Ireland is renowned for its high-quality independent butchers. It is one of our culinary gems, providing traceable, high-quality and locally sourced meat.

Ciara Flavin’s Castletroy, Limerick-based family butcher shop, Jim Flavin Craft Butchers, has been practicing its 'from our farm to your fork' ethos for 26 years.

Having worked in her family’s butcher shop in her spare time, Ciara always had an interest in butchery, which is why she applied to the national craft butchery apprenticeship.

“I decided to go down that route after I had the Green Cert done,” she explains. “I was always working in the shop from a young age, tipping in and out at weekends or after school. I have always had an interest.”

She was the first female graduate to complete this programme.

The national craft butchery apprenticeship was established in 2016 by the Associated Craft Butchers of Ireland (ACBI) and Mayo, Sligo and Leitrim Education and Training Board (MSLETB).

It is a QQI level 5 two-year programme, which offers 86% on-the-job training and 14% classroom training at a training centre.

National programme manager of the apprenticeship Julie Cahill highlights the job opportunities in the industry.

“There is a huge demand as there is a shortage of employees in the sector.”

Farm to fork

All beef sold in Jim Flavin Craft Butchers comes from their Bord Bia-approved family farm in Ballyneety.

Ciara said: “Our farm is only 20 minutes away from our shop. You’re constantly getting consistent, good-quality, grass-fed beef that has been hanging for 30 days. You won’t get that from a supermarket, beef that’s been hanging and matured that long.

“My dad set up the business in 1996,” she continues. “He opened up the [butcher] shop in Castletroy and from day one he has always had the farm.

"His dad left it to him and he decided to provide his own cattle on the beef farm and everything would be direct to the butchers.”

They keep a wide variety of beef breeds on the farm, including Hereford, Angus, Limousin and Charolais, which they purchase from local marts and raise for over a year.

Ciara explains: “[This leads to] low food mileage, [as the beef] is coming from our farm direct, [located] only out the road.”

They also have their own boning hall, where the beef is slaughtered, hung and broken down, resulting in a full farm-to-fork business model.

An industry in decline

Inflation is seeing many butchers in Ireland having to close its doors.

Ciara tells the Irish Farmers Journal: “It’s gone scary, the statistics at the moment. Every three days, there is a butcher shop shutting down. It’s very tough going on people at the moment with [the cost of] electricity bills and everything.”

When asked about their most expensive input costs, Ciara replies: “Electricity, hands down at the moment. In the last year or so, it has doubled. Between our boning hall running fridges and the shop cold rooms, electricity has skyrocketed.

“You can’t just turn off fridges, they are running all day, every day,” she adds.

Over the last few years, independent butcher shops have been in steady decline.

According to the ACBI, as of 2019 there are approximately 800 independent butcher shops in Ireland. It is estimated that there has been a loss of 20 to 30 shops each year over last five to six years.

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