The sea-sprayed heather of Achill Island off the coast of Mayo forms part of the diet of the purebred Blackface Mountain ewes that have been reared by the Calvey family for fifty years.
Their Achill Mountain Lamb is the epitome of a terroir food. It’s reared on Achill, where they also feed on machair grasses, lichen and seaweed. They’re slaughtered and butchered at the family’s small abattoir. Now chefs all over the country are clamouring for it.
Helen Calvey told me how her father first started marketing the lamb fifty years ago to tourists, but the domestic and food service sectors are really growing.
“The year began with the Gourmet Greenway Launch and that’s really made a difference to our business. We have been supplying our own restaurant for 50 years and other chefs in the locality, but now there are enquiries from chefs nationwide every day. Kevin Dundon is due down this week to film for his American TV programme. Stefan Matz at Ashford Castle has our lamb on his tasting menu. We’re in Hayfield Manor in Cork, KAI, Dela and Ard Bia in Galway, An Port Mor in Westport and they turf-smoke and air-dry it at Belleek Castle in Ballina. Phillipe Farineau at Mount Falcon also takes a lot of our lamb,” says Helen.
[quote_box_center]Achill Mountain Lamb is the epitome of a terroir food[/quote_box_center]
It does taste pretty special. That salty, herbal taste definitely comes through and the fact that it’s butchered so well does make it easy to prepare. Helen says being craft butchers does make chefs more willing to deal with them.
“They know that we can give them any cuts they want, to their exact specifications. They can have breast of lamb ready-rolled, trimmed racks and laps. Rumps are very popular. Each chef’s lamb is bespoke for them and handcrafted. It’s all about having a good relationship with them.”
She says the family have four cornerstones in their business; genuine, pure, handcrafted and traditional.
“Our lamb is 100% Achill. All steps of the process take place on the island. The lambs are free to roam wherever they want. The land is commonage and that freedom they have means no stress and ultimately, very flavoursome, tender meat”.
The lamb is a seasonal product. It’s usually launched in June or July and runs until Christmas.
Recently, they’ve gone into partnership with Pat McLoughlin Butchers in Dublin. He supplies Patrick Guilbaud’s, Peplo’s, Harvey Nichols and the Winding Stair. Future plans include securing a distributor for the UK.
They’re looking forward to a visit from the London chef, Mark Hix soon. Don’t be surprised if that massive cow suspended from the ceiling at the Tramshed in Shoreditch is joined by an Achill Blackface Mountain Lamb!
For more information on Calvey’s Mountain Lamb, visit their website here.
To find out more about the Associated Craft Butchers of Ireland, visit their website here.