In recent years, Northern Ireland has undergone a food revolution, becoming recognised on the world stage for its exciting dining scene, superb local ingredients, and as a food tourism destination. Though, speaking to chef Danni Barry from EIPIC, one of two Michelin starred restaurants in Belfast, the person who she credits as one of the biggest influences for this shift is not another celebrated chef, but instead one of Northern Ireland’s most recognised artisan producers: Peter Hannan, founder and owner of Hannan Meats.
“We are very lucky to have Peter Hannan and his short beef just up the road here, which is being used everywhere now,” Danni gushed. “They have spent years developing a product and now they are seeing the benefit of it, and restaurants in Belfast are seeing the benefit of it because Peter is drawing a lot of interest in food to Northern Ireland.”
As the praise would suggest, Hannan Meats is not your average butchers. With a dedication to fastidious sourcing of the finest ingredients, a team of world-class butchers, and a legendary Himalayan salt-brick lined dry-aging chamber, Peter Hannan supplies 350 of the most exacting restaurants, hotels and retailers in the UK and Ireland, including most luxurious department store in the world Fortnum & Mason.
The result of Peter’s attention to detail is meat that really is a cut above the rest. His customers crave the superior flavour and texture, and cut after cut of exemplary Hannan Meats have been recognised by an array of prestigious awards too, not least at the Guild of Fine Goods Great Taste Awards; the world’s most coveted blind-tasted food awards.
In fact, Hannan Meats has smashed numerous Great Taste records. Rising high above the 12 foot high solid wall of hand–cut Himalayan salt bricks in their dry aging chamber, Hannan Meats holds the most 3 gold stars in total with 20, the most 3 stars awarded in a single year twice with 7, the most products listed in The Top 50 Foods in a single year, and the most stars ever awarded to a company in a single year.
Most impressively, this year the company achieved an unprecedented feat in the 22-year history of Great Taste becoming the only company to be awarded the Supreme Champion accolade twice. First lifting the prize in 2012 for its Moyallon Guanciale, in 2016, from 10,000 entries in Great Taste, the Hannan Meats’ Glenarm Shorthorn 4 Rib Roast was also awarded the prestigious honour.
“Winning GTA Supreme is about as high as you can climb in the food industry,” says Peter.
“Having the singularly best item from a pool of 10,000 foods is not easy. To win it once, in 2012, was wonderful, but to win it twice in a lifetime is quite incredible. It was hugely unexpected.”
The same rack of meat scooped – or more fittingly, stabbed – The Great Taste Golden Fork for the best food or drink in Northern Ireland.
Alongside this exceptional piece of beef, three gold stars have also been awarded to Hannan’s Moyallon Sweet Bacon Ribs, cured to a traditional recipe and then sweetened in a sugar pit for 10 days. Peter’s meaty magic wasn’t lost on the Great Taste experts who gushed about the contrast in textures between the crisp edge, soft fat and succulent meat, and the perfectly balance Peter achieved between the strong sweet and salty flavours. The same sweet-cured, smoked bacon chops are a favourite of Mark Hix, the celebrated chef and restaurateur.
Of Hannan’s Himalayan Salt Age Rib Chop, another three gold star winner, the judges likened the fat to butter, adding: “It is everything you would hope for and more.” Another winner, the Himalayan Salt Aged Tagliata, dry–aged for a whopping 40 days, was described by the Great Taste panel as: “The most gloriously beautiful joint of beef we have seen in a while.”
No flash in the pan, the quality of Hannan Meats is a culmination of many years of dedication. Peter Hannan and his team have been perfecting this salt chamber dry-aging process for the best part of a decade, though the Hannan meat story has roots that go back even further than their 1991 establishment.
Growing up on a beef and sheep farm in Co. Kildare, Peter’s understanding of the world of agriculture is ingrained in Hannan Meats. He began slaughtering and selling his own meat at the tender age of 11, and by the time he was 14 he was well on his way to becoming an experienced meat farmer. Then, aged 22 he secured the ultimate apprenticeship in the meat industry; running abattoirs in America.
Today, Peter’s farming pedigree has helped Hannan Meats build a network of 120 Irish farmers who he can trust to produce the highest quality possible. His unerring focus on the provenance of his meat is evidenced in a 50% partnership in the renowned Glenarm Shorthorn Beef Scheme.
“There are many criteria involved in producing truly exceptional beef, and it all starts on the farm. Our farmers are committed to producing beef that is “as good as it can be” for us to put through our process. From sowing clover through the pasture, through to exceptional care, nothing is too much effort for our partners. Breed, feed, and animal husbandry is what it’s all about.”
Peter says the popularity of their products has been bolstered by the overall growth in interest from consumers in knowing where their food comes from: “People have changed the way they source their food, and have developed a genuine interest in the quality of the food they eat.”
“‘Horsegate’ only added fuel to the fire to highlight the importance of sourcing our food.”
On the Marketing schemes only have a certain longevity. This is just the latest round of marketing from people who are quite happy to mislead their customers,” Peter laments. “However, I believe their customer is now discerning enough to be able to differentiate between schemes with and without integrity.”
With their commitment to provenance acting as a guarantee of quality, to ensure the meat gets the respect it deserves Peter has perfected every step of the process that comes after its delivery: “Our slaughter, aging, and butchery process is extremely complex and detailed,” Peter explains.
“Every small detail matters when you are looking for consistency. From chilling, hanging, aging in salt chambers, and butchering, it has to be the same, every time.”
As Danni Barry’s comments suggest, Peter has become much more than just a producer, and now acts as an ambassador for Northern Irish food, a role which has taken him all over Europe, and beyond. “Northern Ireland always did food well. Our only problem was that we didn’t tell anyone how good we were at it,” Peter says.
“With huge exposure in recent times Northern Ireland is now receiving the recognition it so richly deserves for producing world-class food. Our Artisan food sector is particularly vibrant. Success breeds confidence, and with confidence comes success.”
Alongside their wholesale business, Hannan Meats operate a popular outlet at their factory in Moira, Co. Down, called the Meat Merchant, where they sell their beef, lamb, poultry, pork, bacon and sausages. “We have in excess of 2000 customers a week who visit us. We are very bad retailers, but it works beautifully because it does exactly what it says on the tin. We love it,” Peter says of this side of his multi-faceted operation.
As Christmas draws near our appetites grow stronger for the first taste of turkey and ham, but Peter says among these Hannan Meats customer favourites “a great piece of beef has taken a share over recent years.” Of course, this new addition to the Christmas dinner feast is a tradition Peter himself has also adopted: “After the annual feast of turkey, ham, and festive fayre, I so look forward to a rib of beef – cooked medium rare – with all the trimmings, just as soon as I can.”
Traditions like these mean lot to Peter, but ever since he returned from America in his twenties full of inspiration he has been keen to innovate and drive the Irish meat industry forward.
“As one of the largest and most advanced markets in the world, my time in the States provided an opportunity to look into the future of where our industry at home was going.”
Looking into the New Year, Peter says: “It’s a very exciting time to be in the food industry. Things are moving rapidly, and we try to stay ahead of the posse.” “We have plans to expand outside Northern Ireland in 2017. Watch this space,” he reveals.
Though, despite plans for global expansion, and gaining recognition from chefs and stores all over the world, Peter remains humble, and it’s clear that the heart of Hannan Meats will always remain in Moira, where they still serve their very first five customers over 25 years later.
Erica grew up with a baker and confectioner for a father, and a mother with an instinct and love for good food. It is little wonder then that, after completing a law, she went on to do a Masters in Food Business at UCC. With a consuming passion for all things food, nutrition and wellness, working with TheTaste is a perfect fit for Erica; allowing her to learn and experience every aspect of the food world meeting its characters and influencers along the way.