Showing posts with label pigs. Show all posts
Showing posts with label pigs. Show all posts

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Mabel, Matriarch of Loughbeg Farm. Meet Ginger & Biscuit. Black & Decker too.

Mabel, Matriarch of Loughbeg Farm
Meet Ginger & Biscuit. Black & Decker too.
Mabel (left) and one of her possible successors.
We are high on a hill on a farm in Lowertown, Schull, County Cork, and have a 360 degree view.

Looking out to the Atlantic we have a splendid view. It is the last day of August and here, as it often is, the sky is clear and we can see, to our right, the Sheep’s Head Peninsula and the long blue of Dunmanus Bay; Dunmanus Castle (near where there a sea urchin producer operates); we can see, to the left, all the way over to Cape Clear island. Beyond Sheep’s Head, Hungry Hill, blue/grey in the distance, rises into the sky on the Beara peninsula (where there is an abalone producer).
Decker and her litter
And, if we shift position a bit and head towards the pure bred Connemara ponies on a neighbouring farm, we can even spot the Fastnet Rock in the distance.

Behind us, the mountains, including Mount Gabriel, match the sweep of the sea in front of us. And immediately below and around us, lies the farm where Walter and Josephine Ryan-Purcell raise their pigs and goats, soon to be joined by a Dexter cow or two; here they grow their vegetables and do much more besides.
Dunmanus Bay and, beyond, Sheep's Head
In the mountains, you note the ridges of rocks crowding together like the bonhams feeding! The pattern is repeated as the rocks continue through the farm and onwards. On the farm, the gaps get a little wider, allowing some grass to flourish, but still narrow, and the gaps get a little wider (sometimes the width of a decent field) nearer the coast. There are some good fields in the vicinity but this farm is not so lucky. Still, the rough land, bushy and scrubby and sometimes marshy, is an ideal spot for the chosen animals.
Connemara pony and Ginger and Biscuit
 It is an open farm and a  lovely place to visit but the open season has just ended and so you’ll have to wait until next summer. There were some visitors on the final day and their small kids were entranced by the goats and the sheep, mostly by the ten piglets that Decker had produced just three days earlier.

Decker and her pal Black (who is due to give birth to her litter any day now) are Duroc crossed Large Black while the dad Bubba is an Gloucester Old Spot. We also met Ginger and Biscuit, a happy pair of pure Tamworth pigs.

Waiting time. Black in the mud.
 Decker’s recent litter has put the spotlight on the pigs but it is the goats that have and are a symbol of Loughbeg Farm, more or less since Walter and Josephine settled here less than ten years ago. So Mabel, the matriarch of the herd and the best known goat in West Cork as she appears on all their labels, may be feeling a little put out. But not a bit of it. She was in good form as were the rest of them. Walter told me they hope to have 14 goats milking next year.

But, for all the animals, Loughbeg is now best known for its bread, for its Oat Bread in particular. Loughbeg benefited from the Supervalu Food Academy and now you can find the hugely popular loaf all across Cork and Kerry. And maybe further afield in the near future. And if you do come across it, ask too about the delicious Oat Tea Break (soaked in tea and cider!).

 Such has been the success of the Oat Loaf this year that Loughbeg now employs nine, including six full-time. Walter hasn't had as much time to concentrate on other aspects of the farm including his Loughbeg Watering System. He is developing this using drainage pipes with slots for his pots and the water in the pipes keeps the plants irrigated. He never stops! And neither does Josephine. As we were galavanting around the farm with Water and Munich based food writer (and translator) Natascha Afanasjew, Josephine was getting hundreds of loaves of bread packed.

We finished up with a lovely lunch of local produce. The bread and the brack featured, of course, as did some of their own chutneys, ham from Gubbeen, tomatoes and cucumbers from their greenhouse, and cheese, a new one, from Sean O'Brien of Ballingeary. Lovely food and good conversation.

We were joined for lunch by Bruno, here to improve his English and, like Natascha, staying in a newly built cottage on the farm. You may rent a room or rent the cottage, check it out on Airbnb, and then you can really take your time as you take in the fabulous views and indeed everything else that goes on in this remarkably productive piece of West Cork.

  • Just keeping this down the bottom (maybe the little piggies won’t see it). There are plans to add to the Loughbeg Range with rashers, sausages and puddings likely to appear in the near future.
Walter, under glass.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Treat Meat With Respect. Talking to Avril Allshire-Howe

Treat Meat With Respect
Talking to Avril Allshire-Howe

Avril, and books!
“Meat should be treated with respect.”

So said Avril Allshire during our recent visit to the Rosscarbery farm that she runs with husband Willie and their two sons William and Maurice. The small farm is home to two related enterprises: Caherbeg Free Range Pork and Rosscarbery Recipes. It is also the place where the young sons practice on their racing quads!

“Every little mouthful should be savoured,” she continued. “None of us can afford to gorge ourselves, we can't afford to waste meat.”
Pork Fruit Cake. Secret Recipe!
Avril was talking to me in her own home, surrounded by shelves and shelves of books, many of them food related. No surprise either to see that she is a big fan of Joanna Blythman, the English writer who constantly exposes the con-men of the big-food world and who will again appear at the 2015 Ballymaloe Lit-Fest next month.

Avril could well write a recipe book herself. She agreed with me that food producers should provide recipes to customers but only if they have something new to add.

She certainly has and you’ll see quite a few of them on her Rosscarbery Recipes blog. But there is one that she won't be publishing, won't be sharing! As we spoke we were treated to a slice of what looked like a normal fruit cake.

Spots (left) and Timmy
As we began to enjoy it, she revealed that it had “no eggs, no dairy”. She named this delicious creation, an exclusive one, Pork Fruit Cake, as one of the important ingredients is, believe it or not,  sausage meat! “It is an alternative to Christmas Cake, may well have been a forerunner of Christmas cake.”

Later, at lunch, she served us her Black Pudding lasagna, another of her originals, a flavoursome echo perhaps of the time when there were no convenience shops, maybe also a shortage of cash, and people had to use what was close at hand, what was in the cupboard. And indeed there was another echo of those days in her answer to the question What is your own favourite? “Depends on the humour,” she laughed. “But I’ll use whatever is in the house.”

“Has the success of any particular product surprised you?”, I asked.
“Yes, I have been surprised by the success of the black pudding, by the variety of people that like it, the young and the old alike. Eastern European peoples quite like it too. It is quite low in fat and useful for a variety of dishes.”

Awards galore
Husband Willie drove the rest of the family to the brink of frustration during the long 15 months he (and they) spent developing their black pudding, developing it to his and their satisfaction. But the passion paid off in a big way and the pudding has won a string of awards, mostly gold, in Ireland, the UK, Belgium and notably in France. “How do you know you have a good one?”, I queried. “The acid test,” she replied, “is to cut a sliver and eat it at room temperature.”

We discussed trends in the business.”Six or seven years ago, you could not give away belly of pork. Then the recession hit and everybody wanted it. The Caherbeg herd is quite small. We have limited numbers and not that much belly and so the Celtic Ross have exclusivity on our belly.” We had enjoyed that special dish in the local hotel the previous evening and it is worth travelling for!

Then it was time to take a tour of the free range pigs (a mixture of breeds including Gloucester Old Spot, Tamworth and Kune-Kune)  and we met some of the main characters including Spots, the mammy of many of them, and Timmy, the daddy. Pigs are not the only animals here. We met the dog and some of the five cats. And also Maa-aa, the growing lamb that they adopted from a neighbouring farm after its mother had rejected it. Maa-aa has been given a job! She'll be keeping the grass and weeds in control in their orchard! Two legs or four, you have to pull your weight in Caherbeg!

Read more about Caherbeg Free-Range Pork and Rosscarbery Recipes here
Rosscarbery Recipes Website:
Rosscarbery Recipes blog:
Caherbeg Free Range Pork website: