Thursday, January 29, 2009

Getting to Know Your Butcher

MattWhile it's great to buy your vegetables, fruits, and meat straight from a local farmer, we all end up at the store for some items. A good local seafood shop (or fishmonger, which is one of my favorite words), a vegetable stand, or butcher can be a great asset. You can count on someone there to get advice on what to buy that day, where items came from, and a smile. Sure, if you're lucky you might get service like that at the supermarket, but I can't remember the last time I did.

With this thought in mind, I'd like to point to a post on the A Spoonful of Sugar blog about the author's trip to her butcher shop for a demonstration on how he breaks down a pig into the cuts of meat us omnivores know and love.

His family business, Perry & Son has been serving loyal customers in Alveston, just outside Bristol, since 1985 and Mike prides himself on keeping the old skills alive as well as sourcing all the meat he sells from within a 35 mile radius of the shop. More often than not, though, the meat is far more local. For most of this year, Mike has been buying in his pigs from a farm just one mile down the road. Beat that for low food miles!

On one level, he looks like the stereotypical `jolly butcher' but he's so much more than that. This is a man who cares deeply about the quality of the meat he's selling and it is important to him that it is not only local, but the absolute best he can lay his hands on. He is concerned about the decline in the number of craft (or master) butchers due to supermarket monopolies, but at the same time he is heartened by the increased focus from celebrity chefs on the older, cheaper cuts of meat. As supermarkets don't do more interesting cuts like beef (or pork) cheeks, customers are moving back to traditional butchers to get the cuts that are being promoted.

The last part is a great point that hits home for me. I make homemade pancetta and guanciale from pork belly and pork jowl I get from my meat CSA, but if I didn't have that, I'd have a hard time finding those ingredients in a supermarket. Butchers can hook you up with whatever cuts you want, whether that's veal shanks for osso buco or bones and scraps to make homemade beef stock. Perhaps best of all, they can tell you exactly where the meat came from so you can decide whether you want to buy it or not.

Shopping locally enables you to get a lot more information out of the person selling you things. While the guy down at SuperGrocerMax can tell you the hamburger costs three bucks a pound, he may not be able to tell you a whole lot more about it. You may find the local butcher has a lot more information to share - if you just ask.

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