In the run up to the release of the Winter issue of FEAST: A Dinner Journal on December 14th, we are taking a look back at some of the Irish food champions we’ve met in our previous issues…
If ever the essence of terroir was expressed in an Irish product it is Connemara Hill Lamb. We visited Martin Joe Kerrigan’s lamb farm at the edge of Lough Corrib and in the heart of the Connemara Ghaeltacht region. He is part of a group of farmers who have gathered together to promote and protect the lamb which is indigenous to the Connemara region. The Connemara Blackfaced Horned Ewe dates back to the 1800’s.
The grand sweep of herbage, heathers and grasses on the Connemara Hills are its feed which gives the lamb a natural, succulent flavour with a very pronounced aroma. The carcass is lean and the meat is rose red in colour with a solid deep, texture and a light covering of fat.
Like other heritage livestock it matures at a slower rate gaining the benefits of their natural habitat in the taste. The result is a lamb of specialised quality which is an expression of the heathers, herbs and grasses of Connemara, almost symbols of Ireland in themselves. When Martin Joe was growing up, the lower lands were saved for the dairy cows but now the lamb have become his main source of income.
Modernity is only allowed to peek in where it doesn’t interfere with the traditions of the region. Martin Joe used to walk the land but he now uses a quad bike, though the fences which divide the lands are all maintained by hand. While we were up the mountain shooting, ten lambs were born and we watched them up and walking within a few hours.
The lamb has won a number of important awards including one from the Guild of Irish Food Writers. Most importantly has been their designation of EU wide recognition through Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status, a little like an Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC), on French wines and food. There are at present only three others in Ireland. Without the dedication and passion of these farmers this breed would no longer exist and our feast would be sadly lacking in the taste of Connemara Hill Lamb.
Connemara Hill Lamb, Corr Na Mona, Connemara, Co. Galway, Tel +353 9495 48798.