Suddenly in January, it was announced that the abattoir in the Orkney town of Kirkwall was to close. No doubt this raised a cheer from those if the “let them grow beans” persuasion but for me, my heart went out to my friends across the water on the remote Island of North Ronaldsay. How, I wondered, were they going to get their mutton processed? North Ronaldsay is northern most of the Orkney Islands. Orkney is the Island group within sight of John O’Groats in the North of Scotland.
North Ronaldsay Sheep are listed in the Ark of Taste and looks to be the best candidate to become the first Scottish Slow Food Presidium. As this tradition of food production is under threat, it is time for the Slow Food movement to put its underpants on over its trousers and do something about It.
First stop was to notify Shane at SF HQ and Tom at RBST. Both organisations work closely together and I have high hopes of a national campaign in support of small abattoirs. Already RBST ambassador & Chef Alliance Member Cyrus Todiwala has elicited support from Prince Charles’ Office which can help with funding. But if this campaign is successful a new abattoir for Kirkwall is several years away.
What was required immediately was getting this winter’s crop of muttons processed and into a kitchen. The need was to keep the trade going until a longer-term solution can be found. The default solution was to send the sheep to Dingwall for processing, but in my experience, bigger abattoirs are not very interested in small consignments where provenance is a priority. So I phoned Fred.
Few do more than Chef Alliance member Fred Berkmiller to support small producers. “If I could get hold of some North Ronaldsay Muttons, and subject to price, would you buy them?” I asked. “For Sure. I could perhaps take 40” was his immediate reply.”
Then I phoned Jillian at online retailer Fresh Food Express and got another positive response. Calls to Lerwick Abattoir and North Ronaldsay brought about a willingness to work together and within a few weeks, a batch of 172 North Ronaldsay Sheep had their passage booked to Shetland. I have since spoken to both. Billy Muir on North Ronaldsay was delighted with how well the arrangements had gone. Lauraine, Manager at Lerwick Abattoir said “good well-grown sheep”.
In the end, both Fred and Jillian were limited by the storage space they could organise at short notice but some of their customers have been able to enjoy dining on North Ronaldsay mutton. The rest have gone to Billy’s regular customers.
I can already hear Carlo Petrini saying “now you have sold 100, next season I want to hear the total was 1000”. North Ronaldsay mutton is available in November and February. Plenty of time for the carnivorous members of Slow Food Scotland to organise storage. No bleating “I don’t know where to buy it from” all the information is on the Ark of Taste web page.
Want to try before you buy? I have high hopes your local Chef Alliance members will be planning to put North Ronaldsay Mutton on their menu.
So come on you chefs, let’s see you proclaiming on social media that you will be buying North Ronaldsay Mutton #ArkOfTaste.