Local Food Heroes - The Butcher

In the Midlands, it may not always be noted, but we have some fantastic food producers who are passionate about delivering quality products to their customers. For my column in the Westmeath Independent I'm going to include an interview each month with one of these producers. For the first of these columns I interviewed my local butchers John and Kit Gillivan. 
When I first started to shop in John Gillivan Butchers, trading as Moate Meats, about six or seven years ago, it was not only their quality of meat and their friendly staff that impressed me, but I found their willingness to disclose exactly the journey of each piece of meat from farm to shop very reassuring. Behind the counter they are all very knowledgeable chaps. Both John and Kit Gillivan are master butchers while the rest of the staff are all certified craft butchers. There are nine abattoirs in Westmeath and we are privileged in Moate to have two very fine butchers each with their own abattoirs. Where we source our meat has often been topical within the media. In the past few weeks, with the breaking of the horse meat story, it seems to have never been more enticing to pop into the local butcher for meat, in place of a supermarket alternative. As wonderful as many small butchers are it’s important to note that not all are flying the flag for Irish meat. When it is reported that 2.5 million chicken breasts are imported each week into Ireland we can’t automatically assume that when we’re supporting our local butcher that they are actually supporting Irish. How do we find out where their meat is sourced? We simply ask. Consumers must question and if they are not happy with the answer then there is always the option to move their business elsewhere. One of the best butchers that I have ever come upon has been John Gillivan Butchers, so to find out a little more about the men behind the business I met John and Kit Gillivan for a chat.  

John, Peter, Kit and John Gillivan

How long has Moate Meats been in business?

John: It was my grandfather who first started the business. We are actually opened 100 years this year and I’ve been working here for 58 years.

Has butchery changed much since you started?

John: When I started everything was sold on the bone.  A big difference was that most of the meat use to be hung outside the door. The beef would hang on one side and lambs on the other. Those bars, used for hanging, are still there today.

Which traditional cut of meat would you like to see make a comeback?

John: In recent years it seems that every piece of meat is moving. Stewing meat and all the meats that require slow cooking have really become popular again. However I would really love to see corn beef make a comeback.

Where do you source all your meat?

Kit: All our beef and lamb is sourced within five to ten miles of the shop. All lamb is under a year old and beef is under 24months. All the beef is dry aged for three weeks and we only sell Irish chicken. All our pork is Bord Bia quality assured. The television screen in the shop shows the cattle in the fields, then the meat in the abattoir and then preparing the meat for sale. It helps in telling the story of who we are and where our meat is coming from to the customer. We also have fresh fish delivered 4 times a week. If a customer wants any organic produce we can supply them also. Each Christmas we have a great supply of organic ducks from a local farmer and the quality is just fantastic.

Is it of great benefit having your own abattoir?

Kit: It’s a huge benefit because you are confident about what you are selling. You know and trust the farmer you are buying the animals from. You also have complete control over your own meat that you sell. We actually have one of the lowest food miles in the country from a farmed abattoir to shop.

In recent times have you found customers to question more where their meat is sourced?

Kit: Certainly! We are delighted when people ask any questions about the meat because we can stand by it. We love that we can answer them confidently and honestly. We really value our customers. People have to make a conscious decision to pull up outside and we are very grateful and thankful that they choose to shop with us. Therefore we greet all our customers the same and are always happy to answer any queries they may have.

 Has there been a significant surge in customers since the horse meat story broke?

 Kit: Without a doubt. There have been many new faces and especially we’ve noticed an increase in younger customers. It’s really great. However our prices have always been competitive and we have different meat packs that are fantastic value and each week we have different meat on offer.

What is the most unusual piece of meat you’ve sold here?

Kit: No matter what meat a customer requests we can source it. The most unusual that would be sold fairly regular would have to be tripe.
John: We donate a lot of organs for research to local schools and colleges. Recently we have been working with some UCD students, who are working on a very interesting project about stem cell research. That was a certainly first for us.

What is your favourite cut of meat?

Kit: Rib roast cooked medium served with roast spuds, veg and Mammy’s gravy.

What do you like most about being a butcher?

Kit: The seasons, especially the excitement of working at Christmas. It’s a very important time of year for families and the fact that you can help with the organising of people’s celebrations is always wonderful.

Have you any plans for the future of Moate Meats?

Kit: We have lots of ideas that we are thinking of but we definitely intend to expand the shop later in the year.

Even in recessionary times businesses can thrive and John Gillivan butchers is evidence of this. It’s not however just happening by chance as what they are providing is quite wonderful; quality products brought to the customer by enthusiastic and passionate
food producers.

John Gillivan Moate Meats,
Lr Main st,
Phone: 090-6481127


From Beyond My Kitchen Window said...

It's great that you have a butcher near you that sells such local and fresh meat. Now a days it is so important to know where your food has come from and how it was raised.

Donna OShaughnessy said...

Fantastic post Nessa! Hubbie and I raise grass fed beef and pastured pork and sell to a few grocers but most is sold right here on our farm in the US. I was motivated by the shops I saw in Ireland when I started visiting over 10 years ago. The quality at the family butcher was amazing. And the horse meat problem there? Caused our shop sales to increase here ! Great interview

Nessa Robins said...

Thanks Ladies.
Donna, I'd love to be nearer to you to sample some of your fantastically produced meat. Your animals always look so content in every photo you share. :)