“Jaysus, I’d love a goose…..”
“It brings me back to when I was a young fella.” I don’t consider my granddad an emotional man so the hint of a tear in his eye is quite surprising. I’m not long finished at Ballymaloe Cookery School and, with my granddad joining us for Easter dinner, I decide to treat him. He has been saying for the past couple of years that he’d love to have goose for dinner. Not just any goose mind – one like he had when he was young. “It’s not the same as it was years ago,” he repeatedly claims and I have a theory that I want to prove. I organise to buy one from East Ferry Farm in Cork and pick it up on my way home on Easter Saturday. I cook it carefully and serve with all the trimmings, saving a vast bounty of fat for the following weeks. Why does it bring him back to his youth? I’ve cooked him a free range goose. A goose who has had space to potter around, space to be happy, space to be a goose.
More Muscle, Firmer Flesh, Better Meat
It would be far too romantic to theorise that happy animals equal better meat. When you consider what makes the animal happy however, it becomes obvious. Given the chance to potter around and display their natural behaviour, animals will develop more muscle and firmer flesh. They will grow as they are meant to – with a good ratio of fat to flesh. This in turn adds flavour and texture to the meat. Have you ever compared a proper (not the ones on sale for €4.50 in the supermarket) free-range chicken with it’s factory farmed equivalent? I have and it’s like comparing two different meats. Chicken should have flavour – it shouldn’t be the tasteless meat that we currently know as chicken. It should have texture too – you will have to chew a properly reared chicken.
Although chicken is the obvious meat to focus on, I feel it is equally important to discuss pork. Free-range chicken is now available in most supermarkets but I have yet to see free-range pork in any of my locals. Putting the fact that pigs are equally as intelligent as dogs aside, the flavour and texture difference between the free range animal and it’s intensively reared cousin is night and day. I always found pork chops to be tasteless and bland, loading them with flavourings was essential. Now, with free-range chops, I use only salt and pepper – it’s all that is required. Pork is a delicious meat but unfortunately, with modern farming practices resulting in a bland product most people would struggle to tell one intensively farmed meat from another. Pork should not taste like chicken and neither of them should be flavourless.
Allergic to Chewing?
Our adaptation to tasteless, textureless meat has also had consequences for our naturally free-range alternatives. We are quite lucky in Ireland that most, if not all beef and lamb is raised outdoors with plenty of space and grass to feed on. Although this results in a product with a discernible taste and texture, we now eat mostly the least flavourful parts. I don’t care what anyone says, I’ll take the shin over the fillet of beef anyday. Coming up to Easter the hunt will be on for legs of spring lamb. Spring Lamb? An animal just a few months old with no chance of developing any meaningful flavour or texture. All of this begs the question: When did we become allergic to chewing? When did we decide that all meat should disintigrate in our mouth with little help from our noshers? When did we decide that we don’t really want to taste our meat anymore?
Despite the difficulty in buying good quality meat, it is possible. There are still some great butchers selling excellent quality beef and lamb. Unfortunately there are less selling good free-range chicken and almost none selling good free-range pork. Thankfully many farmer’s markets pick up the slack in this regard meaning good, flavourful, ethically reared meat is just a trip to the market away. I feel it is also important to let producers, butchers and retailers know that you want good quality meat – ask for it! Your butcher may not stock free-range chicken or pork but if enough people ask for it and create a demand, the more likely they are to stock it in the future. There is no point in sitting at home quietly wishing that good quality meat was more readily available – it will never be available if we don’t let people know we want it.
Here are some of my favourite producers/retailers providing excellent meat. If there are any you recommend please let me know in the comments.
Pigs on the Green Free Range Pork – Tullamore Farmers Market – Free Range Pork
Quarrymount Free Range Meats – Tullamore and numerous Dublin Farmers Markets – Excellent Beef and Free Range Chicken
Nolan’s of Kilcullen – Excellent Lamb and Beef and stockists of Carlow Free Range Chicken
Newtown Farm – Naas/Carlow Farmers Markets – Excellent Lamb, Beef and Free Range Chicken
Coolanowle Organic Farm – Carlow/Kilkenny and numerous Dublin Farmers Markets – Organic Beef, Lamb, Chicken, Pork