Butchering a whole animal is an artful skill. I worked at a restaurant in New Orleans years ago. It had it’s own butcher in house. It’s still one of the only restaurants I’ve know to have it’s own in house butcher. I remember being in awe of how quickly and efficiently he could break down an animal, dress a hen, filet a fish. He taught me to filet fish without gutting the animal - simply following the bone line down the back to remove the filet from each side of the fish. It seemed like magic, and so simple, when I finally learned to do it right.
Butchering an animal can be violent and strenuous. There is a lot of finesse to breaking down an animal. It’s pretty remarkable to witness. The butcher knows the lines, muscles, and bones of the animal intimately. Sides of beef can weigh several hundred pounds. Moving these beasts around takes strength. And not every cut is intricate. There are also the saws, and the large cuts, where brute strength is required.
Grocery store “butchers” are not in fact butchers. They are meat cutters. A butcher has the ability and skill to break down an entire animal. He has to know the animal. He has to know the bone structure, the muscle structure. So called grocery store butchers receive select sections of an animal and cut them down to serving size filets. They do not require the skill to break down a whole animal.
There is virtually no waste in the shop. It strikes me as a Native American approach to food. When the shop receives a side of beef they’ll break down all the regular cuts, the tenderloin, the ribs, etc. What’s not used for the case or primary cuts is used for in house deli meats, sausages, bacon, and stock. There is very little waste of the animal. And there are no preservatives or chemicals. It’s a very wholistic approach to animal consumption.
Local butchers know their suppliers and know where the meat they sell comes from. They’ve often toured the farms and ranches that supply their meat and have personal relationships with the farmers and ranchers. They get the best quality meats because it’s their product, their reputation on the line. They have their hands on every animal that makes it’s way through the case. If it’s not up to par, they’ll know it before you do.
The prices are still high. You pay a premium for hormone free, chemical free, non GMO and grass fed. There’s no way around it, yet. The industry is set up for cheaper and faster production, delivery and consumption: the CostCo / Walmart approach. The tide is slowly turning. Consumers are making their voices heard by seeking out organic and chemical free options. We have a long way to go and price is still a huge component of the equation. The more consumers opt out of hormone and chemical fed meats the more the scales will tip.
We need to support those that bring these great products to market. Thanks to Heart & Trotter for opening their shop to me and teaching me more about whole animal butchery. James Holster is the head butcher. Stop by and say hello next time you’re in North Park.