William Barry charts the rich and rewarding history of Toby Simmonds' Toonsbridge dairy

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Toby Simmonds was a 20 year old working on building sites in Germany when the late Alan Dare of the Organico Café in Bantry asked him to see if he could find some good olives. Toby went digging and found Jean Pierre Huber, a German olive supplier with whom he has been trading continuously since he opened The Real Olive Company stall in the English Market in 1993. Back then most Cork people didn’t know was an olive was and more than one aul wan stopped to ask him “what class of a grape” he was selling. A stall begot a wholesale business which later expanded to include the excellent Sandwich Stall, also in the English Market, which is run by his wife Jenny Rose Clarke.

It’s also worth noting that Mr Simmonds pioneered many of the early Farmers Markets and had to fight several court battles to establish market trading rights in towns around the country. He stuck it out and there are now Real Olive Company stalls at eight different Farmers Markets around Munster. He further blazed a trail in 2009 when, together with Macroom-based farmer Johnny Lynch, Simmonds imported a herd of water buffalo from Italy and began producing buffalo mozzarella under the Toons Bridge Dairy brand, named after the nearby river Toon.

The trio have since parted company, and today Toons Bridge no longer make buffalo products. Instead there is some very impressive raw cow and sheep’s milk cheeses being produced at the small dairy where head cheese maker, Franco Picciuolo, a fourth generation cheesemaker from Naples, produces halloumi, ricotta, burrata, fior di latte cow's milk mozzarella, cacio cavallo and pecorino cheeses.

A tour around the dairy is akin to getting a tour with Willy Wonka. There are dozens of experimental cheeses hanging in cold rooms, some may never see the light of day but the team are constantly experimenting with different rennets and milks, so expect to see lots of weird and wonderful raw milk and pulled curd cheese creations coming out of this former creamery as time moves on.

Attached to the dairy is an endearing little shop with carries the Real Olive Company fare as well as a bijou café which is anchored by a huge wood fired oven, shipped in from Naples. This is where pizza chef Taylor Nelson is firing out some of the best pizza and baked cheeses dishes I have enjoyed in years, using the cheeses produced just metres away. Make it your business to visit.

Toons Bridge Shop and Café
Off the N20 on the main Cork to Kilarney Road.
Open Weekends only
Phone: 087 345 7790