Eamonn gets gold for Glenarm lamb at major Irish food awards

Glenarm hill farmer Eamonn Matthews admits to being “gobsmacked” when he heard that his French Trimmed Rack of Lamb, one of the products he’s currently developing for foodies here and in the Irish Republic, had won gold in the prestigious and highly influential Blas na hEireann Irish Food Awards in Dingle, Co Kerry last weekend.

Saturday, 9th October 2021, 6:00 am

Eamonn and his family own Glenarm Redspark Lamb, an enterprise specialising in slow reared and sustainable lambs on one of the oldest family farms on the rugged hills overlooking the Irish Sea in Co Antrim.

“We are absolutely delighted,” he says. “Winning gold at the first attempt in Blas, the most important and highly competitive food and drink competition on the island, is immensely encouraging especially as we seek to add value to our lambs for both retail and foodservice operators. “Feedback from the panel of expert food judges at Blas shows that we are clearly on the right course with the ready-to cook foods we’ve been developing.”

Glenarm Redspark was among 22 local companies to strike gold in this year’s competition which attracted around 3,000 entries from food and drink firms in virtually every part of the island.

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Grazing the picturesque setting above Glenarm village

Some 70 awards were won by local companies in the annual competition. In addition to the 22 golds, there were 18 silver and a further 22 bronzes gained by a broad range of businesses from many parts of Northern Ireland. Golds were achieved by smaller companies from beef to cider and bakery to sauces.

Redspark’s move into commercial lamb has also captured the attention of German discounter Lidl Ireland which recognised the potential of the farm’s lean, sweet and rich lamb by including an original product on one of its popular Kickstarter schemes for smaller businesses.

In addition to a range of premium cuts for retail, the company has already successfully introduced meat boxes for online sales and is planning to introduce packaged convenience meals such lamb tagine, curry, stew and shepherd’s pie under the distinctive Glenarm Redspark branding.

“Our aim is to create a distinctive brand that’s supported by structured and targeted marketing initiatives for our lamb,” explains Eamonn, who is responsible the lamb rearing and processing business of the 180-acre farm and especially its 200-strong flock of Black Face and Dorset sheep. Brother Ronan looks after the farm’s pedigree Limousin beef herd.

Eamonn Matthews monitoring his sheep and lambs on the Antrim hills

Eamonn, a graduate of an agricultural college in England, has vast experience gained from farming sheep and lambs for over 20 years and is now the driving force behind the attractive new branding and diversification into ready meals for consumers.

The company, he continues, has also been encouraged to push ahead with its ready meals by celebrity chef Paula McIntyre showcasing the lamb on her menus. Paula, for instance, cooked with the lamb on one of the episodes of her hugely popular Hamely Kitchen on BBC NI Television.

Eamonn explains that the exercise and diet from foraging the hills experienced by the lambs produces meat that’s “lean, tender and succulent”.

The flavour of many varieties of sweet grasses and heather, combined with the fresh and clean sea air, produces lamb that’s an ideal ingredient for lovers of good food seeking “premium meat reared sustainably with heritage, complete traceability and provenance”.

Sustainability is deeply rooted on the farm and has long underpinned the family’s approach to farming.

“We only farm low intensive breeds of sheep that are suited to our hilly terrain and require minimal intervention,” Eamonn explains.

His flock of Blackface and Dorset sheep instinctively know how to forage this unique landscape that’s been grazed for hundreds of years and means the ground doesn’t require fertilisers.

Glenarm Redspark’s approach reflects the company’s recognition of a developing market trend towards local products that are sustainable and have a low carbon footprint. The innovation underpinning the enterprise was recognised in a silver award in the UK Sheep Innovator of the year in the Farmers Guardian 2019 awards.

Virtually every type of food and drink from local producers gained either gold, silver or bronze awards in the important Blas na hEireann competition, the most important on the island of Ireland and one which also influences buying decisions by major retail and foodservice operators.

Now entering its 15th year, Blas is the brainchild of Dingle Irish food entrepreneur Artie Clifford. While most of the local winners this year’s awards were smaller producers and artisans, several bigger enterprises including Dale Farm, Belfast,

Northern Ireland’s biggest farmers’ co-operative and a leader in cheddar cheese; Karro Foods in Cookstown, a specialist in pork products including the famed Cookstown brand of pork sausages, ham and bacon; and Tandragee’s White’s Oats, a subsidiary of Fane Valley Co-operative in Moira, and one of the biggest porridge producers in the UK and Ireland.

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