Wednesday, June 17th, 2015
Chefs these days get all of the credit for cooking amazing food, but the real heroes are the food producers. As a chef it is vital to source amazing produce and to discover the work, time and effort that go into getting the food from farm to fork. Only then can one really begin to respect the ingredients one is working with and how best to cook them.
This month I visited an amazing woman, Avril Allshire-Howe, who owns and operates along with her husband and two sons, Caherbeg Free Range Pork Farm in Rosscarbery, Co. Cork. I arrived at the farmhouse to be greeted with a very welcoming smile from Avril and I also had the pleasure of meeting their aptly named pet lamb, Mr. Lamb. I was told that Mr. Lamb likes to hang around the house with the cats and dogs. I felt like I had walked into a scene from the movie “Babe”.
The farm began its journey back in 1997 when Avril bought 5 pigs, not having had any experience in handling them before. Today they could have up to 120 pigs at any one time which is a true testament to their success. The pigs range in different breeds from Tamworth to Saddlebacks to Gloucester Old Spots. As we toured the farm the respect that Avril and her family have for the animals was quite apparent from the great detail with which their lifestyle was described to me. All of the animals are left to roam freely and lead a natural life, the way that Mother Nature intended. They are given the best possible diet and are left to mature and grow for 38 weeks, which is almost double the amount of time that intensively raised pigs are allowed.
All of the products are made by hand on the farm in state-of-the-art facilities. Once the animals are returned from the abattoir it is all hands on deck. The animals are butchered on site and all of the different cuts are assigned to make different products, including amongst others, smoked bacon and flavoured sausages. All of the meat is dry cured which leads to the amazing flavour that characterises their pork and that is why I use it at Ballinacurra House.
You only have to look at the amount of awards that this family have won to appreciate that you are dealing with premium porky products. This is by no means an easy lifestyle as Avril explained to me that only a few days ago the whole family was up at 4.30 a.m. to begin a 14-hour marathon of sausage making. The dedication, commitment, time and passion that is put into raising these animals was very inspiring to witness and I am grateful as a chef to have had the opportunity to experience it first-hand.
If you haven’t yet tried Caherbeg Free Range Pork, I would recommend that you add same to your shopping list. You won’t be disappointed. It is up to you, me and everyone in the food industry to support artisan food producers so that we can move away from the mass production of animals and ensure that we are getting the best quality food we possibly can. Just remember “you are what you eat EATS”.