Troys steak their claim on high quality
Having started out as a butcher, Bernard Troy now runs his own abattoir. He shares with Sean Gallagher his passion for the business.
Ireland's meat and livestock sector now accounts for close to 40pc of our gross agricultural output and nearly 30pc of all food and drink exports. With some 10,000 people employed directly in the sector and as many more in indirect employment, the industry is one of the most important for our economy.
At the heart of this is a thriving beef sector - Ireland is currently the fifth-largest exporter of beef in the world and the largest exporter of beef in Europe. And so last week I found myself travelling to Co Westmeath to meet the owner of one of Ireland's smaller but most impressive meat-processing businesses.
Based not far from Tyrrellspass, near Mullingar, Troy's Abattoir was set up by Bernard Troy in 1992. Today, the company employs 30 staff and this year is on target to achieve an annual turnover of more than €10m.
It's early afternoon when I arrive into the company's front car park where I am greeted by Bernard, his wife Pauline and their two sons James and Brian, both of whom work full-time in the business.
In the corner of the car park, a tent has been set up and I am immediately taken by the tantalising smell of a barbeque that Bernard and his team have organised. It's something they do regularly as a treat for staff, customers or visitors to the place. Today, it's my turn.
Tucking into my unexpected lunch, I get my first taste of what this business is all about - service and an unrivalled commitment to quality. Full of passion and enthusiasm for what he does, Bernard is quick to tell me that the meat I am eating comes from animals reared on his own farm and processed in his own facility.
"As a business, we are very committed to traceability and 'farm to fork'," says Bernard. "Our focus is on quality and on the care and welfare of our animals - something that's not just good to do, but good for business."
The company supplies a variety of restaurants, hotels and butchers' shops throughout the country, as well as a number of specialised distributors and food service companies (such as La Rousse, Country Crest and Ballymaguire Foods).
It even supplies TV chef Nevin Maguire, who runs his hugely popular restaurant, MacNean's, in Blacklion, Co Cavan. More recently - and with the help of Bord Bia - it has also begun exporting to customers in the UK, Germany, France and Holland.
"We only kill and process prime heifer beef and lamb," explains Bernard. "We avoid cows, steers and bulls, as the meat from these can be tougher and less flavoursome," explains Bernard. "All animals are either reared by us here on the family farm or sourced from other quality farmers locally.
"We know the farmers we buy from, what feed they use and the high level of care they give their animals, all of which is important when trying to achieve the right flavour and the right level of fat content."
Sourcing animals locally is important. Important because it means that they do not have to travel long distances in large cattle trucks to get to the abattoir - something that causes them considerable stress, the consequences of which can be detected in the quality of the meat they produce.
"If an animal becomes stressed or agitated, it leads to a build-up of lactic acid and a higher PH level in their muscles, which in turn causes the meat to be darker and less tender or flavoursome," explains James. "In fact, when animals arrive here, they are immediately placed in fresh straw beds, so they can remain calm and unstressed."
Inside, I am brought to the killing hall. Though not for the faint-hearted, it's an unavoidable part of the process and every effort is made to treat the animals humanely.
Next, we visit the boning hall, where teams of staff in white coats and blue aprons carefully chop and trim the various cuts of meat. I get a quick education on the difference between fillet, sirloin, strip-line and rib-eye.
There's even a cote de boeuf (a type of rib-eye on the bone that they export to France, where it's very popular). I get to see the fridges where the dry aged beef is left for 35 days and where the moisture content is removed, allowing the fibres in the meet to break down, giving an incredibly tender and tastier steak.
"In terms of breeds, we kill mostly Charolais and Red Limousin heifers, as we find they produce the best yield, texture and flavour and make for better cuts," explains Bernard.
And Bernard should know because he actually started out his career as a butcher.
Growing up in Kilbeggan, his father worked as a cattle dealer and so from a very early age Bernard was accustomed to being around cattle. After school, he completed an apprenticeship at a local butcher. However with ambitions to be his own boss, he left in 1978 to open his own butcher's shop in the nearby village of Tyrrellspass. His 'farm to fork' strategy for the business emerged soon after.
"Business grew steadily, so we bought the farm and began rearing our own livestock.
"Not long after that, we built a small abattoir here and began slaughtering our own animals, as well as doing contract slaughtering for other local butchers," adds Bernard.
"In fact, the abattoir got built before our own family home," interjects Pauline, who used to deliver the meat to local shops in the early years.
The move from the butcher's shop to the abattoir proved so successful that in 1992 Bernard closed the shop to concentrate on the wholesaling business. In 2005, his son James joined the business straight from school and in 2008 James was joined by his younger brother Brian. James now looks after sales and marketing, while Brian looks after the farming and livestock management side.
"Since then, we have continuously expanded and upgraded the facility. We became Bord Bia-approved and are now preparing for the wider European BRC accreditation," explains Bernard.
"We also recently built a state-of-the-art lairage (a place where cattle and sheep can be rested before their trip to the abattoir), as well as a new kill floor and several large fridges and chill rooms. While we currently slaughter up to 150 cattle or 900 lambs each day, we have ample capacity to cater for our planned expansion."
What about future plans?
"We want to increase our turnover to around €30m over the next three years," explains Bernard. "We aim to achieve this by continuing to grow in the Irish market as well as by harnessing our export potential.
"In this regard, we have hired a new general manager with vast experience and contacts right across Europe."
As I look around Troys' Abattoir, it's easy to see that the foundations for this level of growth are already in place. They have a state- of-the-art processing facility, vast experience and a well-earned reputation.
Above all else though, the Troy family care about what they do. They care about producing quality meats. They care about their animals, their customers and their staff.
As I say my goodbyes, I find myself really rooting for this lovely family and their growing business.
For further information: www.troys.ie
Sunday Indo Business