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Monday, 24 June 2013

Great Steak comes from great farming and butchery

I love a T-Bone Steak. Pure and simple.

The best I have had in ages came from Clonmel butcher Pat Whelan.

Pat was the subject of an earlier post, a real renaissance man, coming from generations of farmers and butchers, he is a passionate advocate of local foods and a huge supporter of Tipperary farmers and producers. He also wrote my meat bible An Irish Butcher Shop and has a second book dedicated to Beef in production.

I was able to follow the steak from farm to fork on a series of visits to his farm and one of the butcher shops.

On a trip to Tipp we called in to the shop and were immediately invited to visit the nearest of Pat's farms. Too good an invitation to refuse so we piled into his car and set off on a 15 minute ride out of town.

Pat is developing Wagyu in Ireland and was keen to show us his herds. On arrival we went straight to the fields to meet the cows all of whom ran to the gate to meet Pat and receive pats, strokes and kind words. Clearly their love for Pat is as strong as his for them.

"You have to respect the animal" is Pat's credo. "Treat them well, slaughter them without stress, hang the meat well and use every part."

After a while talking about farming - and to the cows - we headed into the small farmyard. "This is the barn where we bring them the night before we slaughter" we were told, "but they come in here in the worst winter weather so they are used to it. We walk them individually around the yard so they are familiar with it and don't panic when we take them to slaughter. If one is skittish in the morning it goes back to the field, I don't want to cause them stress and also adrenalin tightens the meat."

Pat has his slaughterhouse on the farm, one of a dwindling band of farmers to do so though Ireland has many more than Wales where I can only think of two in the South.

Next up we entered the abbatoir, "We slaughter on Wednesday" we were told "so there isn't any killing today". Instead we saw great sides of beef hanging and maturing properly. It was significant that the floors were perfectly dry, the beef was dry hanging and the lack of moisture on the floor showed how well that was proceeding.

"Good hanging and maturing brings out the best of the meat" said Pat "you lose more moisture and weight, but get a better product and that is part of respecting the animal, bringing out the best."

Janet said you could see the love Pat has for his animals in the way that he stroked to hanging sides feeling the beautifully yellow fat and admiring the darkening meat. "He's almost caressing them" she said, just before reminding me that it was our Wedding Anniversary and an abbatoir was the most romantic place she had ever spent the day.

So we saw the cows in the fields and in the slaughterhouse but it takes good butchery to make a good cut of meat so it was back to the shop.

Unlike supermarkets, where meat is pre-packed and the customer has no idea of the processes involved in getting it on the shelves and is totally disconnected,  Pat wants butchery to be at the centre of his shops.

Large Maple butcher blocks are installed and the butchers can be seen at work. Pat also runs butchery demonstrations where his team cut sides of meat and show the resulting joints, ribs etc. Held in the Monkstown, Dublin shop in Avoca Ireland's store you get a good understanding of butchery and get to go home with a cut of meat, a knife and a protective glove so you can try your hand! Pat also posts video demos e.g. sharpening a knife or butterflying a Leg of Lamb on his website

I travelled to Monkstown for the demo.

Over a couple of hours we saw the team in action, cutting meat and explaining the process and answering questions and giving tips.

Later back in Clonmel I stocked up with really good cuts of meat, sausages, bacon and puddings as well as a couple of home made sausage rolls for the trip back to Wales.

An absolute bonus was a brown paper parcel with a couple of T-Bone Steaks, "Well you have seen it in the field, the slaughterhouse and on the block" said Pat, "Now you have to put it on the plate"

Back home the steaks were brought up to room temperature, lightly seasoned and griddled for 3 minutes on either side and rested.

The taste and texture was terrific, the quality shone through and a thoroughly satisfied Janet said "Amazing, the best I have ever eaten".

Pat has a thriving online business and you can order meats to be delivered to home. They come well insulated and refrigerated. Do visit the James Whelan website and, if you are in Ireland head for Monkstown in Dublin, or even better to Clonmel to met Pat. Just tell him I sent you!

Pat is also on Facebook and on Twitter @PatWhelan

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Festival Fever

Many years ago my summers were a procession of festivals. The Isle of Wight, Weeley, Bickershawe, Plumpton and Pilton. For the younger generation of reader I should point out that Plumpton and Pilton are probably better known these days as Reading and Glastonbury.

Check out the line ups in these posters and goggle at the prices!! I'm sure that inflation since then is slightly lower than the 50,000% plus that seems to have occurred. Might be cheaper to get a payday loan.

These days I am unlikely to consider three days camping, even in a modern fully fitted glamping yurt, and my diet has improved since the days of the macrobiotic diet (Mung Beans done 500 ways for the uninitiated) and nicotine topped up by regular "vitamin" supplements. Dark Star is less a 30 minute Grateful Dead track and more of a lovingly crafted artisan Boudin Noir.

But the Summer and early Autumn are still Festival time for me, though -despite music being the food of love - it is the food festival that I now attend regularly.

Of course the Glastonbury of the Food world is the Abergavenny Food Festival and I can hardly wait for July  2nd when the line up is announced and the tickets go on sale.

21st and 22nd September are the key dates here and a great time is guaranteed for all.

Before that there is a new festival in South Wales.
Valleys FaCE (Food and culture event) is set for July on the Festival Park Shopping outlet in Ebbw Vale,
Valleys FaCE is   not -for-profit community regeneration project, organising a two day food and culture event within the Heads of the Valleys area.  It is hoped that ValleysFaCE will become a sustainable biannual event that will look to “relocate” in a different local town each year.
The aim is showcase existing SME’s within the local area, incorporating local artisan food, drink and craft producers.  It will also be an opportunity for local cottage industries with long term plans to create a solid customer base and possible viable future business to “test the water” with their products. Updates are available here 
I will be baking for a stall at the festival so come along and meet me and my breads,
August will certainly involve some festival activity though my exact itinerary has yet to be confirmed.
Early September means a trip back to Ireland.
First up it's the 30th Anniversary of Ballymaloe Cookery School, and a weekend of activity and celebration is planned. Immediately after I shall be moving from East Cork to West Cork and the town of Skibbereen.

During West Cork Food Week the town hosts the Celtic Cook Off in the West Cork Hotel. Chefs from the Celtic Regions, Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Cornwall and Brittany cook off in a competition using West Cork produce.  More on this event as the line up finalises.
Back from Cork to Abergavenny and barely will the dust have settled on the UK's biggest food festival than it will be time for the Newport Food Festival on October 5th.
Now in its third year, it is bigger and better than ever with more stalls, great chef demos and some hands on food activities for visitors. I shall be hosting a couple of hands-on bread making sessions in the Market Hall and all participants will take home some rising dough to bake at home.
Again the line up is still finalising but more on the blog as it comes clear.
Not quite the festival season of my youth, but equally enjoyable and still a highlight of the year for me.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Back to the Blog!

Well, it’s been a while since my last blog post.

Not that I have given up but the last few months have been busy with setting up my new bakery business. I have continued to eat and drink well, with local ingredients wherever possible, and have a sizeable backlog of stories and pictures to share.

However a lot of energy has gone into establishing myself as an artisan baker.

I always enjoyed making bread but at Ballymaloe Cookery School where bread was made each day my love really took off.

Breaking away from Local Government gave me the chance to do something with bread and Bill King Artisan Baker came into existence in October last year, just as regular blogging took a break.

I am baking Real Bread using only Flour, Water, Yeast and a little Salt.

A trial at the newly established Llanyrafon Manor Food and Craft Market, where I shared a stall and rapidly sold out, was enough to convince me that people really did want an honest and pure product and it was all systems go.

Of course there was the period of getting past the statutory hurdles, Environmental Health, Trading Standards and HMRC which took a while, and learning about business where I had great help from some free seminars. But, by November I was up and running.

My regular Market is Llanyrafon on the last Sunday of the month but I also have regular customers and bake a couple of times a week.

Now I need a new oven as demand outstrips the capacity of my small domestic one, but I intend to stay true to principle and remain a micro-baker.

Part of the fun is teaching others to bake bread and I really enjoy the half day courses that I run and am always pleased to hear how students are getting on with their breads.

Courses are run from home so that I can show how a domestic oven will turn out good breads and give people confidence to carry on – a small amount of fresh yeast to take away gives them even more encouragement.

A brief explanation of the bakery is given on my website and you can read reviews of the courses here:

So what of the future?
I will be posting new food blogs here, and have some good stuff to come. But on the baking front I will be continuing the Market and courses but for now the main task is improving my Italian to translate the new book I bought in Sorrento!

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