Wow, what a week! I'm high above the Atlantic at 36,000 feet and reflecting on what I hope is my (and Earth Fed Muscle's) first of many trips to Ireland. First - the why. We searched for a whey partner in early 2019 to step up our game and go legit grass fed. Truly Grass Fed in Ireland was, and is, the ONLY grass fed whey protein source we could find with actual standards for what grass fed meant. We always want to make the most of our U.S. farming connections, but there's not a dairy processor in the grass fed sector large enough to handle our volume in the states. So Ireland it is!
We're signing a contract to lock us into TGF as our supplier, and so we decided it would be a good idea to personally vet the farms and the TGF operation in Ireland before taking such a big step. I'll recount the trip here with a few lessons we learned along the way.
Arriving in Dublin with about 15 minutes' sleep on the overnight flight was less than optimal, but we had to rent a car, drive on the other side of the road with the stick shift on the wrong side until reaching Kilkenny, an hour and a half away, so no rest yet. Once there, I got a nap and we checked out the town we'd be in for the next few days (actually outside of town with sheep maa'ing in the night).
Early the next day, we met with the TGF team at Joe Hayden's farm and interviewed Joe, TGF's in-house sustainability expert, Thomas Ryan, and TGF's Ireland Veterinarian Joris Somers. Farmer Joe recounted over 40 years milking cows on his farm, and equally as much time and experience in peer groups of other Irish farmers who regularly exchange practices and data. Thomas and Joris explained how the group of 5,000 TGF farmers is managed and divided into these peer groups with expert advisors for each region. Additionally, Joris explained the ways they manage the larger herd - always associating a lack of production with poor animal welfare, and thus, optimizing the entire system for healthy soils, which produce lush grass, which keeps the cows happy and healthy. We took plenty of media along the way that we'll share on the site and in social media over the coming weeks and months. We also filmed the beginnings of an ad we think will make you laugh :)
After a team dinner with everyone, the next day was spent at TGF's whey processing plant, mostly in their pilot plant. The membrane filters and drying towers are over 4 stories high, and they walked us through the way they low-temperature (literally room temp) spray-dry our whey protein. They also explained the segregation process, ensuring that all the TGF farmers' whey stays separate from the remaining Irish whey. We finished by conducting a sensory analysis on the whey protein which will help us to conduct analysis and quality control in the future.
With a day to roam, we made our way to some 5th century castle ruins, where Brooks was taught the basics of hurling by some local kids. Then we headed to the south coast for a dive into the frigid North Atlantic in our undies, and then to Wexford to see the site of many a political rebellion. On our way back to Kilkenny, we stopped at a tiny creamery run by a single badass woman who milks sheep and makes cheese from sheep, goat and cow milk. It's rare in Ireland, as most farmers are selling their milk into the national pool to go to brands like Kerry Gold.
What I took home most, though, was that Ireland's unique environment, culture of sharing and working together, and their coordination from the farm to the veterinary services to the processor and all the way to EFM's final product, made me even more confident that we still have the very best protein on the planet.