By Noel Dundon for the Tipperary Star
The recently re-branded Blackcastle Farm beef sausage will be stocked in Aldi stores nationwide from next Sunday for one week only, in a bid to win a lucrative one year deal with the supermarket as part of the Aldi Grow programme.
Proprietor John Commins, an innovaive and forward thinking farmer, who introduced the Peidmontese breed of cattle to his herd in 2005 following a trip to Italy where he came across the beef, has, in conjunction wih the UCC food science faculty devised a 1% fat beef sausage which has been a major hit with local customers.
And, John is now hoping that the Aldi exposure will allow a wider range of customer to experience the Blackcastle produce and help make his brand instantly recognisable.
"We have been trading under Irish Piedmontese Beef but we have found the brand name wasn't developing as even loyal customers have been unable to pronounce the name - our new brand is Blackcastle Farm - we have a new logo and a new website www.blackcastlefarm.com and we are now hoping that the Aldi expusure will be a big help to get our name out there" said John who has just undertaken two major projectts this year - he completed his Level 9 postgraduate Diploma in Innovation and Entrepreneurship through Tangent, Trinity College's Ideas Workspace. And, as if he wasn'tt busy enough, he and his wife Annie, completed a magnificent restoration of their 200-year-old sables into two food units on the farm - a job tastefully undertaken as those all-impressive sausages!!
"These two projects have proved to be very important to me since the arrival of Covid 19. Over 30% of our products are sold to loyal restaurants which are no longer trading. The additional entrepreneurship skills that I gained in Trinity's Tangent Postgraduate program made me immediatly think about how I could pivot my business so that I would be in a position to keep my staff and keep supplying my customers. Luckily, I now have an on-farm approced food unit which means I can develop new products," John told the Tipperary Star this week.
He added: "We have got great support from Tipperary Local Enterprise Office staff who have been unbelieveably supportive to us and provided us wih mentors and guidance re business planning through tthis difficul time. We work closely with all the local Enterprise support agencies - including Tipperary Local Community Development Committee and North Tipperary Development Company who have supported us to develop our new food unit," he said.
John has invested heavily in the business, from both a financial point of view and a personal point of view. He and his family have worked round the clock to bring the business this far and he is hoping that with the help of his customers he can take the next step.
The goal is to get as many people as possible to try out his new Blackcastle Farm sausages in Aldi from next Sunday for a week. And, there are other plans in the pipeline as well.
"We have joined the food movement neighbourfood and it has been very successful in our first market in Clonmel. We plan to run small workshops based on sustainability, traditional skills and food workshops - such as back yard beef smoking and how to make your own cured beef.
"We also plan to join other networks to connect directly with customers such as 'Eat for Ireland', through Facebook, and using new direct selling options as well", John says.
John is also working on a range of other new products like cured beef, pastrami and other charcuterie products. He employs two people part tim, or of which is a master butcher - both are also very committed to ensuring customers get a really good quality beef product.
At Blackcastle, John continues the tradition of four generations of his family in the heart of Tipperary.
His special herd of cattle which genetically produces a very healthy beef, has won a great taste award and a Blas na hEireann award - it has great flavour, has only 1% fat, and is high in protein and omega 3.
Blackcastle Farm is a Bord Bia approved farm full of biodiversity and wildlife. It is obvious John is very dedicated to his vocation and is committed to the environment, biodiversity, and sustainabie farming management.
His hedgerows have been left uncut for 10 years to allow birds and other wildlife to flourish. The ancient ring fort on the farm has been untouched for generations. The farm is full of trees, wild flowers and dandelions and includes an orchard and an acre of wildflowers to help the bees thrive under the guidance of Sandro from Wild Flowers Ireland.
John farms in an extensive way and his winter deed is mostly based on meadow hay which is better for the cattle and the late cut of hay gives the hare and pheasant a chance to breed.
John puts a lot of time and effort into his animals to make sure they have the best of feed and comfort. After all they are literally the lifeblood of the operation.