For many Irish families the Christmas ham is just as important as the turkey that accompanies it on the dinner plate. Indeed, a lot of people would say that no traditional Irish Christmas is truly complete without the ham. It has been a staple of the festive season for as long as anyone can remember, and Irish people are very discerning when it comes to choosing the right one for the Christmas table.
Thanks to Co Roscommon-based Oliver Carty and family’s combination of traditional craft and years of experience passed down through generations, SuperValu shoppers can be assured that they are getting a premium fillet when they pick up a Signature Taste Hampshire Ham this Christmas.
Renowned for the leanness of its meat, Hampshire ham has a number of distinctive features which sets it apart from competitors. This range draws on traditional, time-honoured pig rearing techniques, guaranteeing a rich, hearty taste and tenderness, and exceptionally succulent and delicious flavour.
“All the hams we produce here at our facility in Athlone are Irish,” says managing director Ted Carty, son of the eponymous Oliver and whose two daughters, Aoife and Deirdre are also involved in the company. “We have been in this business a long time and our name is synonymous with quality and provenance. When shoppers pick up one of our hams, they are not only guaranteed a great tasting cut of meat but they have the assurance that it has been sourced from Irish and reputable Bord Bia approved producers. We use DNA tracing to ensure that all our meat is Irish. This is a DNA certification programme developed by the IFA in conjunction with tracing company, Identigen. We are the only firm using this type of traceability to prove that our pork is 100 per cent Irish.”
“Ham at Christmas is quite an Irish thing. 80 to 90 per cent of Irish households have turkey and ham for the festive dinner”
That’s just the beginning, the ham must pass the flavour test too. “A few years ago, we did some research into the best pork and ham from both taste and quality perspectives,” he explains. “We sent samples of different hams for sensory analysis at UCC in Cork and subjected them to blind tastings. The results overwhelmingly concluded that the Hampshire Breed is best. That is the breed of choice for Irish tastes.”
And that’s where Supervalu’s Signature Tastes Irish Hampshire ham fillet comes from.
“We are the only company producing breed-specific ham,” says Carty. “This is a significant point of difference for us.”
Oliver Carty and family dates back almost three-quarters of a century to when the business was founded by Ted’s father, Oliver. “He knew the business as he worked with Matterson’s, a bacon company in Limerick. He understood the Irish love of ham and saw a gap in the market for quality ham and pork meats. We had a shed at the back, and he started cooking hams there.”
The business grew and within a few years had moved to a premises in Monksland on the Roscommon side of Athlone. “We’ve had a few factories there over the years,” Ted notes. “Our main business is still pork, bacon, and ham. About six years ago we added a range of spices, herbs, butters, and rubs to complement the main line.”
The company has also adapted to meet changing tastes. “We have developed some unique cures over the years. Demand now is for less salt in ham. We use as little salt as possible in the curing process, just enough to keep the ham fresh. Because of the low sodium levels a lot of our hams don’t need soaking and are capable of going straight into the oven.”
It’s very much a family business, he explains. “My father passed away 22 years ago, and I’ve been in the business for over 40 years.” And the family tradition continues with Ted’s aforementioned daughters, Aoife and Deirdre, working with him. “I also have a couple of lads who will probably come into it in a few years’ time,” he says.
“We have 160 people working here now,” he adds. “A lot of our people have been with us for years and years. About 50 per cent of our staff are non-Irish and many of them have been with the company for more than 20 years as well. A lot of them have married Irish people and are very much part of the community here now. We are very proud of the fact that all our people live locally, and we have a very low staff turnover.”
The relationship with SuperValu already spans more than 25 years. “We have partnered with SuperValu since 1995,” Carty points out. “They have been great supporters of the business. We wouldn’t be where we are today without their hands-on support across many areas such as marketing, packaging, consumer insight and their superbly run logistics and distribution systems. There is a great culture in Musgrave of teamwork. It’s all about working in tandem with suppliers and putting the customers needs first in everything they do. Our business has certainly gone from strength to strength on the back of the relationship.”
Supplying Signature Tastes Irish Hampshire ham to SuperValu at Christmas is a significant part of the business. “Christmas is a crazy busy time for us,” says Carty. “We generally close around the 23rd of December having got a massive amount of product out to stores around the country in the ten days before that. We’ve been at this for years, so we are good at it, but you always still worry about the product being right for people.”
That worry arises directly from the high esteem in which the traditional roast ham is held. “December 25th is such an important day for people. What we produce has to be right. We work very hard at that. As a team and as a family we’re so proud of what we produce and the quality of the product that our name represents. Ham at Christmas is a real Irish thing. Eighty to 90 per cent of Irish households would have turkey and ham for festive dinner so we have to guarantee that our ham is the best and most tasty – worthy of any festive plate.
While the run up to Christmas is such a busy time for the team at Carty’s, I’m delighted that the traditional ham still takes centre stage and that our family business can play such an integral part of family festive celebrations. Irish businesses work so hard in the run up to Christmas to ensure they get orders out on time and products on shelves. They produce some of the best quality food and gifting items which should be supported as much as possible to ensure they remain a part of the fabric of communities across Ireland. "
For a full selection of quality Irish Christmas fare visit your local SuperValu or shop online at Supervalu