Meet the men producing award-winning lamb in Waterford's Comeragh Mountains
We continue our celebration of the people producing food the 'Waterford Way' as part of a new initiative funded by Waterford City & County Council to highlight all the great local food and producers we have in Waterford.
This time the spotlight falls on Willie Drohan who has a farm at the foot of the Comeragh Mountains, which is possibly one of the finest places in the world to rear lamb.
In 2008, he started the Comeragh Mountain Lamb company with his brother-in-law, Aidan Dunwoody, after previously concentrating on supplying the big meat factories around the country.
After looking at the way in which food in Waterford was starting to be produced - by small, independent and passionate people - Willie decided that the Comeragh lambs were wasted on big factories.
“The more we thought about our location, and environment in which the lambs enjoyed - in terms of diet etc, we knew we had a different product to everyone else,” Willie said.
“We’re a six generation farm in Lemybrien and, driven by a passion for what we do, we decided that we had to start selling the lamb ourselves.”
Comeragh lambs roam free over extensive areas of the Comeragh Mountains, eating grasses, herbs, wild flowers, heathers and drinking natural spring water - all free from chemicals and pesticides. Because of this, they have significantly more Omega 3 fatty acids in their tissues than average lamb.
“Out on our own, the first man we approached was Michael Quinn, who was head chef in Waterford Castle,” Willie said. “Michael took two lambs from us was impressed, so much so that he showcased our lamb that year’s at the Terra Madre International Food Festival.”
This endorsement gave Comeragh Lamb confidence in their product and also introduced them to many of what would become their future customers. After that, they went to Farmer’s Markets and then to the food lover’s supermarket - Ardkeen Stores - which was to be another springboard for future success.
Comeragh Lamb has quickly become a premium, must use product with The Tannery Dungarvan using their lamb, quickly followed by dozens of other world class restaurants, who insist on only using world class ingredients.
They won awards, such as ‘Local Food Hero’ at the Irish Restaurant Awards and The Eirgrid Euro-Torques Food Award and soon became the go to lamb suppliers in Ireland.
The secret is out now about Comeragh Lamb and Willie and Aidan, channeling the ethos of Food the Waterford Way, are now collaborating with small neighbouring farms in the Comeraghs to make sure that the best lamb in the country is getting to the most discerning food lovers in the country.
“I love mountain sheep and I’ve loved working with them since I was a child,” Willie said. “I think they’re different and if I’m honest about it, I think they were starting to get a bit lost in the food industry."
Speaking about the industry in 2018, Willie said, "We have some amazing quality of food in Ireland but unfortunately a lot of it is controlled by big meat factories."
“The product can become generic, with people really not knowing what they’re eating. I think there’s scope in Ireland for food to be regionalised, such as Kerry Hill Lamb or Connemara Lamb. ‘Irish Lamb’ could really be anything at all when the reality is that local lamb has a story to tell, and it’s worth listening to.”
Looking to the future of Comeragh Lamb, Willie revealed, "there are two big goals at the moment." "We want to package it and get it on the shelves so people can enjoy it at home and we also want to export it. We are so passionate about Comeragh Lamb that we feel it deserves to be in the finest restaurants in the world.”
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