There are few items so synonymous with good eating as a tender, juicy steak, and Ireland is extremely fortunate in that regard to have some of the most highly regarded grass fed beef in the world.
John Stone is a brand that might not have been familiar to many people in Ireland up until recently. But in restaurants and hotels around Ireland and around the world, the Longford based butchers are synonymous with this type of quality.
The COVID-19 crisis may have left restaurants shuttered for many months, but there has still been a strong appetite for food that’s a cut above what people might pick off the shelves at the supermarket, and that means going to the best.
John Stone have over 100 years combined experience in dry-aging beef among their team of skilled butchers, creating meat prized for its soft texture and classic flavour. That quality is now easily available in your kitchen, and far from prohibitively expensive, through their new home delivery service.
Order yourself a choice of Striploin, Fillet, or Ribeye steaks, and more besides, that Michelin Starred chefs and 7-star hotels are happy to have in their kitchen. Or get a mixed case of steaks, burgers, and sausages, with complimentary matched wines and craft ales.
Having first started their home delivery service in Leinster and Munster, John Stone are now delivering their beef to Galway once a week each Thursday. Or, if you happen to live less than an hour’s drive from the factory in Ballymahon, up to twice a week in their own chilled banded vans.
From Field to Fork
Meat can be a tricky product in terms of consistency , especially at the higher end of the market, where people have high expectations. Customers expect a consistency of excellence, the same as they would in any other premium goods they purchase.
“When you’re at your favourite restaurant, you go there because of consistency. That’s why you go to that restaurant. That’s why it’s your favourite restaurant,” says Allan Morris, General Manager of John Stone Beef, himself a Master Butcher with 30 years experience in the trade.
But meat is not like something that rolls off a factory line, because it is a natural product, complete with all the faults and imperfections that nature likes to throw out. “Not every animal is the same,” Allan says, “They all look the same in the field, but it’s what’s underneath that counts.”
To that end, John Stone Beef sources their meat from a wide range of small Irish farms, many of which have been in the same family for generations, with strong reputations for sustainability and an impeccable natural diet. The young suckler cattle spend the first ten months with their mother drinking her milk, before moving on to a grass diet that is part of what makes Irish beef so desired the world over, with its distinct marbling and flavour.
Even then, only a small number of cattle will be chosen, “For us, we nearly need to see 40 animals before we make a selection,” Allan says, adding that even then, they’re only interested in the loin, or part of the loin, from each one. “we may only select the fillets from that animal. Or we may only take the ribeyes from that animal, and we won’t use the rest”.
Once their team of butchers have physically inspected the loins, those are transferred to their bespoke ageing plant in Longford to be dry-aged.
This is a slow and careful process, where meat hangs on the bone for three to four weeks to draw out moisture, concentrating and changing the flavour in the meat and fat, and creating the tenderness so sought after in good steak.
While this is happening the temperature, humidity, and airflow in the environment is tightly controlled to ensure the loins high quality integrity is kept optimum ,and guarantee the development of the right taste profile.
Dry-aging is an old technique, much favoured by traditional butchers, and delivers a very different flavour profile to less rigorous large scale wet-aging. That connection to old school butchers is why many people have told Allan that “this beef tastes like beef used to taste.”
Delivering that five-star quality after a complex process, and in doing so consistently, requires skill, experience, and rigorous standards. Allan puts it simply: “After the aging process if we’re not happy about the size, the shape, the weight and feel of the meat, then we will reject it.”
That quality control doesn’t end when the meat leaves the factory, as the deliveries are made by John Stone’s team of butchers, who are happy to talk with customers about how to do their steak justice.
“People would have bought steak, and not really had the confidence on how to cook it correctly, or the ability to do so,” Allan explains. so on top of the personal advice from their butchers, they also created videos with chefs with whom they have good relationships “on how to cook the perfect steak or other cuts and not be afraid of it.” These guides are packaged with the meat, so you can frantically reference it every five seconds while you’ve got the meat on the grill.
Little things like this, building a personal connection with customers and guaranteeing quality control at every step of the process is “the difference between an OK experience, and a great experience.”
Online steak store
John Stone Beef’s online store offers a wide range of different steaks such as ribeye, striploin, Fillet, T-bone and more. These are pre-cut to an exacting weight, or in sharing size to feed a group of people, and all you have to do is take your steak knife to them.
The delicious Striploin Centre cut and Cote de Beouf are also available as full roasts to feed a larger group of people, or the Butchers Secret is perfect for indulgent beef sandwiches.
The best deals are in the hamper options, that not only come with a mixed selection of steaks, burgers, and sausages, but are also paired with complimentary wine, or craft lagers and ales from St. Mel’s brewery.
Just one example of their incredible deals is the Spanish Wine & Steak box, which comes with two Striploin steaks, three Fillet Centre-Cut steaks, two Ribeye steaks, and one Cote de Boeuf steak, complete with a free bottle of Altos De La Hoya red wine, all for just €96 and shipping.
Check out the full range of steaks and package deals available at johnstonebeefshop.com/.
From hotels to home deliveries
John Stone first began supplying world class steak for chefs from Ireland back in 2002, after already building a highly successful mail order company in the UK. Ten years later, when John sold his interest in the UK portion of the company in 2012 he kept the Irish side of the business, which was renamed to create a more personal brand.
“We continued very quietly under the radar, as we’ve always done over the years, supplying the best hotels and restaurants all over the world,” Allan says. “From Canada to Japan and everywhere in between, we are the go to guys for Dry aged grass fed beef for the global discerning chef.”
Up until very recently, John Stone Beef only supplied meat for restaurants and hotels, giving up on supplying individual households when they shifted completely to Ireland. But the hospitality industry was one of the first hit by the COVID-19 crisis, with bars, restaurants, and hotels closing back in March.
This left John Stone Beef with something of a dilemma, “We had tons and tons of beef maturing in the fridge with no home for it,” Allan says. This led to a few days of feverish work among their team of butchers to “butcher it, portion it, and freeze it” while a new market was sought.
The chefs they had prior relationships were a great help in spreading the word at first, Allan says, using their influence on social media to let people know about the quality of John Stone’s beef. But word of mouth and personal referrals have been the best way of bringing in new customers. “We found ourselves delivering one day to a house, and the very next day we delivered to the neighbour’s house,” he explains, adding that this helped them to grow quickly.
As to how long they intend to keep the home delivery service going with restaurants and hotels reopening, Allan says they have no plans to stop, and are actually considering potentially expanding it to other countries. Of course, the newfound enthusiasm people have found for their kitchen might wear off now that they can eat out again, and work is back to consuming more of their time. But Allan doesn’t think that’s likely either.
“I’m not so sure that they will. Once people get a taste of something good, they continue in that same vein, and that same aspect. And I’m still not sure that people are going to return to restaurants and to hotels in the same volume that they did before COVID”.
As long as there is a demand from people who want restaurant quality meat for their home cooking, John Stone Beef intend to deliver it to their doorstep.