A product that is pure and from the land.

VelvetCloud1

Velvet Cloud is a sheep’s milk yogurt made by the Flanagan family in Rockfield, Claremorris. Why would you go to the trouble of milking sheep you ask? Especially when considering the relatively small milk yield of the sheep in comparison to the massive yield of the cow.

Sheep’s milk is naturally easier to digest than cow’s milk. The milk has small fat globules which mean that it is naturally homogenised and therefore creamier. It also has medium-chain fatty acids which allow sheep’s milk to be digested more rapidly – it takes 30 minutes to digest sheep’s milk compared with 2 hours for cow’s milk.

As well as all that, sheep’s milk wins hands down in terms of nutrition when compared with cow or goat’s milk: higher in protein, Vitamin C (a whopping 10.3mg per cup), Vitamin B12, Folate, Calcium (almost twice that of cow’s milk) and magnesium (twice that of cow’s milk also). It is also lower in lactose which might suit people that have mild lactose intolerance.

And now for the taste test – sheep’s milk is divine! It’s super creamy and mild. So why are we not drinking more? I suppose, if you are going to milk an animal for a living, you are more likely going to milk a cow which would give on average across the seasons 20 litres of milk a day. A sheep will produce 1 to 2 litres per day. The Flanagan family decided to go with the nutritionally better sheep’s milk and decided they were going to do something special with their product.

It takes dedication to milk sheep. Apart from the lower yield, they are naturally prey animals so the ‘let down’ reflex can be affected if startled and therefore milk production. But the Flanagan family on their farm in Rockfield have been milking sheep and working on getting their yogurt, Velvet Cloud, just right over the last three years. Michael and Aisling spent over a decade living in France and Italy where they saw the popularity of Sheep’s milk products. On returning to Ireland they noticed the marked absence of it in a country where sheep thrive on luscious green grass. The idea of Velvet Cloud was born.

Aisling and Michael started selling their yogurt in mid June 2015 when they quietly launched it on their twitter and Facebook pages. The response was instantaneous. They experienced astounding interest from chefs and retail outlets as they had hit on an obvious gap in the market and also had produced a deservedly well received delicious product. The couple have not been daunted by the massive interest since June and their yogurt is now available across the country in shops as well as on menus. In Dublin, the yogurt is available in Caviston’s in Dalkey and Morton’s as well as the following markets: The Temple Bar market, Honest2Goodness Market and the People’s Park Market, Dunlaoire. Down here in the West it is available in Morton’s and McCambridge’s in Galway, and Rua and De Búrca’s in Castlebar, O’Connor’s SuperValu Westport, SuperValu and The Food Store in Claremorris to name a few, as the list is growing daily. It is featuring on many menus including the Michelin starred Aniar in Galway.

I love these stories of people who have put in such hard work over years developing and researching to the point where they have a product that they are really happy with, a product that is pure and from the land. Their yogurt is their sheep’s milk, milked on their farm and brought to the dairy on their farm where all that’s added to it are live yogurt cultures – that’s it! No sugar or preservatives, nothing else. It’s real food made on one farm from start to finish. And I love how they then tentatively let it out into the big world to see if something would happen only to find a great reception for a great product. In the space of a few months, their product has left their farm and is successfully reaching people all over the country. Aisling and Michael should be very proud of what they have achieved – proud and tired!

First published in The Western People – 17 August 2015

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Andarl Farm

Andarl Farm piggies

Andarl Farm piggies!

Dave and Di Milestone, both originally from Yorkshire, first came to Ireland in 2010. Dave was a long distance lorry driver and Di worked part time in a local deli in Claremorris. In 2012 they bought a derelict farm and some land at Brickens as they were both used to living in the countryside and along with this they also bought Doris, a Large White sow.  Doris soon gave birth to 17 piglets but three days later the unthinkable happened when Doris died, and the piglets had to be hand reared. They had wonderful support from their friends and neighbors during that time. Two of the orphaned piglets took to drinking replacement milk straight away and thrived. They were named Thelma and Louise and they still have them today. A few more ladies have joined the group since: Ruby, Rosie, Scary, Posh, Sporty and Baby (Ginger hasn’t arrived yet!) They said that it is such a great feeling to have Thelma and Louise the original orphaned piglets in particular, producing regular litters of their own, despite the fact that they were told by a local pig farmer at the time that they would never make anything out of them! Little did they know that with Thelma and Louise, Andarl Farm Velvet Pork was born.

Their passion for their pigs started from that point on. As modern tastes can often find free-range pork too fatty, they decided to take up the challenge to find the perfect cross that would have the right fat to lean ratio as well as a good hardy outdoor disposition to suit their farming style. It took 3 years through the use of AI to develop the right breed and in 2014 they bought Harry, a Hyroc boar to compliment the Andarl Farm sows. Harry was bred by Hermitage Genetics in Kilkenny and is a cross between a Duroc and a Pietrain. The fat and lean characteristics of this meat results in a density that gives Andarl Farm meat its name: Velvet Pork.

Harry photobombing the Spice Girls

Harry photobombing the Spice Girls

They soon found they had a bit of a backlog of pigs, weight ready but with nowhere to go. They asked Michael Webb the owner of the abattoir where they kill their pigs if he had any interest in taking a few for his Castlerea shop. He took a pig that first week and has been buying them since. A few weeks later I met Dave and Di at a Mayo Food Producers meeting and we started selling their pork in De Búrca’s. They supply Mark’s Meats in Dunmore and Ryan’s Food Emporium in Cong. Sheridan’s in Galway sell the pork products they have developed in the last few months: dry cured rashers, gammons, sausages and Pork and apple burgers. Award winning restaurants such as: Flanagan’s in Brickens, Bar One and Rua in Castlebar, The Hungry Monk in Cong and Araby in Claremorris feature Andarl Farm pork on their menus. Dave and Di are also at Boyle Farmer’s Market every Saturday from 10am to 2pm.

They both really care about their pigs and it shows in the final product. I asked Dave does he ever struggle with that journey to the abattoir. He said ‘I do and I don’t’ in the sense that the overriding feeling he has is one of pride. Pride that he and Di have done their best for their pigs and reared them to standards that results in very happy healthy pigs that lead lives according to their natural instincts. They prefer to use the small abattoir in Castlerea because they find it to be a quiet gently process that doesn’t lead to stress for their animals. The care taken at every stage is evident in the wonderful flavour and texture of the pork and this is why the customers for Andarl Farm Velvet Pork are growing on a daily basis.

Harry

Harry

DATE TO REMEMBER: Dave and Di from Andarl Farm will be at De Búrca’s Butcher Shop for a food demonstration of their pork and pork products on Friday 31st July 2015 from 11am to 2pm.

Reek View Farm

PatGrimes5

We lived in a mid-terraced townhouse in Nenagh for 7 years before we moved back home to Castlebar. It had a postage stamp sized back garden that was filled with dock leaves, thistles and piles of maintenance when we moved in. We wanted to grow some vegetables and herbs for the kitchen and soon realised the work involved even in a tiny garden. I distinctly remember discussing in amazement the people that grow vegetables for a living. After our own very limited and forgiving experiences in the garden, we will be forever in awe of people who do it every day. They are really up against it. If you get your produce grown in the first place, what with the war that has to be waged against weeds, slugs, aphids, blight, mice and other competitors, you’re still trying to compete in the market place with foreign supermarkets that are selling bags of carrots for 99cent; a product someone somewhere has paid the price for.

Westport native Pat Grimes was a builder when the recession hit. He started doing odd jobs for people as building work waned and found that he was leaning towards the gardening and planting jobs more than others. He grew up on Reek View Farm in Carramore on the Westport to Leenane road. His parents always grew a wide variety of vegetables for the table, but Pat’s recollection is only of weeding. He never in a million years thought he would end up growing vegetables himself and would have laughed at the suggestion. But the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

After doing a short organic vegetable course in Mayo Abbey, Pat knew that he wanted to study planting more extensively and attended the Organic College in Dromcollagher, Co. Limerick. He had started developing his home place on Reek View Farm growing salads, vegetables and herbs. He grew everything at first to see what would sell and what people would be interested in. He also had to work out what he could grow and rotate on a farm that, while not certified organic yet, is based on an organic ethos utilising organic systems of pest control, rotation and composting. He started selling his mixed salad leaves, herbs (thyme, sage, rosemary, basil, parsley and coriander) and vegetables (for example: cauliflower, tomatoes, beetroot, courgettes, French beans, kale) to local restaurants and hotels. Sol Rio was his first client and the number has grown to include Sage, The Lodge at Ashford, Bar One, Seasons, Mill Times Hotel, Hotel Westport, The Pantry and Corkscrew and the Idle Wall, to name a few. He also supplies SuperValu and Centra in Westport and ourselves, De Búrca’s in Castlebar with his bags of Elia’s salad leaves. For his farmhouse eggs and any surplus vegetables he keeps an honesty box at the end of his farm lane – it seems a lot of people have making the spin out the Leenane road just for this.

Pat’s leaves were recommended to us last year when we did our first proper De Búrca event at the Banbh Market on Rushe Street. We absolutely loved them. Not just because they were so varied, fresh and delicious but because we were dealing with someone at the end of the phone that was so calm, where nothing was a problem or an obstacle – which is probably why he grows vegetables.  Despite having spoken to him twenty times on the phone I didn’t get to meet him until the day of the Market. He came to the stall with his wife Corey, a Californian who came as a volunteer to his farm two years previously and never left, and their little baby girl Elia in a sling. That was last year. Elia’s name is on his bag of greens in the shop now, and seeing as they are due their second baby this summer, I’m looking forward to see what else comes from Reek View Farm.

 

First published in The Western People 25th May 2015

PatGrimes6

PatGrimes7