Irayne Paikin was a regular Jewish housewife from north London until her husband bought some cattle and pigs for their Cotswolds holiday home. She tells Judith Field how she reconciles her faith with her farming – and how her award-winning sausages are starting to make culinary waves across London.[divider]
North Cotswold-based farmer Irayne Paikin is not the person you’d immediately think of to win prizes for the best pork sausages. But last year, the Jewish farmer won six Great Taste Awards from the Guild of Fine Food for her beef and pork produce.
“They’re the Oscars of the food industry,” Paikin tells me. “I won stars for everything I entered”.
“For me, it’s all about producing good food, ethically raised, that’s the priority,” she says. “I’ve got pigs and cows and I happen to be Jewish. And even though what I do is unusual and a departure from the traditional Jewish way I grew up in, in north London, Judaism is part of my identity and I want to continue that important tradition, but in a 21st Century way.”
“On a Friday night, we celebrate Shabbat on the farm and we get challot delivered. We get together for the holidays and we’re members of a synagogue in London. I want my children to be able to educate their friends about the Jewish religion and to learn about other people’s. They understand what they were born into and the history. Part of that history is what people eat and as I child, I grew up with kosher meat.”
Paikin eats her own sausages, although adds: “But I can’t cook pork –it just doesn’t feel right”. Paikin, 47, and her husband got into farming by accident and had no previous experience of it. They were living in London but had a house in the Cotswolds when, in 2005, Todenham Manor Farm near Moreton-in-Marsh in Gloucestershire was put on sale. I
n what she describes as “a moment of madness”, they decided to buy it. Although, at that stage, they had no intention of farming, saying: “We just felt we would be more than happy spending time walking in and admiring our ‘little bit of England’. It would be the perfect contrast to our hectic lives in London.” The farm, which came with land, needed renovating.
Farmer Barry Clark, with whom they made friends, had tenanted some land for his sheep for several years and the Paikins were happy for him to continue. “Having sheep and lambs in the fields in the springtime completed our rural idyll,” Paikin says. And this was where it all started.”
“My husband must have been having covert discussions with Barry because one day I got a big surprise when – out of the blue – about 20 cattle were delivered, followed by a bull, some more cattle, another bull and so on,” Paikin explains. “My husband found he loved all the activities that farming involved.”
Clark also kept pigs, which would be slaughtered and made into sausages, which he offered to her. “This inspired me to get researching the breeds with the aim of getting some of our own. By the end of 2007, we had seven pigs and we now have 150. They’re all traditionally reared and not given steroids or antibiotics. The Gloucester Old Spot, Saddleback and Middle White breeds we keep are rare. It’s important we do our bit to conserve them, otherwise numbers would diminish. I like the fact I know where the pigs start their life, what they’re eating and that they are living outdoors all year round in a natural environment that allows them to root and forage.”
The farm also has 200 pedigree South Devon cows – also a native breed – including heifers, cows and calves. They live in the fields in the summer; in winter they are housed in large barns, allowing plenty of movement, eating nutritious silage and cereals grown on the farm.
“I am proud to produce the very best British food,” Paikin says. With her team comprising Clark, his wife Margaret and butcher Jim Lewis, she produces six varieties of sausage, to her own recipe with a special combination of hand-ground fresh spices.
They don’t contain colouring or additives and there’s even a gluten free variety. As well as running an online business selling pork and beef, Paikin supplies supermarkets and food stores (she’s premium meat supplier to three branches of Warner Budgens), hotels and restaurants. She has also broken into the London market, supplying Mayfair’s Corrigan’s Restaurant. At a dinner, Paikin found herself seated next to Raymond Blanc and says: “I was delighted when he told me my products were superb.”
Paikin has always been interested in food and comes from a family that ran a catering business.
“One of the people who most influenced me was my cookery teacher from Clifton High School in Bristol. I’m still in touch with her and I still follow the methods and ideas she taught me,” she explains.
Paikin has always been something of an entrepreneur. Aged 15, so she could have some money of her own and a bit of independence, she advertised in the Jewish media inviting youngsters to join her at her Stanmore home and learn to cook. She ran these groups on weekend mornings for about a year.
After an early career in PR, she took a hotel management course and, in her early twenties, started her own catering business, growing vegetables in her garden. “I was a city girl, but I loved the countryside and always enjoyed being there,” she says.
Her daughters, aged eight and 13, are schooled in London, where all their family and many of their friends are. She splits her time between London and the farm, where her daughter celebrated her batmitzvah. Paikin loves the contrast between the two halves of their lives. “The pace of life in the country is more sedate. There’s something nice about our ‘other life’ there, not having to rush all the time and I feel that, in the country, we’re doing something real. Children have the chance just to be kids and have a lot more freedom. Once they get to about the age of 11 in London, it’s all makeover parties.”
“There, you feel you can just about allow them to walk round the corner from the bus stop. You want them to be streetwise, but in the country it doesn’t have to start when they’re so young. It’s good they know there’s more to life than north London.”
As well as pigs and cows, there are chickens and a vegetable garden on the farm. “It’s lovely to sit down to a meal where everything we’re eating has been grown or raised by us, right here,” Paikin says.
Paikin still enjoys the city and remain a London girl in many ways. “But I love what I’m doing on the farm,” she admits. “This ‘other life’ making sausages, producing and supplying the most amazing meat gives me a pleasure I never thought would happen to me.”