Jun 5 2014

Connemara Mountain Lamb

Posted by     14 Comments    Posted under: Reviews

They all say that theirs is the best lamb you’ll ever taste. Every sheep farmer I’ve ever met will look you square in the eye and spin you the same sceál .. “Certified organic, free range over several hundred acres of mountains, by the sea, fed on a healthy diet of bog heather and organic meal” this is the best Lamb you are ever going to taste.

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And most of the time, it appears, they are right.

A few weeks ago we sampled a few lamb chops from the Calvey family farm in Achill, County Mayo, which was pretty spectacular. That spurred another farming man from Leenane, named Bernard King, to track me down at work the other day asking if I’d consider trying a bite of his late season hogget; A beautiful leg of lamb indeed.

When I stole a few minutes to chat with Bernard about his sheep rearing and lamb selling business, I could tell from the look on his face that he was not overly excited about the way things were going. That same afternoon I read this article about Beef farmers getting into Sheep farming because they can command a higher price but it kind of left me feeling like we are dangerously close to heading back to ‘rip off Ireland’ and we need to make smart choices now more than every with the limited amount of weekly income we have, not to mention show our support for the existing Sheep farmers who are not ripping us off.

“I’ve nearly 900 ewes roaming around 500+ hectares of IOFGA certified organic mountain land out near Leenane. I can tell you now, you are going to love this Lamb, because it is a beautiful animal.”

Bernard stressed his frustration at trying to sell to restaurants as all they want is the rack of lamb or leg of lamb. Well, the chefs are ordering those cuts just to cater to what the public are demanding, right?

When was the last time you saw and ordered a piece of lamb on a menu at a restaurant? Other than the standard three chops on the plate or Sunday roast, you’d be hard pressed to find a lamb shank, or even a stew with a succulent hunk of lamb simmering. I’ve seen lamb meatballs once on a menu in Mayo and Kai Cafe in Galway here just recently started serving a Lamb Burger (it’s a beautiful thing) but for the most part … we seem to be leaving the rest of the lamb out in the cold, so to speak.

And the butchers are no better. I remember, when living in the US, we could purchase rolled lamb neck (very inexpensively) on a daily basis, no special order needed and lamb shanks were available all year round too, and also quite cheap. A shout out here to John Tormey’s Butcher shop in Galway as he does carry Lamb shanks almost all year round.

But again, if there is no demand, and we are not using the cheaper (and obviously less popular) cuts of lamb at home then there is no point in the butchers stocking up on items they will have to creatively cast aside later due to lack of interest.

Offering up this beautiful protein source at €9 per kilo (cheaper than any and all the grocery stores) Bernard works with a local butcher, Tommy Lydon from Maam, and can fit a whole lamb into ‘the three drawers of your freezer’. They operate on a kill-to-order basis so its not like you need to save your pennies for any specific time of the year, you can call him up and place your order whenever you want. Bernard has not yet started using a courier service so I told him to connect with the folks over at OldFarm Pork in Tipperary because they have been using a courier for the last year with great success. Incidentally, if you are looking to buy yourself a bit of free range pork then look no further. They even offer pig rearing courses and have a few extra beds at their farmhouse so you can make a little mini-break out of it.

“I know this is the best tasting Lamb in the country. I know that once people taste it, they will love it. I hope that people will recognise the value for money in what they are getting when they order this meat.”

We wholeheartedly agree with Bernard. At €9.00 per kilo for certified organic lamb raised outdoors in a completely free range mountain environment .. well its a no brainer. Product labelling, transparency of food origins, knowing and trusting that the food you are eating has not been injected with growth hormones or fed a diet of crap ….. all of this matters.

We decided to throw our leg of lamb on the big green egg. A quick rub down with very coarse salt and black pepper, a bit of smoky Spanish Paprika, some citric acid (available at all pharmacies) and raw cane sugar, we left it sitting out for about two hours (to come to room temperature) before throwing it on the glowing coals.

At 2 kilos in weight it took just under one hour to cook. The citric acid and sugar (both small amounts and equal parts) gave the char that extra special zip. It was the kind of stick-to-your-teeth yum …. and with a piece of meat like this, you really do not want to overcook it. The outer pieces work well for those who like everything well done and by the time you get a third of the way in … well, it’s just gorgeous.

From the above referenced article in the Irish Independent earlier this week “…. Last week, a leg of Irish lamb in Tesco cost €12.99 per kg and Irish lamb loin chops cost €18.99 a kilo. In Dunnes Stores, a leg of Irish lamb was priced at €9.29 per kg and Irish lamb loin chops per kg were €15.99. In Lidl, a New Zealand-sourced leg of lamb cost €8.99 per kg and its Irish Lamb loin chops were priced at €16.19 a kilo … “

So what are you waiting for … clear out your freezer guys and dolls.

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Bernard can be reached at (087) 236 – 3445 or you can visit their website at ConnemaraMountainLamb or email them at info@connemaramountainlamb.ie or pop over to their Facebook page for a look.

That’s all for now folks.

WiseMóna

PS – I have a few other ‘cooked’ photos but due to the fact that the internet is an absolute nightmare here at the house – they will have to wait unlit later to upload. Hard to imagine that we live only 4 miles from Galway city – it is 2014 – and we have a non-existent broadband service. First world problems, I know.

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14 Comments + Add Comment

  • Would be delighted to talk to Bernard about courier service…. and thanks for the mention!

    Margaret

    • Hey – whats not to love!
      I can just see a few tasty lamb chops on your Big Green Egg!

  • Fabulous article Mona – this is a wonderful product and I am often sad to see a lack of support for such great, locally reared product. Thank you for sharing your experiences & continued success to Bernard . Might have to visit them during my next break

    • Thanks for this Cait.
      That would make a fun trip out west. I’d love a few photos. If you are planing a trip back out that way during the
      summer let me know …I’ll load up the kids and a picnic :0)

  • Hi Mona,

    Have to say, here in Mayo, things are quite different. Quality local lamb in many guises is standard fare these days both from butchers and elsewhere (and that’s a good thing!). Shanks and stewing lamb are on many butcher’s counters all the time (Kelly’s of Newport, McCormick’s in Westport for example), as well as pretty much any other ‘lesser’ parts you’d want including hearts, liver and kidneys. Part of the reason for this is that Kelly’s (and a diminishing number of others) have their own abattoirs which means you can get any part of the animal you want – and they’ll know exactly where it came from. Traceability the very best way.

    You can also buy half lambs or whole lambs for the freezer butchered as you want. That’s a great value option.

    Lamb burgers are a regular at street fairs and (in my opinion) are well superior to their beef cousins. Lamb sausages are also commonly available (though not my particular choice). Some butchers make their own lamb burgers too – again Kelly’s and McCormicks have them daily.

    One of our bbq favourites is thick cut lamb neck chops. The recipe came from my brother who lives in New Zealand and it’s fingerlickin’ good. On a related note – NZ lamb is not a patch on our own, I spent a month there recently and took the opportunity to do lots of tasting! Lamb from the west of Ireland is definitely top choice for taste. My own preference is Mayo Atlantic Seaspray Lamb – seasoned by nature.

    Bottom line is – in Mayo anyway – you’ll find any part you want of the best, tastiest lamb is readily available. Let’s support these butchers, especially those who still operate their own abattoirs, they are an invaluable asset to our communities.

    Best wishes,

    Lesley

    • Thanks for this Leslie … I hear you. I think that the butchers and farmers could all use a little weekend away t0 come up with a better plan to work together too. For me, it is bespoke butchering that we need more of.
      Ron always doers the whole or half animal so he has control over how it is butchered and he freezes it according to labels like ‘Supper for two’, Sunday roast with Granny etc. One of my readers tweeted yesterday that there is one butcher in Galway who does sell Lamb neck so I am on a mission today to find them. I also share your love for the MASSI Lamb … a gorgeous piece of meat. But now, after trying the Lamb from Achill and from Connemara… I’m convinced that the entire west coast is blessed with excellent tasting lamb. We are very fortunate.

      Thanks for popping in for a chat Lesley x

  • I was waiting for you to review Galway lamb, I just though this morning about getting one from that place in achill, but thought I’d find out where I’d get some closer to home! Come home, check email and you’ve solved that one for me! Thanks, can share a purchase like this with my siblings, so it’d a no brainer. I Remember when my father would butcher his own cow each year, We’d have the most delicious t bone, nothing has tasted as good since!! The usual organic etc etc, but back then most things were organic, but we didn’t know it!!

    • I know Sarah … I think, even though it is nice to see the label for reassurance,
      there is a lot more ‘organic’ farming around these parts. All you have to do is drive around an spay attention to the fields the animals are grazing in. The ones with loads of clover and weeds growing are for me!
      Do – sharing a lamb with your siblings is a great idea. Enjoy every bite.

  • The difference between Irish and New Zealand lamb is: all NZ lamb is “organic”. Unlike most Irish producers, NZ farmers don’t use chemical worm drenches, dips for blow fly and antibiotics.”Natural selection” being the key words to lamb production in NZ. 😉

    • Hi there Jack…
      and thanks for this comment. I asked Bernard himself to respond to your commentary and this is what he had to say …

      ……………………………………………………………………………………………………..

      Hello Móna,

      I am an organically certified farm, with IOFGA, and because of this, I am only allowed to use certain chemicals .
      In the dipping case I use Eco Fleece which in an Non OP (Organo Phosphates) dip.

      Organo Phosphate dips, which many sheep farmers use, is poison, and farmers themselves have been affected by this as it affects the human immune system.

      Now your wondering why it is being used at all I’ll bet?

      Sheep get Scab – a little mite gets under the skin and creates a scab. As the sheep itches it gets worse and this is contagious to other sheep. It used to be compulsory to dip sheep but not now – so scab is making a come back and it is nasty stuff.

      The dip I use Eco fleece has a 14 day withdraw date which is doubled for Organic and I have to keep records of dipping dates too.

      Also because sheep produce oil in their wool – this attracts the blow fly (and other flies) who lay eggs on the back of the animal or if a sheep is dirty around the tail-end area. If not treated in time the Maggots will actually kill the sheep so dipping is also done to prevent this and protects the sheep for 6 weeks or so.

      We don’t usually have this problem out here in the mountains though. My sheep get an annual swim around September or October.

      Next thing your reader is concerned with is dosing.

      For Organic farming I had to get a plan done by my vet – Karel Vanbrugen – out in Oughterard.

      The main problem out here is Fluke which again left untreated the sheep might wither away & die

      I dose all the flock at the shearing in July and again at the dipping and again in Feb or March.

      All dosing records are again kept for Organic farmers & withdrawal dates are doubled

      Normal withdrawal dates for non organic farmers are 14 days +

      The system in New Zealand is an ‘easy care’ way of doing things as
      sheep are not tagged out there. There is no traceability and also prob cost might come in to it with the attitude of ‘what ever lives-lives’

      Organic is only Organic when within certain standards and that sould also apply to farmers in N Z who are claiming to be Organic.

      Hope this all helps.
      Glad you enjoyed the lamb. I had journalist over from Germany some time ago with Bord Bia – all agreeing that mountain lamb is an unique product and should be marketed on its own.

      Regards
      Bernard.
      ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

  • Use Bernards Lamb and it is lovely

    • That is great to know and it is indeed a beautiful piece of meat.

  • HI Mona.
    Thank you so much for giving my sister and I the pleasure of 2 days in the wonderful Mulranny Park Hotel. It is many, many moons ago since we were in that part of Mayo and to be honest had forgotten how stunningly beautiful it is. When you so eloquently described the area , the hotel and the local produce in your blog you did not exaggerate. We were given a room with a sea view (unsolicited ) and it was such a pleasure to just sit and look across the bay . The fact that so much of the hotel’s raw ingredients are locally sourced is very evident in the dining room … delicious food superbly presented ! I have never tasted lamb with such flavour ( I cook mine all day so it is falling off the bone, because unfortunately I am unable to source it from a local hillside !) It was such a pleasure to see so many families and groups enjoying walking and cycling The Green way with such obvious enjoyment .With the glorious beaches it all makes for an ideal family holiday location . The hotel was busy but I could see that they are geared to making ALL their guests happy. The out standing feature of our stay was the efficiency and charm of the hotel staff. Never too busy to share a word or assist in any way when needed .
    I hope to stock my freezer for the winter with Calvey’s Achill mountain lamb and Kelly’s outstanding pudding and sausages…. even if I have to drive up there to get it.
    Sorry this is a bit (?) longwinded Mona but it is difficult to describe without it reading like hyperbole …which as you know all us Celts excel at 😉
    Thank you again for the wonderful experience and for your most enjoyable blog which I ALWAYS enjoy.
    God Bless
    Sarah x

    • Wow…thanks so much for this Sarah..

      I am so happy to hear you had such a lovely experience at Mulranny park hotel ..
      But I knew you would. It is easy to forget just how beautiful these places are and
      I too was overwhelmed at the unspoilt beauty of that part of the world.
      I hope it never changes…so glad you and your sister enjoyed the little getaway xx

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About Móna
I am a native Galway girl that seems to be drawn to professions that rhyme with 'err'. Writer, Mother, Restauranteur, Wedding Planner, Dishwasher, Grass cutter, Cocktail maker. I suppose you could say I am a well rounded entrepreneur.
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