The Gourmet Butcher's 2012 Manifesto

Reader Contribution by Cole Ward

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.

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