Apr 16 2014
Achill Mountain Lamb
A few weeks ago I got an email from an old friend of mine. She put me in touch with Helen Calvey of the Calvey Family Farm on Achill Island, who is helping out on the marketing and social media end of things for the family business whilst she is on maternity leave.
I’ll be the first to admit it – there is no rhyme or reason to figuring out what motivates me to write a blog post. Ordinally, and most writers would agree, one would love to have the luxury of waiting for the inspiration to waft in willingly – then I could drop everything and allow the words to spill endlessly onto the keyboard; Sadly that almost never happens.
But when it does … it’s a great feeling. For me sometimes all it takes is a Tweet from a Mum suffering from #babybrain. As a mum of four – you have my total attention and empathy; Rock on Mama – this too shall pass.
I was immedialtey interested in having a chat with Helen because she bounced across the social media pages and landed in-person at our front door to drop off a small sample of their lamb so we could taste for ourselves. The proof is in the pudding as they say and and the taste has lingered with me since.
Incase you are wondering – we did very little cooking to the gorgeous piece of meat they shared with us. The rack was small and butchered beautifully into two (3-bone) chops. A quick season and sear on both sides to brown them for less than 5 minutes, a spoonful of mustard topped with fresh breadcrumbs and finished in a very hot oven for 12 minutes.
There was fingerlicking at the table. I am not ashamed.
So, nosey me, I set about drafting a few questions for Helen to see if I could get a bit more information on what makes Achill Lamb so different to other Irish Lamb. Here’s what Helen Calvey had to say:
Helen, how are you involved with this whole operation?
My parents own the business so it is fair to say I help out when required. I am concentrating on Achill Mountain Lamb at the moment as we are undergoing a process of expansion. I guess I have been roped in as I have skills from my MBA which complement those of my siblings and father. (It is also handy that I am on maternity leave from my “real” job!).
There has been a tremendous amount of interest in our unique artisan product of late so I have assisted with social media, press releases and photo calls as well as taking some shots myself (she took the ones of the lambs and her Dad).
How is business? Fifty years is a long time to stay afloat – what’s your secret?
The key thing is my father’s passion for what he does. When he started in 1962 there were 23 other butchers/abattoirs on the island. Today he is the only licenced abattoir within a radius of 30 miles. Back in the 60s he saw an opportunity to sell his Achill Lamb to the growing number of tourists on the island and butchered and handcrafted it so it would fit in the boot of their car. Today we see the grandchildren of the original customers returning for their own carcase so that they can savour the true taste and flavour of Achill.
Our farm is central to all other family business.
From this trade my parents opened a Restaurant in the 1960s which specialises in Achill Lamb. I guess rearing a family of 10 children was also a motivating factor to remain in business and be a successful businessman. Through the years he believed in his product and perfected it. He constantly re-invested, continually upgrading and complying with tougher and more stringent EU regulations.
His flock is also central to the success of Achill Mountain Lamb. It is a pure Mayo Blackface Breed. It has been our tradition for many generations and we have never crossed it with any other breed. This type of sheep and lamb thrive on the unique Achill terrain.
How does the taste differ from sea-spray lamb to say, a piece of lamb from the mid-lands?
We can thank Mother Nature for this. Achill is blessed with purity in its water, air and mountain. The prevailing wind on the Island has travelled thousands of kilometers across the Atlantic and with it, it brings the sea mist and salt which is deposited on the mountains and sandy banks of Achill. This salt runs through the veins of each sheep and lamb. To produce a unique quality lamb product the flock must be treated with respect. The environment will influence this. Our Achill Lamb roam freely on the wild atlantic way and are just a short distance from our Abattoir. If a lamb is bred well and treated well on Achill, mother nature will take care of the rest.
Achill Mountain Lamb is raised solely on a natural diet of Mothers milk together with wild herbs, heathers, grasses, mosses and lichens. We breed our lambs to give high quality lean carcases, healthy pinky red in colour, firm deep texture, with light skim of yellowish fat ensuring a unique specific delicate succulent flavour when cooked.
Farm fresh and free from any additives,colourants or preservatives.
(I’m actually getting hungry just reading Helen’s response)
Do you sell the lambs whole or do all the butchering yourself?
We sell the product bespoke as per customer requirements. We can handcraft the whole carcase or leave it whole or halved depending on the customers preference.
If someone wants to buy a whole lamb – can you give me wholesale prices – we know a lot of restaurant owners/chefs who are always on the look out for a nice bit of (whole or) butchered meat.
This would depend on time of year. Really our season begins mid-July . The lambs we have now are trade lambs due to their size ( All 2013 lambs not quiet a year yet). These lambs are over 20kg.T rade lambs need to be above 15kg. For this reason prices may vary.
Minimum prices for a carcase would be 150 euro. Obviously wholesale prices would depend on volume etc. We would be delighted to engage with any chef/restaurant that was interested.
Hopefully you will be recommending us 🙂
Oh – this was not a difficult one to feature on the blog Helen. What an excellent product.
Are you using a courier service? How much is a typical shipment cost for the island of Ireland?
We use a courier for Achill Mountain Lamb. We include this in the price of the carcase. Once the season begins a carcase delivered should be approx 99.00 euro. This will arrive packaged and ready for your freezer. The whole carcase will fit easily into a common 3 door freezer. Lambs for the household market are usually lighter than trade ones and weigh approx 12-15kg.
It’s not difficult to see why I was interested in sharing this with you all. There is so much more to the story than just a few ‘lambs for sale’. We live in a very ‘get-rich-quick’ kind of world and I think sometimes people need a little reminder that slow and steady wins the race. For quality of product and quality of life. Thanks to Helen Calvey for taking the time out of her busy schedule to have a chat with me.
It seems like Achill Island is a place we should all aim to visit this summer. With Failte Ireland’s recent launch of the Wild Atlantic Way (watch the video!) I see no reason to travel abroad this year . . . staycationing all the way for us.
Have you been to Achill Island recently?
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