County Kilkenny is a magical place.
I say this with the risk of being disowned by my own county, Tipperary. We’re right next door, you see, and are; therefore, rivals in most areas of life. Actually, just hurling. But it’s an intense rivalry, taken very seriously by most. So you see, I don’t want anyone to think I support Kilkenny when it comes to hurling. But I do think Kilkenny is one of the most beautiful counties in Ireland and its namesake city is one of my favourite places to eat, shop and get into mischief (see my Love Letter to Kilkenny for more gushing).
Did you know Circle of Friends was filmed in Kilkenny? Inistioge, near Thomastown, to be exact. The lush, green landscape is what I always had in my mind when I was younger and dreamed of visiting Ireland (who knew I’d be living here just a few years later!).
I had never heard of Zwartbles sheep before moving to Ireland, but soon after I arrived I started following Farmer Suzanna on Twitter and became quite enamored by the look of them. Suzanna farms Zwartbles and Clun sheep; both rare and interesting breeds. The Cluns look other-worldly with their slight figures and pixie faces. The Zwartbles are large (as far as sheep go) and striking with dark bodies and white faces.
I got the chance to visit Suzanna’s farm, located outside Thomastown, Kilkenny, with a group of bloggers a few weeks ago. We had been invited to Kilkenny for the Savour Kilkenny Festival of Food and a trip to Suzanna’s farm was a last-minute treat. It was actually extremely last minute – it was dark outside by the time we left! We had a fabulous time wandering around her farm, eating her home-grown grapes, petting her flock (Zwartbles are very friendly sheep!) and picking her pears and apples to take home.
Suzanna treats her animals like family. One thing you immediately understand upon visiting is how happy her animals are; how well-loved and cared for. We were gifted with some Zwartbles lamb and a recipe for lamb stew as we left. I made the stew a day or two later and was surprised (pleasantly) with the flavour of the lamb. It wasn’t overpowering – it was mellow and sweet, and went so very well with the apples and pears from her orchard. Irish terroir at its best.
Aside from using her sheep for lamb, Suzanna also uses Zwartbles wool to make rugs, yarn and blankets. She sells them on her website: Zwartbles Ireland.
I honestly can’t get over how friendly these sheep are. The sheep I’ve previously come across have always run away from me. These sheep not only ran to us, they frolicked. They kicked up their hooves and hopped, skipped and jumped over to greet us (well, mostly Suzanna, but we were in the vicinity!). They are beyond cute. Kilkenny is a little bit more awesome by having them.
Oh, I almost forgot to add: Suzanna also employs a cat shepherd on her farm. Seriously. A cat who shepherds the sheep. He’s very badass (and soooooooo cute!). You can follow his adventures on Twitter.
*I was a guest of Green and Vibrant on this trip to visit Suzanna and her Zwartbles, but I was not asked to write this post or given any incentive to do so. I just really enjoyed my visit and wanted to share it with you all.