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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

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