“People thought we were mad at the start,” said Beara Peninsula farmer Leo O’Shea, 39.
“But the wet and humid weather, and good grass growth in the area, suits them very well.”
Leo and his wife Erin, who raise about 170 pigs on a 70-acre farm in Urhan for their free-range pork meat products, launched their new West Cork Buffalo products at the inaugural Macroom Food Festival at the weekend.
Leo said the response from the public was tremendous. “People went ballistic for it — we didn’t have half enough,” he said.
The meat has also been added to the menu at the Mills Inn in Ballyvourney.
Buffalo were introduced to West Cork in 2009, when dairy farmer Johnny Lynch from Toonsbridge, near Macroom, teamed up with food entrepreneur Toby Simmons, a director of the Real Olive Company, to import a herd of buffalo from Italy.
The duo have been using the milk produced by the females to make the first Irish mozzarella under the brand name Toonsbridge Dairy.
But apart from their role in the breeding process, the males in the herd were effectively at a loose end.
Leo approached Johnny who agreed to sell him some of the males to raise for their meat.
Now, thanks to Bantry-based butcher Paddy O’Donoghue, the first full range of buffalo meat cuts, including rib eyes, rib steaks, sirloin, T-bone, porterhouse, strip, filet, brisket, flank, roasts, and burgers are now on sale in Ireland.
The meat is available at the Castletownbere farmers’ market on Thursdays and Friday but Leo said he hopes to introduce the artisan product to more markets over the coming months.
Buffalo meat boasts a range of health benefits. The meat is very tender, has between 70% and 90% less fat compared to beef, and has on average 50% less cholesterol. It is also higher in protein, iron, and all the omega and amino acids.
Because of its lower fat content, buffalo cooks faster than beef.
In recent years, more and more British farmers have been turning land over to buffalo for dairy and meat production.