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Friday, 16 March 2012

Pat Whelan, a great Irish Butcher

Darina Allen thinks that great butchers will replace great chefs as the stars of the foodiverse, and that butchery is undergoing a renaissance. If so the Michelangelo of Irish butchery is Pat Whelan in Clonmel.

Pat is a fifth generation butcher, the family firm is James Whelan Butchers,and much of his meat is raised on the family farm in Clonmel, slaughtered in their own abattoir and butchered by Pat and his highly experienced team. Meats that he doesn’t raise himself are all local as are the herbs and other products used in and available from the shop.

Aberdeen Angus and Hereford beef are mainstays with Lamb also being raised on the farm and sold in the shop. The meat is raised all grass fed, slaughtered and then dry aged by traditional methods to produce some of the finest meat that I have ever tasted. No matter how good the base product is, the processing can lead to it being (excuse the pun) butchered. It is the skill of Pat and his team that really brings out the best in the meat and makes it so desirable.

Almost overwhelmed by the choice available in the shop I had to think long and hard before purchase as we had only one plug in coolbox with us and I could have filled it many times over.

One thing was an absolute MUST for me the Wagyu Beef. Wagyu is an up and coming meat on both sides of the Irish Sea and one mouthful is enough to convince you of the added value of this premium beef. Space constraints meant that I could only buy the burgers but they were the ultimate taste sensation, even better than the Longhorn burgers served by Stephen Terry. I cooked them on the grill pan back at home and earned an “Amazing” from Mrs. K who usually gives a “Yum!” as her ultimate accolade.

There is a huge range available in the shop which has a long counter to the left and shelving to the right before a L turn takes you to further delights and the butchers are visible working in a separate room. “20 years ago the whole thrust was making the shop like a supermarket” said Pat, “Now with the new shop in Monkstown we want to bring the butchery back into the middle of the shop, show what we do. We’re already planning the changes here to put the focus on what we do as well as what we sell.”

The new shop was opened in the Avoca Foodmarket in Monkstown near Dunleary ( handy for rapid cross channel shopping trips from Holyhead)  and features three Maple butcher blocks where customers can watch the team in action.

I also purchased a terrific Chicken, again locally sourced, and a fillet of Ham to accompany it in a roast, and later as a chicken and ham pie.

Wonderful Inch House Black and White Puddings completed the purchases but as I said I was limited in the amount of space in the coolbox. The puddings served with organic free range eggs and home-made Soda Bread gave an excellent breakfast after an overnight ferry!

Stunning though the range and quality of meats were the really impressive thing about James Whelan Butchers was the atmosphere. Butchers spoke to customers, advising on cuts and cooking, enquiring how the last meal worked out and making suggestions but not trying the upsell or hard sell. This was a community butchers at its best and a model that many could copy.

Pat himself was on the checkout when I visited, and as well as sparing me a lot of time he spoke with every customer and obviously knew them well, you don’t get that in a supermarket!

I referred to Pat as the Michelangelo of the new butchery renaissance and this was not mere hyperbole, Pat really is a renaissance man.

As well as being a farmer/butcher Pat is a huge advocate of local seasonal artisan food and a tireless campaigner for Tipperary producers he is Chairman of Tipperary Producers. Every year he organizes a Long Table Dinner showcasing the best of local produce and last year had Rachel Allen to demonstrate recipes at a Food extravaganza.

His website   features the product available and also has valuable resources such as cooking times, storage and a whole raft of videos covering everything from sharpening knives to boning chicken.

The new butcher blocks in Monkstown will enable an expansion of the butchery courses that are on offer and will be led by experienced butchers, the same facility is available in Clonmel.

Pat also writes a blog –find it through the website  –  based on his regular newspaper column, as does one of the team of butchers Liam Bourke who blogs at The Tipperary Butcher another brilliant series of food related posts.

Finally Pat wrote a marvelous book An Irish Butcher Shop with some 90 recipes for Beef, Lamb, Pork, Poultry and Game with very helpful sections on cooking techniques, temperature charts and virtually everything you need to know about cooking meat. I use it a lot for inspiration and instruction.

I will certainly be back in Clonmel to meet up with this giant of butchery, not least because Pat offered me a trip around the farm to see the source of the meat, but to buy some more of the finest that Tipperary (and indeed Ireland) has to offer.

Pat, his shops and his product are Local and Great.

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