Adventures with Achill Mountain Lamb

Since 1962 on Achill Island, the Calvey family has reared their mountain lamb on the wild Mayo coast producing meat of exquisite taste, sweetened by heather and seasoned by seaweed and salty air...

Since 1962 on Achill Island, the Calvey family has reared their mountain lamb on the wild Mayo coast producing meat of exquisite taste, sweetened by heather and seasoned by seaweed and salty air…

Most of us associate lamb as a spring meat, but Achill Mountain Lamb is different – it has a season of its own, late summer. This isn’t to say that Achill Mountain Lamb is mutton or hogget (although, both are available, one of very few who offer these preparations of lamb), rather the late season is to take advantage of the natural fodder available to the lambs that graze on open, wild pasture.

Heathers bloom in late summer, and the sheep will feast on these delicate flora that thrive on the peat rich, boggy lands of of the Achill peninsula. As the sheep roam, they move from hillside to seaside eating mineral rich seaweeds and other foraged treats from the rocky shoreline. The fresh, saline air as pure and clean.

I was kindly sent a mini hamper of Achill Mountain Lamb to try, and I couldn’t wait to dive in! Lamb is my favourite of all meats, and I knew that this lamb is the very best produced in Ireland today.

About the Calvey Family

It is rare that an artisan food is so closely linked to a family and the land but that is certainly the case with Achill Mountain Lamb. The Calveys are a large family which can trace its roots on Achill Island back seven generations. The skills, crafts and artisan traditions learned over hundreds of years have been steadily passed down and will continue to be passed down to the next generations.

Photographer Paul Sherwood 087 230 9096 FREE REPRO – photo- Paul Sherwood Irish Food Writers Guild Awards 2022. Calveys Achill Lamb, Achill Island, Co.Mayo. Pictured: Martin Calvey with his sheepdog and some of the flock

Martin Calvey has been hill-farming on his native island for nearly 60 years- since 1962 in fact. He knows every inch of it and he knows every one of his Mayo mountain blackface sheep. The Mayo mountain blackface is still a distinct strain having evolved and adapted to conditions in the West of Ireland over the last century.

The Calvey family are farming this 100% purebred distinct strain Mayo Blackface Mountain Breed since 1856 with continued sheep farming descendant breeding ewes of this original flock. Calvey’s first blackface mountain ewes were from James Hunter who farmed the hills of Tiernaur with 20,000 sheep in the 1850s.They are free to roam and graze on the rugged hills and the seashores. They drink their mother’s milk and munch on the rare machair grass, fragrant herbs and sweet heathers, mosses, lichens and the salty seaweed along with the acres of lush green wild grass.

Martin Calvey’s knowledge of the Mayo mountain blackface, their habitat and habits, led to being awarded the prestigious Farming For Nature award in 2018. These sheep are truly wild and free-range. The land is commonage so there are no fences, no seeding or cultivation, no fertiliser, no ploughing, no herbicides. Working in this way means rearing the mountain flocks supports and contributes to natural habitats and biodiversity.

Premium Lamb Without the Price Tag…

Lambs are first reared on mother’s milk and spend months feeding on the island’s rich rough pastures. Then they are simply walked to Calvey’s abattoir at Keel. That means minimum stress and maximum taste. They are processed and butchered on-farm using old fashioned traditional methods where almost everything is done by hand. The whole process takes place at Calvey’s on Achill Island.

Calvey’s Achill Mountain Lamb, Salt Marsh Lamb and Mutton are adorned with accolades and top awards including an Irish Food Writer’s Guild Award, Blas na hEireann Gold Award, and Farming For Nature National Award – signs of true provenance and superb quality. When cooked, Achill Mountain Lamb is succulent and juicy bursting with the exquisite colourful flavours of mountains, cliffs and rocky seaweed shores. This exquisite lamb meat is a premier product but it doesn’t come at a premium price. It is used by top chefs but also by many a home cook who make the most of every cut.

Photographer Paul Sherwood 087 230 9096 FREE REPRO – photo- Paul Sherwood Irish Food Writers Guild Awards 2022. Calveys Achill Lamb, Achill Island, Co.Mayo. Pictured: Martin Calvey with his daughters Grainne & Helen

How to Cook

Meat of this quality, and with access to so many cuts and finishes thanks to their farm-to-fork approach, means that versatility is part of the eating experience of Achill Mountain Lamb. There are many delicious and easy to make recipes available to download from the website HERE, so you can browse ideas and then buy what you need to make it. The online shop is easy to use, and delivery is nationwide. Buy for the freezer and well as the fridge so you will always have this lamb on hand when your tastebuds begin to tingle for it!

What’s in the Box?

I received the mini hamper which contained a 3 chops, 2 shanks and a rolled shoulder joint. It arrived well packaged and still frozen all the way from Achill Island to West Cork!

Other hamper types are available from the online shop…

Achill Mountain Lamb – one version of their mini hamper available online

How to Order?

You can order online or telephone Grainne (098) 431 58.

When you order, Calvey’s prepare and butcher for you, all labelled and packed ready for your deep freezer. The meat is delivered fresh not frozen with no preservatives, additives or colourants, there’s purity in it’s perfection. Delivery to your door everywhere on the Island of Ireland. The time span between ordering and delivery may vary according to seasonality and availability. Please order in plenty of time.

When you are visiting Achill Island you can also visit Calvey’s Farmstore and Butcher Shop in Keel to buy or order

Flavourful Recipes

I made three different but equally flavourful ways of cooking each cut of lamb, using flavours I know complement well and cooking methods best suited.

My week days are busy, but I still want flavourful food to eat at the end of a long day’s work. My Achill Mountain Lamb Chops with Rosemary and Smoked Garlic Polenta and Hazelnuts is a perfectly comforting winter warmer of a dish that’s simple to make. If you can bear stirring a risotto mid-week for 30 minutes, you can cook a pot of polenta!

Shanks require low and slow cooking, so I employed my slow cooker for this. Everything prepared and popped in at breakfast time, it’s ready to eat bang on tea time having been serenaded by the cooking aromas all day long. Another comforting dish (it’s where my head is at this time of year for sure!), I serve these Slow Cooker Achill Mountain Lamb Shanks with Fluffy Mash and Gravy made from the cooking juices.

I reserved the rolled lamb shoulder for one of my favourite slow cooking weekend projects. My Spiced Yogurt Achill Mountain Lamb Shoulder with Flatbreads and Treats is a dish I return to time and time again. Keeping things aligned, I used Velvet Cloud Sheep’s Yogurt also made in Co Mayo. The yogurt is rich in protein, thick and wonderfully delicious without too much tang and take flavour and enhances flavour incredibly well.

Check them out for yourself and have a go. They deliver flavour by the bucket load but are very simple to make!

Achill Mountain Lamb x Recipes

Achill Mountain Lamb Chops, Rosemary and Smoked Garlic Polenta, Hazelnuts

Achill Mountain Lamb Chops, Rosemary and Smoked Garlic Polenta, Hazelnuts Photo Credit Kate Ryan

Ingredients (serves 2)

  • 2-3 Achill Mountain Lamb Chops per person250g polenta
  • 1 ltr chicken stock + extra water in case needed
  • 2 smoked garlic cloves
  • 1 tbsp EVOO
  • 1 tbsp sea salt
  • 1 tbsp rendered lamb fat
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp parmesan, grated
  • 1 tbsp roasted hazelnuts, roughly chopped


As polenta cooks and thickens it will begin to splutter, so use a deep saucepan to cook this to best contain the mess!

Put the saucepan over a high heat and bring 750ml of chicken stock to a boil. Add the polenta gradually, whisking all the time with a balloon whisk until well combined.

Turn the heat down by half, add the remaining stock and stir with a wooden spoon or spatula. Cook for 15-20 minutes, stirring really often to prevent burning and to stop it spluttering. If you think the polenta is getting too thick, add more water. You are looking for the consistency of porridge and the polenta should be cooked until it has lost all of its grainy texture.

Use a little sea salt and the side of a knife to turn the garlic cloves into a paste, add to the polenta just before finished cooking.

Whisk in the olive oil, rosemary and sea salt. Polenta is very bland on its own, so take time to taste and adjust the seasoning. Cover and set aside while you cook the Lamb Chops.

Season your lamb chops all over with salt and pepper. Place fat side down in a frying pan, turn on the heat to medium-high. This will render some of the fat from the chops and crisp it up. After 5 minutes, place flat side down and cook for a further 2 minutes each side to colour. I like my chops to be a little pink inside.

Turn the chops onto a piece of kitchen paper to drain off. Add some of the lamb fat into the polenta and the parmesan.

Spoon the polenta onto warm plates, top with the lamb chops, and scatter with hazelnuts.

Serve with a side of winter salad greens dressed with lemon juice and EVOO.

Slow Cooker Achill Mountain Lamb Shanks with Fluffy Mash & Gravy

This recipe cooks itself. All you have to do is make some mash potatoes and whiz the cooking juices into a thick and delicious gravy!

Slow Cooker Achill Mountain Lamb Shanks, Fluffy Mash and Gravy Photo Credit Kate Ryan

Ingredients (serves 2)

  • 2 Achill Mountain Lamb Shanks
  • 1 carrot, peeled, finely diced
  • 2 stick celery, fined diced
  • 1 large onion, peeled, finely diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste (smoked, if you can get it)
  • 500ml chicken stock
  • 2 sprigs each of rosemary and thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp black peppercorns
  • salt
  • Fresh parsley, roughly chopped
  • Mash potatoes


Place the shanks into the slow cooker, and add all the remaining ingredients, except the salt.

Turn the slow cooker on to Low, and leave cook for 6-8 hours.

When the shanks are cooked, remove into a bowl, cover and leave in a warm place (a warming drawer, or an oven turn to 75 degrees).

Spoon off some of the excess lamb fat from the pot, then place everything into a processor. Blitz until everything has been pureed into a thick gravy. Pour into a saucepan and thin with some water, heat until just simmering.

Taste the gravy and add sea salt to season – at least 1 tsp. Taste as you go, add a little more if needed, but remember if you are heavy handed with it, you can un-salt the food! If you would like more pepper, add more. Same rules apply – taste as you go!

Onto warmed plates, add a generous spoon of mashed potatoes, top with a lamb shank, spoon over a generous amount of the gravy, and sprinkle a little of the fresh parsley over the top.

Spiced Yogurt Achill Mountain Lamb Shoulder with Flatbreads and Treats

If you happen to have a wood fired oven in the garden, using that to cook your lamb will give an extra dimension of oak smoke to the finished dish, but it also is perfect in a standard oven too.

I serve the lamb in flatbreads with peppery rocket leaves, baba ganoush (a smoky aubergine dip), a minted yogurt and cumin dip, pickled cucumbers, and pomegranate seeds. It makes for the perfect sharing food – I lay everything out on the table in different plates, platters and bowls and everyone builds their own flatbreads as they like it!

Spiced Yogurt Achill Mountain Lamb Shoulder, Flatbread & Treats Photo Credit Kate Ryan

Ingredients (serves 4-8 people depending on how many additional sides you put out)

  • Achill Mountain Lamb Shoulder
  • 250ml Velvet Cloud Natural Sheep’s Yogurt (or any natural bio yogurt)
  • 1 tbsp Ras al Hanout spice blend
  • 2 cloves of garlic, grated
  • 1 lemon, zest and juice of
  • Sea salt and pepper


Heat the oven to 140 degrees Celsius – no fan.

In a bowl, mix together the yogurt, Ras al Hanout, garlic, lemon zest and juice, salt and pepper.

Unpack and untie the lamb and place it into a deep roasting tray. Using a pastry brush (silicon one if you have it, else use a spoon), paint the yogurt mix thickly all over the lamb covering every surface – including underneath.

Cover the roasting tin tightly with foil, and place in the oven. Cook for two hours covered, then uncovered and cook for a further 1.5 to 2 hours until such time as the lamb is falling apart and starting to take on a little burnished colour.

Turn off the oven, recover the lamb and allow to rest for 20 minutes. Uncover and using two fork, begin to pull the lamb apart. It should just fall apart, so you are only encouraging it and maybe pulling larger pieces into smaller ones.

Place the pulled meat into a warmed serving platter, and dress with a little of the cooking juices to keep moist and shiny.

Take a flatbread and build it into one seriously tasty mouthfull!

I like to serve with other sides, such as roasted pumpkin with dukka, or pomegranate molasses glazed tenderstem broccoli. The more sides you put with it, the further the lamb will go.

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