Butcher’s Block: quality over quantity

By easyFood

09 April 2018

Local butcher Michael Fleming talks quality over quantity

Is there a difference between organic and free range?
Yes. The term “organic” used in meat labelling means that the animal has been fed only organic feed and been raised on organic land, with no chemical pesticides or use of antibiotics. “Free range” means that the animal has been reared outdoors and allowed to move freely.

I often see chicken and eggs labelled as corn-fed. Does this term mean the same as free range?
No – this simply means that the chicken has been given a feed made from yellow corn. This gives it a distinctive golden colour and can improve the flavour.

I know American beef is often labelled grass-fed. Why do I never see that label over here?
In America, most of their cattle is kept in large feed-lots and fed exclusively on grain, making grass-fed beef the exception and worth paying extra for. In Ireland, most of our cows are fed on grass during the summer months, but are moved into sheds and fed on silage and grains during the winter. While most of our cows are fed partially on grass, it would be rare to find beef that is fed solely on grass.

What are the signs of quality to look for when buying beef?
It should have a firm texture, a deep red colour indicating some aging and a nice covering of creamy white fat.

Does it matter if the edges of a pack of minced beef have turned a grey-brown colour?
It does  it means the mince is just beginning to turn, so I would look to buy a fresher pack.

What are the signs of quality to look for when buying pork?
Cuts like pork fillets or shoulders should have a firm texture, a nice shine and a good fat content. In terms of rashers, I think dry cure are the best quality out there.

What are the signs of quality to look for when buying chicken?
Look for fillets that are well-trimmed and shiny with a fresh pink colour. Any skin should be a nice clear white. If you’re buying chicken legs, free range ones will usually be bigger as the chickens have been walking around and building muscle.

What are the signs of quality to look for when buying lamb?
The meat should have a bright pink colour and a firm texture, with a little white fat.

What are the quality marks to look out for in Ireland?
The Q mark and/or the Bord Bia Quality Mark both indicate quality. I would also always make sure the meat is labelled Irish and that it’s traceable from farm to fork.

Is there a major difference in quality between meat from the butcher’s counter and that found in the supermarket?
I believe there is. Butchers handle their meat in a more traditional manner and take the time to age it properly. There is nothing wrong with supermarket meat, but I think you will always find superior quality by visiting your local butchers.