FOR the Ferguson family, getting the very best from the land at Gubbeen Farm has always been a driving passion.
Whether it’s creating award-winning cheeses from their dairy herd, to smoking incredible bacon, salamis and sausages, growing chemical-free vegetables and fruit, to producing a traditional herbal tonic or even designing and forging handcrafted chefs’ knives, all at their base outside Schull, the Fergusons have proven that there is no limit to what a farm enterprise can achieve.
‘First and foremost we are a dairy farm,’ Fingal Ferguson said.
‘My father inherited the farm back in the early 1970s and, as he and my mother, Giana, looked to enhance the business, it was a logical step that took them from milk to making cheese.’
Giana, gave up the bright lights of London, married Tom Ferguson and took to a farming life in West Cork. With a 250-acre coastal dairy farm it seemed only logical that producing cheese from the milk already available on their doorstep was a natural way forward for the Fergusons and so Giana joined a number of pioneering West Cork women, who were all developing their own cheeses around the same time, and set up Gubbeen.
‘My mother created the first batch of Gubbeen cheese at our kitchen table in 1975,’ Fingal said.
‘And, from there, as the cheese became more and more popular, they set up a little cheesemaking room, which has now grown to a full scale production facility with the milking parlour attached so that the milk from our herd has only a few metres to travel to the cheesemakers.’
With Gubbeen cheeses quickly becoming a firm favourite, not only with foodies and households alike but also with chefs across the country, a chance experiment with smoke lead the Fergusons to a new business, which was once again in keeping with their philosophy of getting the most from the food they produce on their farm.
‘We used to get some of the cheeses smoked by a local fish smoker, Chris Jepson. When Chris decided to give up the business, he designed a special smoker for Gubbeen,’ Fingal said.
‘We’ve always had pigs on the farm and we began to experiment at first smoking bacon and then it grew from there into our salamis, chorizos, air dried hams and fresh sausages.’
Meanwhile, Clovis, Fingal’s sister used her gardening skills to grow herbs and organic vegetables to flavour some of the salamis and sausages, while also selling her delicious produce at local farmers’ markets. And now, Clovis has also found time to create a delicious drink called ‘Jamu’, which is mix of ginger, turmeric, lemongrass, tamarind, cinnamon, black pepper, honey, lemon and sea salt.
While all this work is going on, another Ferguson sibling, Rosie, keeps everyone organised and maintains the administration side of the farm enterprise.‘The farmers’ markets are still very important to us,’ Fingal said.
‘The markets are a fantastic way to try you produce, to see what people like or don’t like and also to get feedback directly from your customer.’
And if creating and producing delicious local food wasn’t enough, Fingal has also gained a well-deserved reputation as a master knife marker.
‘I inherited my uncle’s collection of knives; a beautiful selection from his travels around the world,’ Fingal said.
‘Of course, I damaged a few of them and decided I’d better learn how to repair them. From that point on, I found the whole process fascinating and, with a lot of help, I started making knives, as a hobby, in my spare time.’
Today, that hobby has grown into a business, which has had to stop taking orders as the waiting list for these handcrafted works of art has grown to over 300 people from across the globe. All of whom can expect to wait up to three years before they will see their knives delivered.
‘A farm is a great place when it comes to developing businesses that not only complement each other but also add value to the food you produce everyday,’ Fingal concluded.