Words by Georgina Downes | Photography by Johanna Simon

Nothing announces Christmas like a big Bronze Turkey, stuffed and roasted with all the trimmings, succulent and oozing with festive cheer. The moment it’s placed on the table, Christmas Day has officially begun. But long before that, long before you’ve heated the oven or had a glass of sherry or peeled a spud, you need to order your bird and what better place to go than to Matt the Butcher’s in Abbey Street, where Matt Leahy will be happy to advise you on the best way to prepare and cook your yuletide feast. Not that Matt actually cooks the Christmas dinner himself at home.

“I leave that to my lovely wife, Laverne,” he laughs, which is understandable. When you’re selling quality turkeys and hams all week, the last thing you want to do is cook one. “Laverne comes and picks out a ham and a turkey and I leave it all to her.”

Matt Leahy is a softly spoken man, but give him a boning knife and he’ll soon make light work of a full beef or lamb carcass. He learned his trade in Garvey’s, straight from school, and he knows how to put his butchering skills to good use. “I love what I do,” he tells me, “but I wouldn’t wish the hours on anyone. We start at 7am and we’re going until 6pm, 6 days a week.”

“You have to know how to cut meat. Every week, we sell lots of traditional cuts like oxtail, heart, ox tongue and bones for making stock, especially for people who are in ill health or who are convalescing . We also sell crubeens to our Irish customers but the Chinese love pork feet for soup. They like tripe too. Our Polish customers love pork hocks, breast bones, kidneys and skirts.”

Skirts?

“The skirt is a cut of beef or lamb, located on the inside of the abdomen wall, next to the brisket end. It’s great for slow cooking in stews, full of flavour and more tender than flank.”

Five years ago, Matt Leahy took over this shop from Maguire’s. Since then, it’s been Matt the Butcher’s and all his regular customers seem to love him.

“Business is good. Very steady,” Matt tells me. In fact, several customers come and go throughout the interview. One, who wanted to be known simply as ‘Christy, the greatest Kerry football fan of all time’ gave Matt a hearty recommendation, saying his products are 100 per cent, “Brilliant meat,” he added before leaving with a pound of streaky bacon.

If sustainability and buying local is key to you, then you can’t go wrong at in Matt’s. All their fresh meat is Irish; the beef and lamb is from Killorglin, the Bronze Turkeys are from Newcastle West, the free-range turkeys are from Middleton, and the hams are all Limerick hams.

“Environmental issues are a concern for me, both personally and professionally. I have a 12 year old son who is practically a member of Green Peace!” he says. But joking aside, Matt is genuinely interested in cutting down, or even eliminating, the plastic products he uses in his shop. He shows me a prototype bag, made from compostable paper, that’s sealable and might be the answer to the plastic conundrum.

“The only issue preventing me at the moment is cost. Currently, this sort of bag is six times the price of the plastic bags. But the cost will come down. It has to as more and more people demand it.”

Currently, some well-prepared, clever customers bring their own Tupperware to Matt’s. What a great idea for a worth-while new-year’s resolution – shop with Tupperware.

“Absolutely. I’d love to see more people do it. In our new shop, we’ll be using different packaging, moving away from plastic altogether. In fact, a lot of our pre-prepared joints are sold in recyclable, metal containers, and they also serve as the roasting tin so it’s straight from shelf to oven.”

That’s right folks. Matt the Butcher’s will be moving in April next year to Russell Street, so exciting times ahead. The friendly service and first rate meat will remain the same though.

“Oh, yes.”

How many times a week does a butcher eat meat, I ask.

“Personally, seven,” Matt says without hesitation, clearly a fan of his own product. “The family orders pizza on Friday nights, but I still have a steak,” he smiles.

What’s your favourite meat to have for dinner?

“Bacon and cabbage,” he replies, in true Irish fashion. “But I like roast beef with all the trimmings too.”

Who is your typical customer and what do they like?

“Actually, we have a wide range of customer, from the mature housewife to singletons. Chicken and lamb followed by beef is very popular. Lean steak minced. Striploin. Stir fry and added value products are popular with the younger customers who are working. We try to provide quick and healthy meals. Everything is made onsite. We have a special recipe for beef stir fry and it sells well so we’ve never changed it. Customer feedback helped us to create it.”

If you shop in Matt’s you’ll be in good company. They currently supply The Brogue Inn, New Yorkers, Yummy’s, Hillbilly’s, Escala, Wild, The Roast House and MJ’s Diner, to mention just a few.

Matt the Butcher’s is closed on Christmas day and St Stephen’s day but reopens on Friday the 27th. “People want normal food by then,” he tells me. “They are tired of large joints so they buy chops and sausages, things like that. It’s business as usual. Until new year’s eve when we sell joints of beef, more turkeys and legs of lamb.”

Finally, I ask Matt how he will spend Christmas this year.

“Relaxing with the family, and a visit to my parents.”

Sounds perfect. Wishing a very happy Christmas to all the butchers in Tralee!