As a child, I was fascinated with our local butcher’s shop. Every time I was sent in there, I’d have my fingers crossed that there would be a big crowd ahead so that I’d have more time to watch, enthralled, as the big men behind the wooden butchers’ blocks speedily and expertly dissected carcasses of meat, saws and knives flashing, all the time keeping up their end of the conversation with their customers. The sawdust on the floor, the posters of cuts of meat on the wall, the chunks of lamb or beef hanging from hooks behind the counter – it all held me so spellbound that I would often forget what I was supposed to be buying for dinner.
Now it’s not that easy to find this kind of butcher, the sort that will have an abattoir out the back and a farm of their own. Old-fashioned in the very best way. Luckily for me, in Mitchelstown we have Hanleys, my brown paper-wrapped source of meat for cookery demonstrations. Just down the road in Kanturk, McCarthy’s Butchers is a thing of beauty and a joy forever, regularly winning awards for their innovative products. At a Slow Food event last Thursday, accompanied by the Writer, I added another to the list when I met Michael McGrath of Lismore.
This fourth generation butcher opened up his shop before dinner at O’Brien Chop House, telling us – under cross examination from SF president Darina Allen – about where he sources his meat, the difference between breeds of lambs, problems with regulations and an old recipe for drisheen (50:50 cows’ blood and milk, seasoned with salt and pepper). We were also conducted back into the coldroom, festooned with hanging lamb and beef carcasses. The abattoir, three cows’ heads on display, was our last stop before we trekked up the road to eat roast leg of McGrath’s spring lamb with a punchy salsa verde, new potatoes and moreish creamed spring greens.
Other producers that were displaying their wares were the new Dungarvan Brewing Company (also at DBC Brewer’s Blog). I thoroughly enjoyed their refreshing, full-flavoured, IPA-style Helvick Gold but, with car keys jangling in my pocket, could have no more than a brief taste. Wolfgang and Agnes Schliebitz were on hand to talk about their Knockalara sheep’s milk cheese, a perfect match with the roast asparagus, toasted hazelnuts and mint salad that started our meal. We also ate an exquisite piece of Blackwater wild salmon, the first I’ve tasted in years, that Justin Green of O’Brien Chop House had painstakingly tracked down.
Dinner finished with a tangy Rhubarb Mess, the rhubarb – as all the other vegetables – sourced from the walled garden at Ballyvolane House, Justin’s other establishment. It, like the rest of the meal, was served family-style, from a big bowl in the centre of the table. There were seconds all round, as we thoughtfully decided to clean the bowl out for the wash-up staff. A superb meal – and a chance to discover another local butcher.