Damien’s Big Beef from Wee Cows wins awards for flavour

Castlescreen Farm in Downpatrick, a producer of a wide range of premium meat products, has been certified by the Pasture Fed Livestock Association (PFLA), the only Dexter farm here to achieve this important certification for grass-fed beef.

Saturday, 3rd April 2021, 6:00 am
Dexter cattle at Castlescreen, living lightly on the land

The farm, which is owned and run by Damien Tumelty and partner Jackie Gibson, has an outstanding reputation for the production of ‘Big Beef from Wee Cows’, a reference to the traditional Irish Dexter cattle, the smallest of the European breeds and about half the size of a Hereford. Beef from Castlescreen has won UK Great Taste and other awards for outstanding flavour.

Damien says: “PFLA champions the virtues of pastoral farming, providing a distinct identity for systems where animals eat only grass and forage crops their entire life. Food produced this way is widely regarded as being much tastier and healthier to eat than some meat from animals fed grain.”

Some meat and dairy in the UK are already sold as ‘grass-fed’. However, this term can be used to describe products from animals that, as well as grazing, have also eaten cereals, manufactured feeds, or by-products from food production.

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Only meat and dairy displaying the Pasture Mark comes with a guarantee the animals have been fed a completely natural diet. Only farms inspected and certified by the PFLA can guarantee that an animal has been fed a 100 percent pasture diet.

“There are significant benefits, I believe, for people, animals and the countryside, from eating food derived from pasture farming. Fields of just grass can provide all the nutritional components an animal needs,” Damien explains.

“However, pastures which contain a variety of plant species, including herbs, wildflowers and clovers provide an even better diet – rich in essential vitamins and minerals drawn up from the soil below. They also support a diverse range of wildlife. Our focus at Castlescreen is on ethical farming and the preservation of the natural environment in what is one of the most picturesque regions of Northern Ireland.”

PFLA, Damien continues, is committed to ethical meat, farmed in a manner that honours natural systems and increases bio-diversity, having a positive impact on our soil and countryside. The PFLA certification recognises and honours these standards.

“We regard this accreditation as immensely important for the growth of our farming and food production,” he continues.

As well as a range of premium quality Dexter beef products, Castlescreen has expanded to include other meats including pork, lamb and chicken, all readily available in the butchery counter which is now a central part of the recently opened farm shop. There are also free-range eggs and honey from hives on the farm. The well-stocked farm shop, which features other foods from local artisans, has proved popular particularly during the coronavirus pandemic. There’s also a delivery service for local people self-isolating.

Damien and Jackie are now well-known at markets across Northern Ireland especially the immensely popular Inns at Saintfield Road and events in Downpatrick, Portaferry and Newcastle.

“These markets,” Damien says, “are a great way to talk to shoppers about the distinctive characteristics and delicious taste of Dexter beef.”

A Food NI member company, Castlescreen supplied beef to quality restaurants such Ox in Belfast and the popular Avoca store in the city before the coronavirus pandemic led to their doors being shuttered. Damien is among a small group of Dexter cattle breeders in Northern Ireland. He opted to rear Dexter cattle because they are much smaller than traditional beef cows.

“They may be small cows but the meat they produce is naturally marbled with fat, giving it a distinct succulence and a much fuller flavour,” he explains.

“We took the decision to change our farming approach and to get away from big animals. Research shows that Dexter meat is one the best you can eat as it is naturally marbled which comes from grass feeding.”

He says Dexters are gaining in popularity due to their size and quality of meat.

“Since they’re smaller and live more lightly on the land, you can keep two and a half per acre compared to one per acre of the bigger and heavier breeds,” he adds.

The flavour of the meat is strongly influenced by the diet the cattle enjoy. “It’s a very healthy diet of exclusively grass or silage. Our beef is then dry-aged for up to 35 days for an intense, real beefy flavour,” he says. “The beef is then prepared on-site by us.”

He currently rears a herd of around 100 beef and breeding cattle on the sprawling farm which has been in the Tumelty family for over 40 years.

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