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The Gourmet Butcher's 2012 Manifesto

It wasn’t so long ago (well, maybe a few decades), when there was a butcher shop on every corner. Now you really have to search for one. You’d almost think that we’re a thing of the past.  

So I’ve been thinking about the way things progress — or, in this case, don’t progress. And I believe we’ve lost a great deal.   

Training a person to cut meat doesn’t turn them into a butcher. There is so much more to it that that. Some butchers cut very well, but it often ends there. Merchandizing, creating value-added items, setting up and decorating an artful display, and most of all — customer service.  

A real butcher believes that his or her customer is King or Queen. No matter how bad your day was, or no matter your personal troubles, the customer should be greeted as a long lost best friend, and every effort made to satisfy their needs. 

So many butchers I know have an “Oh, that’s good enough” attitude. Most simply don’t understand or appreciate the finer aspects of the trade, like how to display their products, that different colors go with different meats, such as lamb, beef and pork or veal. Customers buy with their eyes, so appearance is everything.  

Even ground meat can be displayed beautifully, from rosettes, ribboned or (what I like to do) sculpting a pig from sausage. Fruits and vegetables to decorate a meat case are another way to enhance a meat display.  

Craftsmanship, personality, knowledge of cuts and cooking methods, ability and eagerness to French a roast, make a Crown ham or pork roast, bone out chicken breast or thighs, or skin a chicken ... In fact, any service the customer requests, as well as a clean and professional personal appearance, are as much of being a great butcher as the actual cutting.   

I hear horror stories every holiday about the botched meat orders people get from some of the butchers out there. This Christmas was no exception. A dear friend of mine — a chef — called me several times on Christmas eve. She bought a rib center bone-in pork roast and asked to have it Frenched. The butcher said “Why?  You’re just going to cook it anyway.” She felt a bit intimidated and called to see if I thought her request was unreasonable. I replied, “He should have offered before you asked.”  

Well, she got the roast with only part of it rib center and the rest loin center (not what she’d asked for).  The guy Frenched the four ribs poorly and gave her a roast that was pretty hideous. She finally found another roast at another shop and Frenched it herself. 

I may have been more understanding if the butcher was an apprentice, but he had been at it for 30 years! Totally unacceptable. I would like to create just one or two real butchers before I end my career who share the same values I do. We will just have to keep trying. 

You play a part in this, you know. Don’t put up with shabby service, or “butchers” who don’t know the front end of a cow from the back end. Complain to the manager, or demand that you receive the service you deserve. 

thomas rice
9/22/2012 3:52:42 PM

Sooo its not just me and my neighborhood, I remember when I moved to Maui in 84 with my folks, we had always lived on a cattle ranch and as such gotten our meat from the ranch, custom cut and wrapped, whole carcass, wehn we moved to Maui we got our first allotment of meat from the ranch we were living on, the box got opened and my mom started pulling out the pieces and was like WHAT IS THIS???? most of the cuts were not really discernable, other than the occasional unmistakeable round or t bone,,,, scarry, all the cutting was with a band saw and not much butchering going on, so here we are, 2012, a friend I have been giving my excess kale to for his pigs said he was going to give me half of a pig that was going to slaughter, I was having visions of double cut pork chops and a hind quarter roast and perhaps a belly slab to make some bacon with, OOOOO Noooo, opened the box and the first thing I see is half of the head staring up at me with a glassy dead eye, then on going through the box, whoever cut the stuff up basicly most likely didnt know what a knife was for, because the entire thing was cut into little pieces with a band saw, thats right, a band saw, all of it, from the uneven 1"- 1/2" sorta chops to a bunch of pork round steaks??? never seen that before, down to these wierd little strips of fat that I think used to be that belly for bacon I had been dreaming about smoking with some scraps made into sausage,,, WHat a waste, and this was from a slaughterhouse that is supposed to be the best butcher for any pork, next time Ill just take the whole side thanks,, cut it myself. Butchering is a lost art I am starting to believe, no wonder so many people just make burger or jerky out of their animals over here.

leevi werner
4/29/2012 9:08:04 PM

I agree. I too would like to learn to butcher my own meat. I never seem to get what I request from the butchers that I take my livestock that I have put so much time and effort into. Everywhere has the same "industrial attitude when it comes to food, faster+cheaper=better, I put a great deal into raising a far above par animal just to have someone else botch the job. I question wither I actually get the same animal back that I take to these establishments.

eli silverman
4/11/2012 7:45:33 PM

How would one train to be a butcher? I looked but can't find anywhere to learn, even if it my own farm. There are lots of books and things on-line, but I'd rather find someone to learn from and not have it be a huge commercial venture who never sees the customer. as you say, so there is no "good enough" attitude.