All In

Down here at Black Welsh Lamb we are relieved to have a barn full of hay to see us through the winter. Being grass-fed means that we have to rely more than most people on a good store, as we can’t fall back on cereal-based feeds if the hay runs out.

Haymaking; a hugely romantic, traditional aspect of farming is one of the most stressful times of the year for us.

2016 Hay
2016 Hay

Our participation in the Glas Tir environmental scheme means that we cannot cut grass until after the 15th July, which as any parent knows, is when school holidays start and good weather ends. Sometimes we can take advantage of young farmers’ need for cash the week before the Royal Welsh Show to get our permanent hay meadow contract mowed, turned and baled before the rain sets in. This year, however, the RWS dates meant that it didn’t happen, but neither did the rain and we finally cut in the first week of August.

It takes three or four days of decent sun to make really good hay and so the combination of good weather, perfect grass and decent availability of kit and labour is vital to getting things right. The idea of making good hay is that it bottles up sunshine to bring out in the winter. Any rain on it will grey out the sun and make the crop dull and lifeless.

2015_437
Plenty of grass at the moment

However, no matter how carefully you choose your week to make hay, there is an unwritten rule that the weather forecast will change about ten minutes after the grass is cut. We had a guaranteed week of sun this year, but as the mowers left, the clouds gathered and the threat of rain grew real. A few spots here and there, but the clouds subsided and we moved back into glorious sun. After a couple of sleepless nights, our beardy neighbour Tom rowed up and baled 350 bales of the best hay we have ever made. A few hours later we had it in the barn, where it rests, gently putting out a glorious hay smell and sitting ready for the winter to come.

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And the odd thistle

The sheep haven’t noticed yet, as we have plenty of nice late summer grass to concentrate on (and the odd thistle), but soon they will welcome it as a reminder of when days were long and and the sun shone bright.

For us, the hay is a passport to making sure we can offer the finest pasture-fed lamb and hogget for our loyal customers. Without it, life would be dull indeed. So here’s to a barn full of the finest and a successful winter ahead.

“There is no reason to fear the wind if your stack of hay is well tied” – Traditional Irish proverb

Our hoggets are available to order from the end of August. We supply whole of half sheep and the average weight is around 15-20Kg (including bones). We can deliver anywhere.

Drop us a line at baa@blackwelshlamb.com to enquire.

Time to Celebrate Difference

As you will know if you read our blogs, we produce organic lamb on the farm here for sale to restaurants and direct to private customers. We think we know some of the issues involved in getting great local produce, especially meat, out to consumers.

Some of our organic Black Welsh Lambs, taking their time.

This got us to thinking about how we market and distribute artisan products in a system dominated by big retail. The traditional path used by farmers selling through the wholesale market means that once stock is sold there is no contact between farmer and consumer and the product becomes commoditised. Farmer co-operatives bring more power to the producer, but the meat is still aggregated, taking on the brand of the co-operative, rather than the individual producer. Farmers’ markets provide an answer for the producer to some extent, but they are labour intensive and provide limited range and choice for the consumer, which is what we have all become accustomed to expect.

British Lamb – Is that it?

What strikes us is that the situation is very different for wine (and increasingly beer) and cheese. When we buy wine, we are offered a huge array of choice by location of origin, colour (obviously), grape variety and individual producer. Similarly, any supermarket will celebrate its range and diversity of niche cheese products and will stock a wide range of single varieties such as cheddar or camembert from different producers. How different is this to our supermarket meat choice, where we are offered lamb or beef by country of origin. Full stop. Who would be happy with a shop whose wine choice was either white or red / french or spanish? We know that as consumers we are increasingly wanting the backstory to our food, not just to build confidence in traceability and production or welfare standards, but because we want to be part of the story, to be ambassadors for brands we believe in and to share new discoveries we have made.

So, it is time for a new approach. We want to see Black Welsh Mountain, Balwen, Shetland and Ryeland all appreciated for their individual flavours, textures, fat content and colour.

We want consumers to appreciate the difference; the subtle minerality brought on by slow maturation and careful hanging, the complexity of taste from lambs raised on herb-rich pasture. It is time for single estate meat – and and the internet can make it happen.

 

Hogget – Lamb as it Used to Be?

Many people that we speak to say that they prefer a leaner meat these days. That is good news from our point of view, as our organic grass-fed Black Welsh Lamb is very low on fat compared with more mainstream commercial bEwe and Lambreeds. At the same time, our ancient, species-rich pasture offers higher-levels of minerals, vitamins and omegas than modern, fast-growing rye grasses. This makes our lamb very popular amongst chefs and people who are looking for maximum taste and texture, but also those who are more interested in a healthy diet.

At this time of year, our first lambs are ready for sale. However, these are last year’s lambs that have been slowly matured without any cereal-based feeds for almost 18 months and once lambs are more than a year old, they are known as hoggets. We think this is a nice old term and it helps to differentiate our premium product from this year’s lambs – who are still firmly with their mums. Our customers tell us that our hogget tastes like lamb used to. We can’t disagree.

You can order our Black Welsh Lamb hogget by dropping us a line at sheep@penywyrlodlamb.co.uk or by calling 01873 821387.

Or you can follow us on twitter @BlackWelshLamb.

We’d love to hear from you.

Nick and Sarah

True Acclaim

Matt tebbutt in action

True acclaim today from one of our favourite clients, Matt Tebbutt of the Foxhunter Restaurant, Great British Menu and Market Kitchen fame.

We always welcome feedback on our lambs and especially from chefs, whose own reputation depends so much on the quality of the ingredients they serve to their customers.

Matt described his last delivery as: “Small but beautiful. A bit like Pixie Lott. Loved it.” Just in case any of you are worried about what you might be eating, here is a quick guide to distinguish an organic Pen-y-Wyrlod lamb from the fragrant songstress:

One of our lambs
Pixie Lott

Outstanding at Trealy Farm

Yesterday we were priviledged to be part of Outstanding in the Field’s first UK event, at Trealy Farm, Monmouth. I arrived late, but still in time for a glass of Ancre Hill sparkling 2008 Seyval Blanc – which was a really good start to the afternoon. Ruth Tudor and James Swift gave us a great farm tour, describing their commitment to producing honest, sustainably reared animals on the ancient farm overlooking theUsk Valley. The two of them have developed and put into practice so many ideas it is truly humbling.

The assembled group of guests threaded our way up the hill, through ancient pasture and picturesque woodland to our dinner site. As we came over the brow of the hill, there below us was laid out an immaculate row of tables with white tablecloths and folding wooden chairs.

We rapidly took our places at the table and took time to introduce our selves to our neighbours: a mix of mainly Monmouthshire, London and American diners, with a couple of people from South West England, but all with a common interest in locally sourced, excellent food and drink.

The menu offered a six course tour through some of the finest produce in the region (not including the appetisers that I had missed down the hill by being late!) Trealy Farm charcuterie, hot and cold smoked salmon from Black Welsh Mountain Smokery, our own Pen-y-Wyrlod organic lamb (cooked with chick peas, coriander, preserved lemons and coriander), Philp Bevan’s amazing vegetables, stunning late summer pudding, a selection of Welsh cheeses and finally coffee with Gower Cottage Brownies. Each course was accompanied by (Ancre Hill) wines and/or cider/perry from the area.

The Hardwick team, in the form of Chris and Chris, prepared, cooked and presented this amazing feast, which was served up by the very engaging OITF team. Our waitress (under states her role) had developed an encyclopaedic knowledge of Welsh produce in the forty eight hours since she arrived and everything was handled efficiently, engagingly and with a barrage of smiles.

As the sun went down, we made our way to the fires lit on the hillside and chatted with old and new friends, producers and the OITF Team. For a first time event in the UK, it was undoubtedly a success. Sure it was expensive, elitist and for the few, but it provided a perfect setting to showcase the best of Monmouthshire produce and cooking, the landscape and the people. Beyond that, the meal demonstrated how pop-up banquets on a more modest scale could be made to work on any farm, on village greens or in town centres. I hope it is the start of something truly exciting.

Outstanding in the Field

Just selecting lambs for the amazing Outstanding in the Field banquet, to be held at Trealy Farm, Monmouth, next week. OITF is a legendary American organisation that travels around the States in an iconic tour bus, holding large scale banquets outdoors on farm, to promote communal dining, links to farmers and enjoyment of local food.

OITF Tour Bus
PHOTO CREDIT: Marina Makropoulos

For the first time, OITF has arranged a European tour in 2011 and the only UK date is at our friends Ruth Tudor and James Swift’s farm nearby.

The Hardwick Restaurant is preparing the food from the finest local ingredients, including James’ excellent charcuterie.

We are proud to have been selected to provide the lamb for the main course and we are really looking forward to the event.

Next stop Denmark…………

More information (and ticket sales) can be found at: http://outstandinginthefield.com/about/history/

Lamb Winners

Guy Ingram with half a lamb
Lucky winners of a half organic lamb in our prize draw at the Abergavenny Winter Fair were Clare and Guy Ingram, from the Vale of Glamorgan.
Their prize was slightly delayed when Nick got stuck in snow in Cardiff before Christmas, whilst attempting to deliver to one of our regulars. Despite heavy warnings to take the Land Rover, he chose the Audi and nearly spent Christmas on the outskirts of the city.

Happily, Sarah delivered a replacement to the Ingrams this week. We hope they enjoy it!

For all those of you who entered but were not so lucky, the good news is that we have added you to our mailing list, so you can order one direct!

Market Kitchen: Big Adventure

Just discovered by accident that our film with chef Mark Sargeant is on Market Kitchen: Big Adventure on UKTV’s Good Food Channel today and next Sunday.

Mark visited the farm a few weeks ago, walked the ground with Sarah and tried trimming some sheep’s feet with Nick before going on to cook some delicious Pen-y-Wyrlod Lamb.

More details at: http://uktv.co.uk/food/episode/listing_id/131840373/channel_id/3850

Recipe of the Day

For anyone like us with a massive crop of quinces this year – a recipe to go beyond membrillo and quince jelly: Qorma-e-Behi or Afghan Quince Stew.

We love Afghan recipes. Almost every one, including desserts, begins with “take one lamb”…….. This is a toned down version, stolen from the excellent Noshe Djan, by Helen Saberi and published by the excellent Prospect Books. Try it, preferably with one of our delicious organic, pedigree lambs and let us know what you think!

Serves 4.

2 large quinces

75ml vegetable oil

3 medium onions, preferably red, finely chopped

1Kg Pen-y-Wyrlod Lamb on the bone, cut into chunks

1tsp ground pepper

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

1/2 ground cardamom

110g brown sugar or molasses

salt to taste

Peel the quinces and cut into 2.5cm cubes. Heat the oil in a pan and then add the finely chopped onions. Fry over a medium/high heat until soft and golden brown. Now add the meat and fry until browning, then add the quince. Stir, then add the spices. Fry for about a minutes then add about a teacupful of water and the sugar and salt to taste. Mix and stir the ingredients and cook gently until the meat is tender and quinces are soft.

Serve with chalau (Plain white rice).

Special offer: Two free quinces with any lamb this  week!

New Star Ram Makes his Entrance

Our search for a new ram is over. Meet Allt y Brain Leroy (not our choice of name!) who arrived at the farm last weekend from a beautiful farm deep in the Breconshire Countryside.

Allt y Brain Leroy

He is in quarantine for a couple of weeks, as any new stock has to be, but he is less than pleased about being in a field on his own when there are a hundred ewes waiting not far away!

Choosing a time for lambing is always difficult for us. Our lambs are born outside and so we like to wait until the worst of the weather is over and the mornings are not quite so dark before starting. At the same time, we want lambing to be over by early to mid May to make sure that the ewes get the best of the spring grass to make milk.

Generally, we follow the old adage that “Bonfire night makes April Fools”, which means that if we put the ram in with the ewes around the 5th of November, lambing will start on April 1st. This also ties nicely in with the Easter holidays, so we can coerce the children into helping! This year, as Easter is a bit later, we are aiming for the week after bonfire night, to begin lambing around the 7th April.

Sadly for Leroy, that means another two weeks of waiting……………..