Goosnargh's Johnson & Swarbrick cook their goose
Meet the famous Lancashire poultry farmers putting goose on the menu<br/><br/>this Christmas. Emma Mayoh reports<br/><br/>PHOTOGRAPHY BY KIRSTY THOMPSON
Thousands of people will be eagerly awaiting the delivery of a fresh goose, turkey or corn fed chicken from Reg Johnson this Christmas Day. But one place that won’t be getting any is the prestigious Ivy Restaurant in London.
One attempt at telling the Goosnargh farmer what he should do meant they were off the books quicker than you could crack an egg. When top chefs like Marco Pierre-White, Jean Christophe-Novelli, Mark Hix and Gordon Ramsey came knocking on his door, they respect Reg.
Not that he is a grumpy farmer. He knows his geese and knows he has a good thing. He and brother Bud have run Johnson & Swarbrick for the past three decades, carving out an unrivalled reputation for poultry.
Customers include top name chefs Nigel Haworth and Paul Heathcote, who Reg credits with giving the company its big break, as well as dozens of restaurants, pubs and cafes in Lancashire and further afield. It was Reg’s Goosnargh duck scratchings served with one of the dishes that got Haworth through to the finals of the Great British Menu.
‘Paul and Nigel were the first chefs to promote English and local produce on their menus,’ said Reg. ‘They were the catalysts for the focus on local food. Paul came to me and wanted corn fed chicken, so I did it for him. I worked with Nigel, too, to get the flavour he wanted by using special feed.‘More and more chefs got to know about me through Paul and Nigel and started wanting my chicken. A lot of northern chefs moved to restaurants in London and took me with them too. We’ve been lucky but we’ve worked hard.’
This is the busiest time for the 58-year-old and his brother as well as Reg’s daughter Kara and Bud’s son Adam who have recently joined the business. From late November the orders have been flooding in to Swainson House Farm in Goosnargh. Turkeys are popular but more and more people are choosing goose.
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‘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.’
Since May, Reg and his staff have been nurturing around 1,000 geese that arrived at the farm just one day old. Once fully grown with feathers they can go out into the fields. They are left to slow grow and mature to produce a better tasting roast.
‘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.’
Whoever invented the phrase happy as pigs in muck had obviously never seen Reg’s geese. Every day they waddle out onto the fields around the farm and happily dive into the nearest mud patch or puddle.Farming has been in Reg’s family for decades. He grew up on a dairy farm on the Fylde before the family moved to Goosnargh. Reg started the business by supplying poultry at Cleveleys Market but then decided to go out and visit restaurants himself.
Today, there are few in the catering business who haven’t heard of Johnson and Swarbrick. But farming was never Reg’s first choice. ‘I was supposed to be going to go to university but then I got offered a car instead, it was a Mini Cooper. I didn’t get the results I wanted either so I decided to take on the farm,’ he said.
Reg recently attended an event held by Tom Parker-Bowles in London and Gordon Ramsey pulled up a chair while he was tucking into a meal at one of the chef’s restaurants. But Reg, who also has plans to open up a farm shop on site next year, takes it all in his stride.
You might think he’ll be tucking into a goose on Christmas Day, but he revealed: ‘I always have salmon. I normally don’t eat until after 1.30pm anyway because I’m so nervous. I worry that people might not be happy with their bird. It’s only in the afternoon I start to enjoy my food. I always have a nice bit of salmon!’