Caroline Rigney tells Valerie O’Connor about how she and husband Joe moved to a farm to make highly-prized pork products from rare-breed pigs.
Many of us dream of giving up the city and living an idyllic life in the countryside, no more traffic, no more rat race, fresh air and relaxation. Sounds great.
One woman who made her dreams come true is Caroline Rigney, originally from Co Westmeath.
She and her husband Joe, sweethearts since their teens, fell in love with a field in Co Limerick and decided to up sticks and move there to farm.
Their stunning stone house is the result of the couple’s hard work and Caroline began keeping pigs as, when growing up, the pig was always known as the gentleman that paid the rent, she says.
“Yes my dreams have come true, but it takes constant hard work and dedication,” says Caroline.
The couple keep rare breed pigs, Saddebacks, Tamworths, Old Spots and other breeds. On a stroll around the land on a breezy summer’s day, the picture couldn’t be further from busy city life.
Ducks loll on the grass, dipping in and out of the water trough, the gander protects his wife and new chicks, as they take shade under an apple tree.
Chickens are busy pecking around and the bigger animals, shorthorn cows, Jacob sheep and a pair of horses, are chilling out like they know it’s Sunday afternoon.
The pigs all live happily outdoors, being moved from field to field as the paddocks are re-planted for them.
“Naomi [aged nine] is our oldest sow and like the other pigs, she has a much easier life than any commercially-reared pig.
"The sows give birth about once a year and wander into the stable and wander out to self medicate with wild herbs if they need them during labour.”
The Rigneys produce some highly-prized pork products — sausages, rashers, and black and white puddings — from their meat. These are sought after by top chefs and restaurants across the country.
She has seen an increase in the demand for what is naturally a higher-priced product, but also a change in attitude towards the fattiness of the meat
“People used to object to the amount of fat on the rashers, but the fat is there because the animals live a natural life outdoors and eat a bespoke diet of non-GM grain, field beans, sunflower seeds and yogurt,” says Caroline.
With real black-pudding now being rated as a superfood, Rigney smiles as someone who knew this all along.
“I make my pudding from a unique recipe, using fresh pigs’ blood, pork fat with added barley and oats.
It is a great source of iron and is very high in B vitamins, especially when eaten with fresh salad, as the vitamin C aids the absorption of the vitamins, while the fibre will help with digestion, I love it eaten with a runny duck egg on a bed of rocket.”
Caroline also produces a range of grain-free products for people following specific diets, where fats are required for the healing of the gut and other ailments.
She also makes all of the pork products by hand in her small, purpose-built production unit on the farm.
It’s the most delicious meat — the pork chops taste of pork and the flavour and texture is outstanding.
To see the animals with so much space to in which to roam, to follow their own rhythms, and for the sows to give birth in a safe environment with someone to watch over them, is reassuring.
When you stroll around, banabhs come running, geese get protective and flap their wings,and chickens wander over, hopeful of a few nibbles.
As well as being a dedicated artisan food producer, Caroline also runs the farmhouse as a bed-and-breakfast, with a unique attraction.
“When guests come to stay here, they are not only staying on a living, working farm, their breakfast plate is full of our pork products, sausage, bacon, pudding, eggs from our hens and, when in season, tomato from our tunnels,” she says.
Caroline also bakes her own bread and makes fresh butter from their own cream. The guests must feel like they’ve gone back in time.
“Guests come here from all corners of the globe and they come for the food as well as the opportunity to stay in a real, working Irish farmhouse,” she says.
“Last week, we had a breakfast table full of people from India, Singapore, and Spain. It’s really quite special. One of the children was crying, because he didn’t want to leave the dog, and he kept hugging him.
“People don’t come here just to have a handy B&B, they choose it very carefully as a taste of Irish life and to see many traditional farm skills being practised.”
As a devotee of Curraghchase pork for years, I treat myself to Caroline’s whenever I can.
When I take a trip to the farm shop on Sundays, I can have a long walk in the forest park that runs alongside the farm, which now has a lovely café and tracks for cycling.
This is a lesser-spotted and very beautiful part of West Limerick.
Rigneys’ products are for sale at their stall at Killaloe farmers market on Sundays.
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