Produce pride

This McStay isn’t going anywhere.
Young butcher making waves on the island.

Philip Hopkins

JAKE McStay, born and raised in the Latrobe Valley, has been a butcher for about half his life.

The 31-year-old, with experience and youth on his side, didn’t hesitate to buy the classic ‘paddock-to-plate’ outlet, Island Primary Produce on Phillip island, when he had the chance.

Located on a main road at Ventnor just west of Cowes, the business was started by Melbourne pair Ted and Chris Walsh back in 2002.

It was a novel concept: run your own farm with cattle, slaughter the cattle and sell the various beef cuts from a retail outlet on your farm just off the main road. Cattle supplies were supplemented from other farms on the island and in Gippsland.

The business thrived.

However, it was a relentless life, having to be open for the growing number of customers – both local and visitors.

“Ted got tired; he had done his time as a butcher, close to 40 years,” said Jake, who had done his butcher apprenticeship, aged 16, in Queensland after shifting there with his parents as a youngster.

“I fell into after-school work at a butcher shop cleaning up, never left – fell in love with it,” he said.

He was born in Moe and went to primary school in Morwell, but was back in Gippsland living in Drouin as a butcher when Ted offered him a job at Phillip Island.

“He approached me with a job opportunity and that related to a buying opportunity,” Jake said.

He and his wife Tania took the plunge five years ago and have not looked back.

The couple, who live in nearby Cowes, agist some land behind the retail store where they run about 20 head of cattle. The rest of the farm, now used for horses, belongs to a Bunyip person.

Jake and Tania too source the bulk of their cattle and beef from the island and Gippsland, using the same suppliers as Ted. Jake estimated about 30 per cent of the beef comes from the island and 70 per cent from Gippsland.

“We like a specific weight and a specific breed as well. I have always been a fan of Black Angus beef, pure bred Angus beef. I find it’s a good ageing beef for what we do here, consistent with age and the flavours I like,” he said.

“A lot of other beef can tend to lose a lot of condition over summer or winter, in different seasons, whereas this type of cattle holds condition well, presents well when I put it in the window.

“Weight – I like about 600kg liveweight, at about two to two-and-a-half years old. Anything under 600 live weight, dressed at 240-250, it loses too much eye size; porterhouse and scotch fillet, they become too boney.”

The work is relentless.

“I have to be open all the time, seven days week now,” he said. The shop is open at 7am and closes at 5pm, sometimes longer in summer.

“I’ve got three girls who rotate through the seasons. Late at night and early mornings, long days – but it’s easy when I have the right staff around me; that’s a big key.

“We are able to supply cattle to keep up with demand. It drops off a bit in winter, picks up after Melbourne Cup Day and rises again.”

Jake estimated he would need up to 200 head of beef a year to guarantee supply.

He buys the cattle direct from the farmers, from where they are transported to the award-winning Radford abattoir between Warragul and Drouin for slaughtering.

“I make sure the animals are not thrown around too much in the truck; the least amount of stress for the animals is always the best bet,” he said.

From Radford’s, the carcasses are delivered to the Ventnor shop.

“I do everything; we break everything down from the carcass to the final product in the window, including sausages.”

Jake estimated that he was able to get about 40 cuts out of an animal, which is broken down and dissected in different ways. His favourite cuts are rump cap and rib cap from which he produces a variety of scotch fillet and rump steak.

“You generally won’t find them in a shop. The rib cap you won’t find in a shop – that’s the butcher’s secret – the best bit,” he said.

“That’s all Black Angus, grass-finished, grass-raised – consistent quality, consistent good feed, good genetics. If you start getting cross breeds and substituting that with your beef, you start to get a lot of inconsistencies in colour and flavour and structure of the actual beef.

“By dealing with the same people – I’m confident the way it’s raised and produced. It shows in the final product.”

The final product is pricier than in most butcher shops, but you pay for intense, hand-made quality.

Jake takes particular care and pride with his sausages, which come in a variety of flavours.

“The sausages are all trial and error, trying different ingredients with different meats and ratios. It does take some persistence and time to create something,” he said.

“It seems very simple – a humble sausage. There is more than meets the eye. There is nice quality meat in our sausages – no fat. We are meticulous in the quality of the meat that goes into the sausage.”

The business also sells some lamb, but “it’s hard to get lots of lamb off the island”.

“The majority is through Gippsland. We have had some from the island, but not the numbers we would like,” he said.

Jake and Tania have two children aged five and two-and-a-half; the oldest is starting school this year.

“We have very good schools on the island. It’s a tough pick,” he said.

Of one thing he is certain: “I don’t want them to become butchers! You have to be away from your family working. It’s a sacrifice you have to make or not.”

Every working family needs a break; the McStays are heading to Queensland for two weeks for their one holiday of the year.

“A couple of weeks is all I can get,” said Jake.

But he’s in for the long haul.

“I have no plans on leaving, I love the island. It’s a great place to live and have a business.”


Gippsland Farmer

The Gippsland Farmer is a monthly agricultural newspaper reporting on rural news and distributed FREE and direct to an area covering from Cann River through to South Gippsland. For more than 40 years Gippsland Farmer has reported on a range of issues and industries including dairy, beef, vegetables, sheep, goats, poultry, organic farming, and viticulture.