Experiences I gained across Europe and America

I have a curious nature and I love to travel and explore all the possibilities in butchery. I have travelled to many parts of Europe particularly and I have found some very interesting concepts that I have adapted for use in Hugh Maguire’s butchers in Ashbourne, Co. Meath.

The Butcher, the Baker and the Green Grocer is very highly regarded and supported across Europe. They love to shop daily at their local store and the Supermarkets have not impacted the small retailer like they have here in Ireland. They have a great emphasise on a family run business and very often you will find a husband and wife team working in their business. One of the most interesting trips I have ever made was to Tuscany in Italy. Caroline and I hired a car and drove into many small villages and towns. They were a mecca of food, wine and cheese. As you drove through the mountainous terrains you could reach out almost touch the vineyards.

We eventually made our way to a town named Ponzana where there was a Wine Festival taking place. I had read about a very famous butcher there called Darius Cessini. I tracked him down and when I approached his store in this small enough town, there was a very large gathering outside the store and he was blowing into a bugle and the whole place was alive with fun. He was giving tastings to all the people and his business seem to be booming. He also operated two very successful restaurants on each side of the street. He was a very astute business man and his ability to market his business was amazing. I was slightly envious of the attention he had gathered around him and deep inside me I wondered could I emulate that feeling in Ashbourne. It was a sight to behold.

As you drove through the mountainous terrains you could reach out almost touch the vineyards.

New York Adventures

Another very memorable trip was to New York in the company of our very famous Celebrity Chef, Neven Maguire. Neven and a team of chefs were engaged by the Irish Tourist Board in conjunction with the Northern Ireland Tourist Board to carry out demonstrations in Central Park. They had demonstrations daily and at night we ate in the most amazing restaurants. The stuff I could only dream about – it was truly an experience I will never forget. On the butchering front it wasn’t a huge part of the trip it was more of a food experience.

However we did visit butchers “Lobels” in Madison Square Gardens. I took me by surprise because they were a very small fresh meat display but there were a lot of butchers walking about. There were also a lot of bicycles parked against the wall. It was a very different version of a butcher shop from my perspective. I was standing around observing all of this and suddenly a gentleman spoke to me by my name and I couldn’t believe it. Paul Murray from Duleek and he and I served our apprenticeship in Drogheda many years ago.

It was a very different version of a butcher shop from my perspective.

Indeed I was thrilled that he still recognised me. Needless to say when we started chatting I asked him about the bicycles and he informed me that they load up the baskets on the bicycles and deliver to the wealthy people living in the amazing apartments all around them. Certainly there was no discounting needed because it was a very affluent part of America. Again I was envious of this but didn’t think that Ashbourne was quite ready for such an experience yet.

From Russia with Love

I have had many interesting trips both personally and as part of the Craft Butchers Association when we go on a fact finding mission to other parts of Europe. I got an opportunity back a few years ago to give a talk organised by “Food Russia” to a change of supermarkets about Irish lamb.

The opportunity was presented to me through the Russian Embassy and at the time I was President of the Craft Butchers, so they deemed me suitable for the job. I demonstrated cutting up a lamb and showing them how we trim and present it in Ireland. It was an opportunity to visit Moscow and indeed I really enjoyed that trip.

Touring France

Two years ago my travels brought me to France. I was very lucky to have a French butcher friend Cedric who decided he and I would go on a tour of Lyon. This trip brought me to the heart of butchering in many country towns and villages along the way.

Not only was it a butchering education but also a geographical education. We eventually ended up in Zurich where Cedric had spent some years working in a Butchers there.

Spanish Food Tastings

I have to mention my love of black pudding and I really am passionate about the production of black pudding. Anyone that knows me will have heard me talk and promote this product in the shop over the years. Indeed I have won many awards for my Black & White pudding. Still I was curious how the Spanish version of our black pudding compared to ours. So in order to find out I took a trip to Burgos in Northern Spain last September and I visited a factory where the famous Morcilla pudding is made. The gentleman that operated the factory was making substantial changes to his premises and I didn’t get the full tour of his operation.

However, he too, was as passionate as I am about the production of his pudding. He gave me a very detailed insight into the making of the product and the care and attention he paid to selecting the proper ingredients. It was a very enlightening experience for me and indeed I took a lot of information with me from that trip. After the tour he hosted Caroline and I to a lovely spread of black pudding and fresh Spanish bread. Of course he had wine on tap also.

However, he too, was as passionate as I am about the production of his pudding.

Culinary Arts

I am very happy to have had the opportunity to travel to so many interesting places and gain so much knowledge about food in general. It has been an amazing journey and by no means over for me. I intend to keep travelling and gaining knowledge and different experiences which always benefits my own business.

Indeed, my son Hugh is keen on joining our business in the future. He has been working in the business since he was 10 which he often reminds me of. He too, has spent time butchering in Modena in Italy a couple of years ago. He has travelled with me to Milan last year to learn about different sauces and marinades.  Hugh has studied Culinary Arts in Dundalk and spent a summer working with Neven Maguire in Blacklion. He now is studying a Degree in Food and Business so Caroline & I are pleased to have him on board.

I intend to keep travelling and gaining knowledge and different experiences which always benefits my own business.

Butcher Shop

A very special note of thanks to my brother William and my wife Caroline  who has been my rock and has allowed me the opportunity to travel and bring back different experiences to the shop.

I cannot forget my two daughters Mary Jo and Anne Marie, who have over the years worked in the shop and helped out when we needed them. They are both involved in food and hopefully, may come back to the business in time to come. I must not forget my very dedicated staff, a special mention to Stella and Domo (Matt Damon) who are so essential to the operation of the shop.

The many people that I have around me daily and those that I have met on my travels have enable me to broaden my vision of butchery and has given me the opportunity to win many National and International Awards. What  is your favourite foreign food experience and which countries experience would you like to see in my Butcher Shop in Ashbourne?