Horses for main courses: a scandalously delicious meat
Once you try horse you will never go back to beef, say the family behind a horsemeat butcher shop in the Netherlands. And for curious Irish people, horse might be coming to a market near you soon
Butcher Peter Wisker next to carcasses at his horsemeat butchery in Haarlem, the Netherlands. Photograph: Ilvy Njiokiktjien/AFP/Getty Images
Peter Wisker cutting horsemeat. Photograph: Ilvy Njiokiktjien/AFP/Getty Images
Lisa Wisker (28) points to a photo of a young girl riding a horse. “That’s me with Falco when I was 11,” she says. “He was everything to me.” There are several photos of her father, Peter (65), with horses he has owned. “Some people think we must really hate horses, because we sell and eat their meat,” Wisker adds, “but no, we love them. We respect them.”
The photos hang proudly on the wall of the family business: a butcher shop in Haarlem, the Netherlands, which specialises in horsemeat. Lisa’s grandfather, Henk, opened shop in 1934 and her father, Peter, has run it since 1970. “It is a family tradition,” says Lisa. “My father was even born in the apartment upstairs.”
They prepare and sell everything, including horse mince, fillets, sausages and meat for stews. “The horse arrives from the slaughterhouse in four large parts, and we cut it up,” she says. “The best part is the tenderloin. It’s so tender, you don’t need a knife to eat it.”
In Ireland, stricter regulations following the horsemeat scandal have made it less likely that horsemeat will become an Irish standard any time soon, according to Pat Hyland, a Laois farmer who sold horsemeat skewers at the Temple Bar Saturday market in Dublin until authorities shut the practice down last year. However, he says there is definitely a market for it in Ireland.
“Most people came to my stall specifically for horse,” he say. “Every week I am asked when it is coming back. I feel like it’s a real niche market, but the laws make it really hard to do,” he says.
For the Wiskers, however, the scandal has given business a boost. “The same day the story broke in the newspapers, there were lines down to the corner of the street,” she says. “It was unbelievable.”
Wisker says media focus on horsemeat has made people curious, and perceptions of the meat are changing. “It was a cheap option during the war, and many of our customers have been of the older generation that grew up on it, but now it’s becoming more of a delicacy.”
She acknowledges that for many there is an emotional hurdle to overcome. “There is a difference between eating your pet and eating the meat in general,” she says. “We have feelings too. Many of my generation think it’s sad, that it’s not nice, but I grew up this way, so I have no problem to look at it objectively.”
Taste-wise, Wisker says there is no comparison to beef. “If people change their mindset about horsemeat, they will never go back to beef. It’s so tender, there’s more flavour. You have to first get past thinking – and when you taste it, you will be sold.”
She also points to its health benefits. “It’s full of iron, and it’s completely organic. The horses have a great life. They are well-taken-care-of, loved and petted, but if they are suffering and can’t be cured, then they are slaughtered. Until then, they are cherished.”