Travel

Ireland’s best ham: The happy pigs from the island of Inishcorkish

Ireland is the island of sheep and cows. Whether in Northern Ireland or the Republic in the south, they populate meadows and pastures, along beaches and cliffs, are ubiquitous. But they have no business on a tiny island in the Lakelands of County Fermanagh. There, dozens of pigs sniff through fields, woods and undergrowth, romp freely in the wild between foxes and deer, feed on mosses and herbs and bathe in the waters of Lough Erne. Almost every evening they receive a visit from a strange gentleman, whom they surround happily, because he always brings along some treats, which he distributes to the animals. One day, of course, he will come to take her to the slaughterhouse.

For Pat O’Doherty is a butcher in nearby Enniskillen, but even if he one day processed it into ham, bacon and sausage , he loves and pampers his pigs. In the spring, he brings the piglets by boat to the island of Inishcorkish, where they can let off steam over the summer, make muscle meat and put on fat. They are black and black and white pigs of the rare breed Saddleback, who find here a pig-like idyll, a species-appropriate habitat, donated and cared for by this butcher, who delivers the recognized best pork in Ireland.

Pat picks on ancient recipes

It is sold at O’Doherty’s Fine Meats, his shop in Enniskillen, where Pat feels at least as comfortable as on the island. Between chops and ribs, sausages, ham, bacon, a dozen blood sausage varieties and his legendary hamburgers, he complains about the perversions of mass animal husbandry and philosophizes with steadily growing enthusiasm about species-friendly pig breeding, respect for the animals and the proper processing of meat and sausage. “Even as a butcher,” he says, “I can understand people when they become vegetarians – when they see how turbo pigs have to grow up and what tasteless meat they deliver!”

O’Doherty’s meat and sausage products, on the other hand, taste really good with pork, and recently his Black Bacon is especially in demand. This traditional Irish bacon had almost disappeared from the market because there was no longer enough meat available and the time and effort required to produce and preserve it. Pat pickles it according to ancient recipes without phosphates, nitrites or other preservatives and color stabilizers. For three months he is allowed to mature in peace, as was once common in Ireland. Meanwhile, the Black Bacon has received numerous awards and Pat O’Doherty in the overall Irish food scene as “King of Bacon” to a kind of celebrity status.

No wonder Black Bacon customers from both Belfast and Dublin travel to Enniskillen. If you feel like it, accompany the master butcher to his pigs in the evening on the two square kilometer island. In the quiet seascape of Lough Erne she dreams to herself, not far from the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, a currently completely open border, freely passable across the lakes and rivers of the Lakelands and on the roads at most at the change of traffic signs is to be perceived.

What Pat and his clients from North and South think is the return of border controls as a possible consequence of Brexit, they do not need to be asked. County Fermanagh in the north and County Leitrim in the south, Pat says, and this can be confirmed here in every pub, have always had more in common with each other than with their other neighbors in Northern Ireland or the Republic. In the remote northwest of the island and without access to the coast, they are still barely touched by the booming Ireland tourism. The sight of Pat O’Doherty’s meat counter alone is worth the detour to the tranquil Lakeland.

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