Winetavern Farm, Co. Wicklow
“I was just mad about pigs!”
Dermot Allen’s passion is infectious. He’s a big character, full of stories and chat but behind it all is an evident love for what he is doing. Not that he’s been doing it for very long. Dermot only set up Winetavern Farm near Baltinglass in Co. Wicklow nine years ago. The grandson of a butcher in Arklow, Dermot ran a taxi and bus company for years before starting to rear pigs “to provide decent food for the family.”
He vividly remembers walking out the back of his granddad’s butcher shop in Arklow and seeing the massive sow, “twenty times the size of (four year old) me!” It obviously had an effect on him – as soon as the opportunity arose he bought a little land and started rearing a few pigs. Winetavern Farm was born. Although his focus is now on the Oxford Sandy and Black breed, he did start off with Tamworth’s. Having to try round them up every time they escaped proved a little tiresome however, “anything with a pricked ear is nuts!” and after a trip around the UK to talk to experienced farmers, he decided to focus on the dangerously rare Oxford Sandy and Blacks having been greatly influenced by Maureen and Andy Case.
Oxford Sandy and Black
The Oxford Sandy and Black is a docile breed and I’m struck by how approachable and playful they are – particularly the piglets. It’s so rare to see pigs running around, enjoying themselves that I can’t help but think of all the poor miserable porkers stuck in factory farms all over the world. Education is a key passion of Dermot’s and he regularly visits local schools with his pigs, “the kid’s eyes, they just light up.” I have no doubt about this,
children people today have very limited interaction or knowledge of the animals that they are eating and it’s not too outlandish to suggest that if they did, we wouldn’t be in the position we now are with regards to animal welfare. “I would love it if the department would let me bring pigs into every school in Ireland, just to educate people.”
The Irish Pig Society
Dermot is a founding member of The Irish Pig Society which was set up to promote pigs in Ireland. The society had it’s first show in Stradbally six years ago. “It’s not about winning, it’s about showing the pigs and the camaraderie. Getting to meet other people who are interested in pigs.” Despite this, Dermot has won twice, in 2014 and 2016. Although showing pigs may not seem like a big deal, it is another way to get people interested in the raising of pigs again. The Irish Pig Society aim to support and promote pig enterprises in Ireland and champion breeding and rearing apart from intensive systems.
Happy Pigs, Tasty Dinner
Dermot’s pigs are happy. They are born into a happy environment with lots of space and company. They spend the majority of their time in forests and orchards around the country surrounded by other pigs before being brought back to the farm. They live happy and then they are killed and cleaned ready to become a tasty dinner. This may sound crude but it is merely the fact that people now try to gloss over. No amount of cellophane packaging will take away the fact that the meat you are eating comes from a once living animal.
Dermot’s first barbecue (pig on the spit) was for his daughters 21st birthday. It must have been pretty good as word soon got around and the business was born. “I do barbecues and it works out at €10 a head or €16 per person with salads…….I don’t have to be a millionaire after it!” He loves it and can’t wait to start in the morning, even when the day starts at 4am! The whole pig can take 5-6 hours to cook, “I score it, get a bit of salt into it and just get it to bubble, once it bubbles you’re grand!” The bubbling ensures good crisp crackling, the most important thing, “I’m hardly carving it and the crackling is gone!” There is a regional disparity however with the Dubs not being too fussed about the gloriously crisp skin and the culchies fighting over it. I myself am in the second category.
The sausages that Dermot serves at his barbecues are also his own. Made from old sows, they are succulent and full of flavour. “What’s the point in digging a hole and putting her in the ground? Once a sow is nearing the finish we’ll leave her for four months and get a bit of fat on her. The fat mixes better with the meat on an older pig. On a one year old pig, that everyone makes their sausages from, the fat doesn’t mix well, it’s too hard. We get 2,500 jumbo sausages from each sow.” I took a couple of sausages home to sample and they are exceptional – like porky butter, soft with a deep savoury taste. My favourite sausage.
With a busy year ahead, Dermot has no plans to expand. “I just want to keep enjoying what I’m doing and continue to educate people about pigs. I don’t want to get any bigger, I’ll just do what I can manage.”
Dermot is available for barbecues year round. He can be contacted at 087 2516623 or on the Winetavern Farm Facebook page.