Michael Twomey’s butcher shop is on the entrance to Macroom from Cork and is marked by a special commitment to supporting local agriculture. Firstly, this is Ireland’s only Guaranteed Irish butcher shop, to use the logo Michael cannot sell any meat from overseas. He tells me that he started down this path in 1996 when there were scares about antibiotics in pigs and medicated ration was banned in Ireland. He now sources pigs directly from a local farm (about 10 per week) and cures most of his own bacon. He also buys beef directly, primarily Angus but also Hereford. This year Twomey’s will be Ireland’s first food company to be awarded the EU Eco Label for environmental practices in production, packaging and sourcing of local meat. Michael buys his lamb from Cristóir in Ballincollig through whom he sources quite a bit from Tim Keohane in Clonakilty (see above). He tells me that there is very little lamb produced around Macroom anymore reflecting Tim Keohane’s experience.
Spring lamb is generally hung for 8-10 days and more mature lamb for an additional 4 or 5 days. “I like to see a nice white cover of fat and would rather have excess fat that I can trim off if needs be. In this meat the quality will be there, if it’s not there to begin with you can’t put it in”. Michael notes an increasing sophistication among his customers who are asking for a wider range of joints and methods of preparation. It was the interaction with customers that drew him to the trade initially, he loves to exchange cooking ideas over the counter and was happy to share some advice on preparing lamb with me:
- When cooking Spring Lamb, Michael suggests doing very little with it, perhaps a rub of lemon juice and thyme being the extent of tampering.
- In choosing any joint Spring or otherwise, Michael recommends the rack as the tastiest, though it might be best to wait another month until there is a bit more meat on the rack. Michael will also French trim the rack to reduce the fat. If you’d like to introduce other flavours try stuffing the rack with Stauntons black pudding. Open the rack for stuffing with a cut between the eye and the bone.
- Leg is the best known joint but others like the shank are well worth a go. Generally tough to chew, shank is altogether different when slow cooked on the bone until the meat almost melts off. Serve with a rosemary gravy.
- If cooking time for a leg is an issue, try a butterflied leg. Your butcher will remove the bone, resulting in a large butterfly shaped piece with the tough muscle tissue removed. Score the back and rub in garlic, curry paste and oil both front and back. If possible allow to marinade overnight in the fridge. To cook, brown on both sides in a frying pan and cook in a hot oven (200˚C) for 1 hour. To keep the moisture in you can cover with tin foil and add the juices from the pan. This can also be barbecued, continue to baste while cooking.