Calvey's Achill Island, Co Mayo
‘Heather sweetened – Seaside seasoned’, so say the Calvey Family of their Achill Mountain Lamb. If you’ve ever been to Achill Island, an inshore island on the Wild Atlantic Way off the Mayo coast, now joined to the mainland by a bridge, you will totally understand that phrase. Achill is a unique part of Ireland. Scenery goes from lonely hills, rocky mountains and tall sea cliffs, to clusters of homesteads and five blue flag beaches where families can play. Bridge or no bridge, it’s still possible to drive around this diverse outcrop and feel you are apart from the rest of Ireland.
One thing you will see plenty of on Achill are its famous Mayo Black Faced Mountain Sheep. These stunning creatures with their long shaggy coats, black faces and legs and curly horns are believed to be descended from the wild horned sheep which were found in ancient Asia. They were introduced to Britain by the Danes, then to Ireland by English landowners in the late 19th Century. The sheep on Achill were probably imported from Scotland to Mayo in the 1850’s.
The Calveys are farming their own 100% pure bred strain of the early Mayo Blackface since 1856, and ewes are descendants of the original flock. These agile creatures can handle any terrain. They wander up the mountains, over steep hillsides and even down to the beach. Achill Mountain Lamb is reared completely free of boundaries. This is a method called wild grazing which is completely uninfluenced by the farmer and gives distinct tastes to the meat. A diet of wild mountain grasses, fragrant heathers and alpine herbs is complimented with salty seaweeds from the shoreline.
Hence the phrase the Calvey family choose to describe the taste of the meat they produce.
Achill Mountain Lamb is farmed by the Calvey farm and other neighbouring farmers on the island, which work to the specifications of the Calvey family. Martin Calvey first established Achill Mountain Lamb in 1962, says his daughter Martina. ‘Lamb farming goes back seven generations of our family. Daddy found a market for the product with the many visitors and tourists who came here when there was a massive tourism boom in the 1960’s. At that time, the locals weren’t using the lamb, it was more hoggett and mutton that would be cooked, because it could be cooked slowly in the pot while the people worked out on the land all day. The lamb market was born of the visitors who appreciated the delicacy of the product. So my father established his own abattoir and butcher’s shop for the lamb. He was always a great man for the chat and the charm, so he could tell visitors about all the stages , from the farming to the diet to the production. Then he would have the lamb all ready and butchered and put in a box for tourists to take home. That’s how Achill Mountain Lamb began.’ she says.
The Calvey’s take care of all the processing of Achill Island lamb. This is a calm and stress free experience for the animals, as they are walked to the abattoir and dealt with one at a time, which Martina says makes a huge difference to the condition of the meat afterwards. Everything is done by hand, from removal of fleeces to evisceration and butchering. Achill Mountain Lamb is supplied as a chilled product, ready for the freezer at home. Achill Mountain Lamb is available seasonally from June to Christmas. It has 100% traceability to Achill Island. Available to the trade and catering industry and to consumuers, in whole or half lambs, butchered and boxed. Every cut is included so you get a wide variety of choices for different methods of cooking. Cuts are packed separately and labelled. Each box contains a special little book which tells the Calvey’s Achill Mountain Lamb story with recipes, and has useful information on the island, to help you get the very most from this traditional artisan and handcrafted product at home. ‘From our hilltop, to your table top’, as the Calveys are proud to say.
Martin still works on the land and in the shop, and generally oversees the production of his Achill Mountain Lamb. But these days there are many other members of the family also involved. Ten Calvey siblings to be exact, two boys and eight girls who have all been brought up with this business, and most of them have a role today. Whether that’s full time like Martina, or when they come home on holidays and will be given a job! Her father has spent the bones of 60 years in this business, and his work in providing a traditional farm to fork product is being continued by the family. The gift of nature, the craft of Calveys, as Martina tells us. We can expect absolutely nothing to change at Achill Mountain Lamb as the years continue to go by. And that’s a great thing!
Order online for nationwide delivery in season.