This week I have a special mini-series of posts, sharing my visits to local Orkney food and drink producers. This is out of a growing interest I have to discover more about the provenance of our food, particularly in the Scottish Highlands and Islands where the natural larder of ingredients are commonly used. I’ve been meaning to start a new series of posts about local businesses for a while and this was kickstarted by my press trip to Fife a couple of months back- so Orkney really has got my series off to a flying start!
The food and drink industry in Orkney is growing all the time, and I was helped in contacting a huge group of producers by Orkney Food and Drink – so a very big thanks to them. Mr B and I were overwhelmed by the amount of people who said they wanted a visit from me and to be featured on the blog – it was a real pleasure meeting everyone. Over the course of the week I will sharing the lives and stories of dairy farmers, bakers, preserve-makers, fishmongers and distillers. Today however has a definite meaty focus, as we’re off to meet some Orkney buffalo!
We met Naomi Bremner on the farm that she and her husband Russell run in Deerness which is on the east side of mainland Orkney. While Russell”s family have a history of farming on the island of Eday, Naomi is relatively new to farming as she has a office background – just 6 years ago she was working behind a desk for Orkney Council and now she is running a buffalo farm! Like many people in Orkney, Naomi has more than one job to keep things ticking over from season to season, including writing a baking column in one of Orkney’s magazines and having involvment in the local NHS Trust. It was really inspiring for me to meet Naomi, as even though i enjoy my part time administrator job in Inverness, I do like the idea of getting out from behind a desk and doing something completely new within the food and drink industry (although you will never see me in the farming industry, I’m definitely not cut out for it!).
We headed out into the field to meet the herd of buffalo. Instead of keeping their distance, the buffalo soon crowded round us, expecting to be made a fuss over! I was surprised to see how gentle they were. They were so calm and were really getting round us for a stroke – as you can see in the picture below, this one is just having a casual rest on me! The buffalo here are a Himalayan breed, and have come from Romania, as well as Fife. The farm started off with 20 buffalo, and three years on there are around 150! They can live into their late twenties, and they have a very gentle smell about them – not like cows which can smell quite pungent! A little-known fact about buffalo is that their horns regulate their body temperature. Much like how a dog would pant on a hot day, the horns of a buffalo are like radiators!
Of course, running a buffalo farm is of course to farm high quality meat, and this was what Naomi and Russell set out to do – departing from the family tradition of farming Angus beef. Starting up in 2013 without any European funding to assist to begin with, all kinds of buffalo meat cuts are sold locally in Orkney shops, and in the summer a catering trailer goes out on the road to give people a taste of buffalo burgers. Eventually Naomi hopes to open a local shop on the farm, where meat is also produced from pigs and sheep. Cuts of their buffalo also make their way down to the Michelin-starred Peat Inn in St Andrews.
Orkney buffalo are reared on a pure grass diet. This produces a meat which is a little sweeter and richer in flavour than beef, and which is also lower in fat and higher in nutrients than other red meats.
We were able to take away both some buffalo steak mince, buffalo sausages and farm-laid eggs, back to our self-catering apartment in Kirkwall, and enjoyed the mince with tatties and root veg that very evening (I haven’t included a picture due to the fact I don’t think mince and tatties can be that photogenic!). A couple of days later we consoled ourselves with the US Election result by having the buffalo sausages grilled with some fried eggs and local bread for a 100% Orkney breakfast!
Thanks to Naomi for taking the time out to meet us – we really were quite taken with Orkney Buffalo!