People want something different. Our goose sales are increasing year after year. ‘It’s well worth it though. My geese are delicious. You don’t have to do anything special with them, just cook them properly with a bit of salt. People are now starting to realise that our slow grown, more mature meat has a better taste. All of our poultry is reared for food but we do right by them while they are here.” Reg Johnson.
Reg Johnson and Bud Swarbrick have been based at Swainson House Farm in Goosnargh since the mid 1960s when it was a dairy farm with laying poultry and pigs. But as times changed the (half) brothers diversified and began selling chickens and turkeys – at first on a very small scale.
“We had a market stall but we were also knocking on doors and building up the business selling to restaurants. I would chat to the chefs, find out what they wanted,” recalls Reg, a champion of all Lancashire-produced food. It was around this time that Paul Heathcote was cooking at Broughton Park.
“Paul, who had worked at the top London restaurants, knew all about producing exceptionally good food,” says Reg. “He asked me if I could produce an English corn-fed chicken (the equivalent of a poulet de Bresse). At that time all corn-fed chicken came from France.”
The challenge was on and Reg set about producing a slow-grown chicken reared on a totally natural diet without additives, growth promoters or antibiotics. As the business has evolved the farm now has its own computerised feed mixers – but that’s all the technology you will find here. While the ducks and chickens are not free-range or organic (Reg is sceptical about ‘organic’) the duckling and chicks run around freely in large and airy barns – they have the luxury of around 50 per cent more space than Government regulations. Being slow-grown, they are slaughtered from eight to 10 weeks rather than the usual six, which makes a huge difference to texture and flavour. By ensuring all the birds are well fed and well cared for, Reg has proved it is possible to raise birds in high-standard conditions, and while not free-range, produce chicken and duck that leave top chefs in awe.
Goosnargh ducks are dry plucked after slaughter with their insides intact and hanging intensifies the flavour – and the result is amazing. When cooked, the breasts are moist, flavoursome and the skin is delightfully crispy.