Meet the Producers
For our next ‘Meet the Producers’ feature, we are returning to Southern Ireland to find out more about McCarthy’s of Kanturk, a traditional artisan butchers run by Father and Son team, Jack & Tim McCarthy.
McCarthy’s of Kanturk
Callaghan McCarthy founded McCarthy’s of Kanturk back in 1892. Originally a Baker, Callaghan saw a niche in the market for the provision of quality fresh meat to the local community. Making the most of the opportunity to change trade, the business he created, with the help of his son John, is still going strong into the fifth generation of McCarthy’s. The business is now somewhat more than a local town butchers.
Jack, McCarthy’s of Kanturk is a long-running family business. At what age were you first involved and can you tell us a little more about how the business has evolved since you took on the mantle?
McCarthy’s have been in the meat trade in Kanturk since 1892. Before that they operated a bakery on the same premises. Lately I have been given documents which mentions a shambles in the town in 1830’s and includes a McCarthy operating in it. So the family goes back along way and is documented. We have ledgers going back to the 1870’s and can be examined.
I have been in the business since my teens and there is no comparison to the trade now. With the improvements in refrigeration, transport and education we have come from local trader to wide ranging business with modern innovative offerings which combine modern techniques which derive from the 5 generations of McCarthy’s tradition.
Is it important to you to maintain the family tradition?
It is vital to preserve the tradition which has been built up over three centuries and five generations. While at times it has been tough to do so, the unique family history has helped us develop and open new markets and indeed to make contacts and friends in the trade all over the world.
The fraternity of brothers in the meat trade business are very proud of their heritage and modern travel has enabled us to visit and be visited by people from all over the globe. Recently we had an official delegation from Azerbaijan. When I started out I definitely never heard of or knew where Azerbaijan was or indeed existed. Times change and all is good.
How is the partnership with Tim set up? Do you each have defined roles or is it very much a team effort with the rest of your staff?
Tim and myself get on fine and the rest of staff work very hard to keep everything moving in the manner this type of business needs. There are no defined roles but some are better at some facets than others and vice versa. The ability to multitask and dovetail is essential. The one skill which Tim excels at is accounts. It would not be my strongest skill but any business which has not a tight tight account system will not succeed. So a gelling of skills works for us.
Can you tell us a little more about why the provision of quality, locally sourced product is important to you and why it is a key success factor for the business?
Our commitment to local product is total because we believe we live in one of the best meat production areas in the world. Our temperate Munster climate with pure water and pristine unpolluted air combine to make the best grass in the world. Great grass makes great farm produce which we use to make meat products which rivals and beats anything in world.
Our meat products have fed Munster rugby players for generations so as they say in Ireland “the proof of the pudding is in the eating“. Grass, meat produce, unbeatable rugby players. What a testament to our local food production.
What are the main products in the current product range, and what do you consider to be your specialties?
In the pudding range we produce black and white chubbs 300g-600g in natural pig casing. We do a big boudin in beef bung. We do a baked terrine style which was famous in this part of Cork and Kerry made from beef, pork and lambs blood. Lamb pudding famous in Cork City is called ‘Drisheen‘ and only has two ingredients “lambs blood and tansy”.
We also make our most famous pudding which was served at the state banquet for Queen Elizabeth at Dublin castle in 2011. This was devised by legendary Michelin star Chef Ross Lewis of Chapter One (me auld rugby buddy). We also make seasonal Christmas puddings, Valentine day aphrodisiac pudding, and our Lenten chocolate, pistachio and mint.
Your pudding being served at a state banquet for the Queen is quite an honour. Did you receive any feedback as to whether the Queen enjoyed it?
We subsequently sent a bespoke local produce hamper to the palace as we were one of the small producers featured on the menu and it was highly spoken of by the people at the state banquet. I have stories of the Queen and the black pudding but not on a food forum.
When did McCarthy’s first begin producing and selling Black Pudding? Have you been using a traditional and original family recipe since?
We have been making pudding for 5 generations and the base recipe has changed little and has been passed down from generation to generation and father to son. Will this pass on to the sixth generation, Tim’s son Cian, who was born in early October???
As with most producers of Black Pudding, you obviously have your ‘secret’ ingredients i.e. the spice mix! Is there any more you could tell us about what differentiates a McCarthy’s of Kanturk Black Pudding from those of your competitors?
Our pudding is pork based except for our lambs blood (Drisheen). Our spice mix has twelve ingredients including 3 types of pepper. Our pudding is triple cooked when consumed.
There has been plenty of media coverage recently regarding the use of fresh or re-hydrated blood in the production of black pudding. As an abattoir owner, does this mean you are able to use fresh blood for your black pudding?
The use of blood swords in abattoirs has made the harvesting of raw blood ultra hygienic and acceptable to all food safety authorities.
‘Traceability’ is a key measure in your quality standards. Do you think today’s consumer is swayed toward buying product knowing the exact source / journey of their fresh produce can be proven?
The provenance of locally produced is the way forward and is now highly sought by top class food outlets and the big multiples are using small local suppliers more and more. The story of the product is all important and being able to trace the history and the people who produce is the unique selling point of small artisan food producers. The opportunity of food tourism and showcasing your business and district by piggybacking with the big retailers is all the better.
You are an award winner and member of the ‘Brotherhood of the Knights of the Black Pudding’. How rewarding is it to be acknowledged for the quality of your produce by your peers?
We were made Knights of the Black Pudding in 2011 by the “Chevaliers de Goute Boudin Mortagne au Perche Francais“. This was a result of winning at the world championships in France that year. They subsequently came to Ireland and paraded through out town in ceremonial garments led by a pipe band. We held a street festival and it was a massive media event.
The next day we were knighted at a civic ceremony in the County Hall in Cork City. This was a massive national event and the results of it are still coming to us. The ironic thing is that until we took part in French competition they were not aware that Ireland had any boudin or black pudding culture. So it is vital for small niche producers to keep telling the story [scéal in Gaelic] and widening our boundaries and horizons.
If individuals want to try some McCarthy’s of Kanturk Black Pudding (or any of your product range), where can they buy from?
We supply all top restaurants in Ireland. Our queens pudding would be the choice of chefs nationwide in their starter menu and full Irish breakfast (the best in world of course). We supply local specialty shops and delis and some supermarkets. We had a once off supply to Aldi Ireland nationwide and had record sales with a 2 day sell out. There are talks now of a three month contract with Aldi so we will see what transpires.
On a larger scale, to who do you supply your products? And do you have any ‘famous’ clients, especially chefs?
As I said we supply all top chefs in Ireland. The most famous being Ross Lewis (Chapter One, Dublin), JP McMahon (Aniar, Cava Bodega, Galway) and Bryan McCarthy (Greenes, Cork). We also supply Avoca, Fallon and Byrne, Sheridans Cheesemongers, On the Pigs Back (Cork), Screebe House (Connameara) and Dunraven Arms (Adare).
Slightly off topic, but we understand you are a big rugby fan (as are we). Can you tell us a little about your passion for the game and share a story or two?
I am involved in rugby all my life and have just finished a six year stint as President of Kanturk Rugby Club. During that period we progressed from mid table in the Munster Junior League to Premier National League. This was a feat unsurpassed in Irish rugby and as you can imagine it was a hectic period of success.
To the forefront of our crusade was the black pudding and at every pre-match dinner the story of the pudding was told (a lot which I can’t say here in the interest of discretion and diplomacy). The present I brought was of course was a unique food hamper with pudding as feature. The four corners of Ireland north, south, east and west were conquered by our rugby team and the black pudding. The hamper was answered by gifts of whiskey. My house now has wall to wall whiskey so if any body wants to help drink it they are welcome.
I also am a Munster life supporter and it is our pride and joy every time and everywhere they play. I have travelled a lot with them and the stories would fill a lot of books. I have supported Ireland all my life and have been to most World Cups. Again a lot of stories and tales but the one stand out rugby trip for me was South Africa 1995 (Mandela’s World Cup). Will not be surpassed.
Finally, do you have a tip or favourite recipe / meal for preparing or cooking your Black Pudding?
My favourite meal is the full Irish. Rashers, sausages, black pudding, white pudding, eggs. All made by myself, besides the egg. I love the creations with pudding modern chefs produce in starters, salads, seafood, baking etc. Very innovative and exciting.
Thank you to Jack! (And maybe next time we’ll take you up on the whiskey offer and you can tell us about the Queen and share some of those [uncensored] rugby tales…over a black pudding dinner of course!!)
Updated Dec17: Our competition prize accompanying the article was won by Irene in Limerick.