women in the food industry in Ireland.
I am not qualified enough to comment on other areas of the food industry but, in the Irish farmhouse cheese world, it is actually women who were responsible for, and continue to be at the forefront of, the resurgence of the Irish farmhouse cheese and food culture.
Veronica Steele RIP, who sadly passed away last year, gave us Milleens, Helene Willems and her husband Dick, created Coolea, Jeffa Gill; Durrus and Jane Grubb created Cashel Blue, her legacy being continued by her daughter Sarah Furno. There is also Marion Roeleveld of Killeen Farmhouse Cheese, Siobhain NiGharbhaith of St. Tola and Jane Murphy of Ardsallagh. The contribution of Myrtle Allen to Irish food culture is immeasurable, and Darina Allen’s championship of sustainable, local, healthy food for all, continues nationally and internationally. Now we have Jess Murphy of Kai, Galway, one of the most talented chefs in Ireland, appointed as food writer for the Irish Times.
Women can raise the profile and visibility of women. I firmly believe that every woman who becomes successful, in whatever their role or discipline, has a responsibility to do everything possible to help other women reach their potential, to reach out and pull them up the ladder.
Tell us of one woman in the Irish food industry who consistently inspires you and why.
It would have to be one of the female farmhouse cheesemakers I have met. Marion Roeleveld stands out for me. She invited Sheridans Cheesemongers to visit her and to watch her make her beautiful Killeen Goat. She also makes a goat gouda with fenugreek, Killeen Cow Cumin and, for a time, Cais na Tire. She adores her goats, and it is obvious the feeling is mutual by their reaction when she brought us into their shed. They are treated like family and have a superb quality of life. Every step of making her cheese is done by hand, from testing the curd to leaning over the vat to hand-mould every wheel, all in surgically clean surroundings. The process is long and back-breaking but, she is dedicated to her craft and quality. She makes some of the best cheese in the world. Yet, she is the most down-to-earth, interesting, friendly and humble person.
If you had to eat only one cheese until the end of time what would it be?
That’s a cruel question to ask a Cheesemonger. So, so many beauties to choose from! St. Tola Ash goat log, paired with a fine honey, good bread and a glass of crisp white wine. Food.of.the.Gods.
Have you had a wow moment to date in your career? If so which one was it and why?
There have been a few since joining Sheridans. My first experience of the Sheridans Annual Food Festival, where over 100 Irish food producers gather at Sheridans HQ in Meath each May to showcase the most beautiful food. It was uplifting to see what Ireland has to offer. Then there was a trip to Salon des Gourmet in Madrid. Seeing 1000’s of the most amazing Spanish food products, gathered in a space the size of 5 RDS Simmonscourt exhibition halls. I had to keep pinching myself to check I was actually there. The Zero Kilometre Dinner at Macreddin last year was incredible. A year and a half in the making, it was a project to make a tasting menu solely from ingredients grown and produced within 1 kilometre of the venue. It was a stunning evening. Delivering the project to open three new Sheridans outlets in Dunnes Stores Blanchardstown, Donaghmede and Cork Bishopstown Court was special too. You achieve things you never thought possible when you have a great team of professional but down-to-earth people co-operating well, with no egoes, just a positive approach and focus on helping each other to get the job done.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Don’t worry so much. Material ‘things’ are not the measure of success. Every now and then, employ ‘the feck it factor’ – do something a bit mad even if it’s not ‘sensible’.
What are the top skills required to do your job and why?
Being organised to keep all the balls in the air. It’s busy! A positive leadership style to ensure staff are comfortable to approach you. A managers job is to help their team to be successful, which means the business will achieve its goals. Stay calm. Be positive. Things usually work out well in the end.
If you had to leave the world behind and swim to a dessert island, what food would you put in your waterproof lunchbox?
My Mums chicken curry, made from scratch, from a recipe she has had since the 1970s, a selection of Irish farmhouse cheese, some Dutch mature raw milk gouda, some really good bread, fruit and chocolate brownies from Nigella Lawson’s ‘How to be a Domestic Goddess’. Could I bring my phone and a row boat, in case I get a call to tour the cheese and wine producers in France and Spain? Anything is possible! 😊