The mention of a serial entrepreneur who founded a highly successful vodka brand could call to mind images of your typical city slicker
As Charlie, Phoebe and Archie Hay return from a busy day at school, they run up the dusty winding road that travels across rolling green fields dotted with sheep and turn into their driveway on the family Silver Fern Farms ‘Springbank’ farm in North Otago, just out of Oamaru. Climbing onto their bikes that were left under the hedge at the front fence this morning when they set off to school, they zoom down the driveway with backpacks juggling and laughter reaching fever point where waiting mum Jo has afternoon tea ready for her hungry brood. The kids are all excitedly talking and laughing at once, as they enjoy Jo’s delicious gingerbread loaf.
On the other side of the world, Michelin-starred Executive Chef Daniel Gottschlich from Ox & Klee restaurant in Cologne, Germany, is about to brief his team on the new menu. In the precise and exacting world of this award-winning German restaurant, everything is pin sharp in execution and only the very best ingredients will do. These two worlds are thousands and thousands of miles away from each other, with different seasons and different languages. However, they share one thing in common – the celebration of the world’s best grass-fed, hormone-free lamb that is grown here in New Zealand.
So why would a world-class chef based in Europe who could choose any ingredients from around the globe select Silver Fern Farms lamb? “To make food an experience,” says Gottschlich. “Our guests are always looking for new, surprising ideas, and since we only use meat from species-appropriate husbandry for our menus, Silver Fern Farms is a perfect choice. It is incredibly delicate and has a subtle taste.”
As consumers increasingly want to eat only the very best when they choose meat as an option, the perception of quality is changing, evolving to be less about just ‘me’ and my tastebuds, to be more about the entire planet and the environment, respect for the land and animals, caring from start to finish and a passion for the very best ingredients and the difference that makes.
Silver Fern Farms has introduced a new 100% Standard Lamb Programme, which means certified farms have the ability to supply stock, where lamb is 100% grass-fed, antibiotic-free, has no added hormones, GMO-free and doesn’t use feedlots. This all may be taken for granted in New Zealand but on the world stage, this is something of a rarity.
Standing here in North Otago, where the soil has a heavy clay base, Silver Fern Farmer Ross Hay says, “We have irrigation but we can’t water like other people, because it can become too waterlogged – we are predominantly Timaru and Claremont soil in this part of North Otago.” Seeing first-hand the Hays family’s environmental plan in action, the focus on re-fencing to block off waterways for better grazing management has had an impact on regenerative farming and adds to the quality experience not only for the stock – but also for the end consumer, whether they be in Germany, New Zealand or even the US. Respect for the land and animals is an important component and has been part of this farm’s ‘DNA’ for a very long time.
“My dad, Allan bought the farm in 1981,” says Ross. “When I left school I started working with Dad, shearing for about 7 to 8 years. I went to Scotland for a year and did shearing there too. Jo and I took over the farm in 2006.” The Hays run 174 hectares on the home block and lease another 90 hectares along the road, plus 410 hectares down near the lighthouse – 670 hectares all up. The lighthouse is the historic lighthouse built in 1878 at Katiki Point, the southern point of Moeraki Peninsula, a popular tourist spot where you can see yellow-eyed penguins and fur seals and the Te Raka a Hineatea Pa site. The beautiful landscape of rolling hills meeting dramatic cliffs looks something like a scene from the TV series, Poldark.
The Hays run 2600 ewes, 760 hoggets, 300 bulls and 4000 lambs across their blocks. Much has changed since Allan was running the farm. They have been farming with Silver Fern Farms for over 40 years, and in that time the entire industry has been transformed. “When Silver Fern Farms rebranded a few years ago, it went from just supplying meat to being part of something much bigger,” says Jo. “We’ve been involved in lots of different things with Silver Fern Farms, it’s been a journey. As a teacher, I’m used to professional development but in the farming industry, there wasn’t a lot of that. Things have changed and we got involved, it fed that hunger.”
Jo set up a group where like-minded farming women from across North Otago learn together and the couple are part of an action group RMPP (Red Meat Profit Partnership) for local farmers who work together to help understand different areas of the farm business. Discussions can be about anything from financial concerns to irrigation to human resources and employing staff. This forward-thinking farming couple recently attended Dunedin chef Greg Piner’s workshop at Prohibition Smokehouse, where they were taken behind the scenes in the kitchen to help understand the end use of the product from a chef’s point of view.
The Hays were among the first farmers to be involved with the Silver Fern Farms 100% Standard Lamb Programme. “It’s been interesting looking at the eating quality and what makes our lamb so great,” says Jo. “They found that people wanted grass-fed, antibiotic-free and hormone-free. We’d always done that, that’s all we eat but it’s another thing to commit to proving these claims. I know when you travel and you have that beef, you can tell when it’s grain fed. All we’ve ever known is a pasture-based system, and our animals have always been out on the grass living the good life, as they should be.
GLOBAL SUPERSTAR CHEF
Daniel Gottschlich from Ox & Klee restaurant in the Rheinauhafen district of Cologne, Germany is part of the Silver Fern Farms Select Partnership Programme, a global food community of chefs created to reinforce Silver Fern Farms’ global presence and reputation. Gottschlich always wanted to own his own restaurant, and despite winning the Michelin star (twice) he says he never expected it. “There are many good restaurants that still don’t have a star; I think the point with us was that we delivered consistently good quality. It’s a great honour.” There are over 70,000 restaurants in Germany but only 38 with two Michelin stars.
Gottschlich says his menus should offer guests not simply a meal, but an inspiring experience. “We work with a surprise effect, where guests can choose how many courses they want, and I try and take the order myself, we don’t want a stiff atmosphere.” The restaurant is across two floors and seats 48, with views out across the Rhine River. It also includes a chef's table looking into the kitchen. The simple interior – with white walls, wooden tables and chairs and a folded napkin, plate and glass on each table as you walk in – makes for understated elegance.
Voted ‘Chef of the Month’, Gottschlich says he uses Silver Fern Farms products not only for the main course but also for side dishes. “Our menus are intended to awaken all the senses,” says Gottschlich