A widening food scandal in Europe continues to find horse meat in products sold as beef - everything from frozen dinners and bolognese sauce to Ikea meatballs, Burger King patties and Taco Bell ground meat. At the same time, eating horse is not unheard of in much of Europe, including France. Trendy Parisian restaurants have had it on their menus for years, while about 500 French horse butchers serve it up as a tastier and healthier alternative to beef. Denis Luguz, the operator of one such boucherie chevaline in the Paris suburb of Le Raincy, says a loyal clientele has gladly gobbled up his once-galloping prime cuts since his family opened the shop 32 years ago.
Do you only sell horse at this butcher shop?
We own the boucherie chevaline and keep it separate from the traditional butcher shop we also own, just a few hundred metres away on a different street. Now I employ four staff.
The French industry body for horse butchers, Interbev Equins, has said that there has been a 15 per cent rise in sales of horse meat since the scandal broke. Have you noticed any increase in business?
I have heard all of the news about horse meat being used as a substitute for beef. It is crazy. There is a lot of sentimentality about horses. People get attached to them, but they are just the same as cows. It has always been popular here; I have not noticed much of a change. I think people who grow up eating horse meat carry on eating it all their lives. Why shouldn't they? It is delicious. I eat it and I have raised my children on it.
Where are the horses bred?
We source our horse meat from two countries: Canada and Belgium. We don't get anything from France. Roughly, we sell around half a horse a week, probably about 100kg per day. We buy it as we need it, and we have around 300 customers who regularly buy our horse products. The horses themselves are usually about four or five years old, and are not pet horses, they are bred to be eaten.
Do you buy the whole animal directly from the farms, or through importers or distributors?
I am an artisan butcher, not some supermarket. I get the meat directly from the farmers.
What are the most popular cuts?
We have about a dozen different cuts, but by far the most popular is steak hachée (minced meat). You can use almost any part of a horse, but the sides are obviously most popular. That is where you get the steaks. We sell lots of products from horse meat: sausages, steaks, salamis, and they are all 100 per cent horse. We do not mix the meats. Never.
About how much is a horse steak, compared with a beef steak?
A horse steak right now is about €22 [Dh105] for a kilogram, less than a beef steak, which is about €29 a kilogram.
So what does it taste like?
People say it is a lot like beef but it is not. It has a different taste. It is a stronger taste; more pronounced.