The old tradition of the Irish town butchers -- Judge your butcher on the selection of "cheap" cuts and food knowledge

Lean and red meat only in the butcher's shop
Lean and red meat only in the butcher's shop

The local butcher shop used to be an integral part of every town and village in Ireland and there was usually more than one.  In Northern Ireland very often there was one for each section of the community - The Protestant butcher and the Catholic one. The butcher shop was a monitor of how affluent the town and hinterland was. 

This changed somewhat with the arrival of big multinational supermarkets, particularly in more urban areas.  When I moved to a small rural village in county Meath over 20 years ago, virtually all meat was purchased in the local butcher shops.  I live equidistant between two small villages with a border dividing them.  Despite this the butchers were brothers-in-law and shared an abattoir.   Their meat was second to none.  Then along came all the EU regulations with the subsequent abolition of local abattoirs and the meat changed beyond belief.

Carcasses arrived into the shop all but cut. Suddenly they had no feet, hocks, heads or offal. In many cases it was almost impossible to get bones.  The butcher counter became "lean" literally. The cheaper cuts disappeared.  On display were diced up uber-lean round steak pieces in place of stewing beef, strip loins at the expense of sirloin, mince without an ounce of fat, chicken breasts, loin lamb chops etc.  Fat was banished and the counter was red.

I judge the quality of a butcher shop by the selection of "cheap" cuts available and by this you have a fair idea of the food knowledge of the locals as well.  In a complete turn around, the butcher counters servicing the more affluent/food savvy populations have a better selection of cuts and it is here you will find hocks, shanks, skirts, cheeks and tongues. In "the country" you will also find them in areas where there are large immigrant populations.

In the English Market in Cork, the selection of every cut of every animal is second to none.  Tripe and drisheen are on display in almost every butcher counter.  As well as the English Market, the butcher shops in Moore Street in central Dublin have an amazing display of many old and forgotten cuts and even sell goat for the large African community.


Old cuts nestle with the battered
Cooking the cheaper cuts (it is only in Ireland they are cheap - in France they are the more expensive), requires a bit more skill, time and energy so when you analyze it in more detail they are probably not cheap.  However, they have the most flavor, the best texture and are deliciously moist.  You need to add more vegetables and herbs to make the meal, making them much more healthy than just slapping a load of protein on a barbeque.

I wish my now local butcher shops were not so boring.  I want meat with fat and bone and personality. After all it's time people woke up to the fact that fat is not the enemy we have all been led to believe.  We were rightly led up the garden path by the big food cartels in cahoots with government and even the medical profession.  We need to go back and open granny's old recipe book because in her day there was not half as much obesity, diabetes and heart disease.  They ate meat with personality because the butcher was a butcher and not a slicer.

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