Hollywood stars

Irish duck and Hollywood stars

Silver Hill Premium Irish Duck is a household name for many who love a good dish of Peking Duck, or pretty much anyone who lives in the Midlands or border counties.

Established in 1962, the company has expanded its poultry exports, now being 70% export oriented, supplying duck and duck products to 24 countries around the world including the UK, the Bas, Germany, United Arab Emirates, Singapore and Hong Kong.

This month, Silver Hill Duck attended Gulfood in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as an exhibitor at the Origin Green booth. Gulfood is the largest annual food and beverage trade show in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

Silver Hill used the show to meet existing customers in the Gulf region, develop new relationships and find new markets for its premium duck offering.

During the trip, the company revealed to Agriland that it is looking for Irish farmers to join the Silver Hill Duck team to produce ducks for processing, providing additional on-farm income and enabling the business to meet customer demand.

Silver Hill said it is currently at full capacity in terms of existing poultry facilities and needs to expand further.

Beginning of Chinatown

One of Dubai’s most prestigious restaurants, Zheng He’s at Jumeirah Mina A’Salam in Dubai features Silver Hill Duck on its menu, which must be ordered approximately three days in advance by restaurant patrons.

Silver Hill Duck is the star dish on the menu at Zheng He’s at Jumeirah Mina A’Salam in Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Talk to Agriland in Dubai, Barry Cullen, Sales Manager at Silver Hill Duck, explained how Monaghan’s duck ended up as a premium offering in such a high-end restaurant: “We’ve been supplying London’s Chinatown for 40 years with our duck.

“If you walk down the streets, Gerrard Street which is the main artery of Chinatown, all the ducks hanging in the windows are 98-99% ours.

“So if you are an Asian tourist and you go to London, the first place they go is Chinatown and they go for the roast duck. It is known as the best duck in the world. It was Hong Kong 40 or 50 years ago that was known as the best, now it’s London,” Barry added.

“So when they go there [London] and they go home, they tell all their friends that London Duck is awesome, so the chefs who are trained there are normally with a chain of hotels.

“We had three meetings yesterday with three different distributors, one in Qatar, one in Dubai, one in Saudi [Arabia] – all three said the same thing, that they have London-trained chefs who want the Silver Hill Duck in their market.

Silver Hill Duck has teamed up with Dubai distributor Fresh Express, which supplies a large number of hotels in the Jumeriah chain, which is how Irish Peking Duck ended up on the menu at Zheng He’s.

From Monaghan to Mumbai for Irish Duck

One of Silver Hill Duck’s best-known clients is the Michelin-starred Hakkasan restaurant chain, which counts celebrities and billionaires among its customers.

The chain has restaurants in places such as Las Vegas, Mumbai and Muscat.

“We have the contract to supply all of their Asian and European restaurants,” Barry explained. “So when these guys recommend and use our duck, it’s easy.”

So how did the duck, bred and bred in Ireland, manage to coax two Hollywood stars out of a top London restaurant?

“We only heard it secondhand. We were reading the newspaper, one of the UK tabloids, and Guy Ritchie and Tom Hardy went to one of our restaurant customers at Ming Jiang in the Royal Garden Hotel, Kensington, looking for our duck,” explained Barry.

“He [Ritchie] Crowded as it had to be ordered a day in advance due to prep time. He wasn’t ready to wait, so it was great to see he had good taste in duck and was a great movie producer.

Duck farming in Monaghan and beyond

Silver Hill’s birds appear to be different from ducks from other poultry processors, which has given the company a unique selling point.

“We decided a long time ago to focus on a perfect roasting duck and because of that you need more fat. Our duck is famous for the level of fat, the texture of the meat, the crispiness of the skin, which is perfect for Chinese customers,” Barry continued.

Image: Silver Hill Duck

The Silver Hill duck was originally a cross between a Pekin and an Aylesbury and the company has six people involved in its agricultural technical team who ensure the breed does not change too much from this.

“Over time, nature…things get bigger if you do nothing, so when we select our breeding stock we will try to make sure they are the same as last time,” Barry added.

“We don’t say we know everything, but we are fully integrated, even down to the animal feed factory; we belong to an animal feed producer [Fane Valley]. We do our own breeding, our own growing, our own processing, our own hatching and so we have full traceability from farm to fork, even all the way to the feed mill.

Silver Hills Duck

The company’s head office is based at Emyvale in County Monaghan and directly employs 240 people.

“We also have a lot of outside producers – farmers, who would basically add a duck or two ducks as an extra source of income,” Barry continued.

“We are based in Monaghan but we are cross border so our breeders are in the North of Ireland, our hatchery is in the South, we have growing farms in the North and South and then we process in Emyvale.

“We are expanding, so we are looking for more producers, more farms. In order to meet the demand, we have to expand the factory. As we open new markets, we need to attract more ducks.

Interested in raising ducks?

Silver Hill Duck needs three things if the company is to recruit a new farm to support some of the growth operations.

The three requirements are:

  • Building permit;
  • Finance, for example banking institution;
  • Capacity/land bank to spread manure.

Although it requires an initial investment from the farm owner, Barry Cullen points out that it will offer long-term gains.

“We give contracts, we have the demand there, so it’s a case of ‘if you build it, we’ll send you the ducks’.

“In Cavan and Monaghan the amount of poultry that’s in the area, we’re probably now at the limit there, so we have to stretch a bit further, but as the European limit is less than eight hours transport , it’s ok, you can go anywhere in the country.

“We have producers in Waterford for example and more in Donegal. We can go anywhere and actively watch the minute.

For each barn, Silver Hill tries to get 18,000 birds, which Barry says equals one day of processing. At any one time, the company could have about a million birds on the ground at various farms.