Bringing Home the Bacon

Nicky Cahill meets Pat O'Doherty, the man behind Fermanagh Black Bacon 

Standing on Kilmore Quay, looking out at Inish Corkish, tranquility surrounds me. The light misting rain heightens the smell of the wild clover and vegetation. Stretching out before me like a sheet of glass is Lower Lough Erne, Co Fermanagh, its islands reflected in the water. Evening birdsong fills the damp air.

Speeding across the water towards Inish Corkish with Pat O’Doherty, our boat is the only thing to interrupt nature. O’Doherty’s Fine Meats, Enniskillen, is a butchery and meat processing business specialising in a wide range of meat products.

With a strong emphasis on traditional Northern Irish production methods, its produce includes the multi-award winning Fermanagh Black Bacon.

What makes Inish Corkish unique is the mixture of pig breeds that live there. Tamworth (red), Saddleback (black & white) and Wessex (black) arrive as eight week old piglets towards the end of May.

The Cot on Lough ErneHere, the pigs live an idyllic existence. They are free to roam, forage and sleep as they would have centuries ago in the wild. A traditional flat-bottomed boat, a Lough Erne Cot is used by O'Doherty to transport his pigs to and from the island.

With a glut of mass produced, chemically enhanced bacon crowding our shops and the pork industry experiencing many difficulties, O'Doherty wanted to return to a more natural product – approaching the pork industry from a more traditional angle.

‘I become very attached to the pigs,’ says O'Doherty. ‘I travel to the island each night, to give them little snacks and check their well being. I’m fascinated by the way they interact with nature and each other.

‘Human beings who maintain a balanced and healthy lifestyle enjoy a better quality of life. The same applies to pigs. I want people to realise that there’s an animal behind their pork chop.’

O'Doherty is an organic butcher, certified by the Soil Association. Organic Fermanagh Black Bacon is produced alongside five others - Traditional, Streaky, Oak Smoked, Brandy Cured and Nitrate Free.

Fermanagh Black BaconO'Doherty's Nitrate Free Bacon contains no E-numbers and is the first of its kind in Europe. Nitrates artificially extend shelf life and provide the enriched pink colour found in most bacon today. They have been linked with carcinogens and instances of increased oxidative stress in autistic children. Pat has broken the mould, shocking the Soil Association by producing bacon free from these preservatives.

Fermanagh Black Bacon has been sold in Harrods Food Halls for the past four years and will be part of their Christmas hampers. With a booming worldwide online customer-ordering base, Pat is ensuring his bacon is available to all who want it and' in the process, highlighting the excellence of Northern Ireland’s produce.

O’Doherty is passionate about pigs and the use of local suppliers. Preferring to let his product speak for itself, Fermanagh Black Bacon has won a series of accolades including a mention in Rick Stein’s Food Heroes, the Supreme Award for Outstanding Product in the Ballygowan Irish Food Writers Guild Awards and a mention in the prestigious Bridgestone Food Lover's Guide to Northern Ireland.

Fermanagh SausageO’Doherty took part in the Salone del Gusto exhibition at Turin in October 2004 - the biggest event in the food calendar. O’Doherty’s was the only Northern Irish company at the event and they plan to travel to Italy again this year.

‘I am truly delighted that Northern Ireland is being celebrated for its rich and diverse food produce and that my Fermanagh Black Bacon has had a mention’ he says.

O'Doherty slicing BaconFermanagh Black Bacon is hung to mature for at least three months - some commercial bacon may only be hung for three days. Donning a blue cap and protective boots, we entered the area in which the bacon is sliced and packaged.

As O'Doherty lifted out a side of bacon, the light sweet smell of peat lingered as he began to slice it. When I cooked it for breakfast the next morning, the bacon had a depth and sublime flavour, unlike anything I had ever tasted before.

With Fermanagh Black Bacon, Pat has re-awoken a sleeping part of the North’s food culture. In doing so he has promoted one of Northern Ireland’s longest food traditions throughout the world. I encourage you to try it!