I got a beef

Peter Bochna Chef Butcher

Let’s make today “hug a butcher day” – and I don’t mean that high school dropout kid who works at the local grocery store wrapping up the meat that arrives pre-cut and ready to hit the shelf. I mean a real butcher. Someone who knows how to cut meat and age meat and make a well-raised animal taste as good as it deserves to taste after sacrificing its life to be your dinner.

I recently met chef-turned-butcher Peter Bochna of Absolutely Fine Foods in Toronto’s west end. Not only does he dry age beef and lamb on premises in his store, he cuts it expertly as well.

“No one is teaching the younger generation how to be true butchers,” notes Bochna. “In chef school, butchery class is about cutting meat up; aging techniques are generally ignored. And, most meat processing plants are organized like factories where each person repeats one aspect of the overall process over and over all day long.

“I’m trying to teach my staff how to coax the best flavour and texture from meat at every stage after it comes from the abattoirs and to teach them how to understand how the breed and feed each animal ate while it was alive affects the decisions you make later at our stage of preparing it for people to eat.”

Sigh. People like Peter deserve our business and admiration. I just wish his shop was closer to my house so I could buy all my meat from him.

Do you have access to a ‘real’ butcher?

16 Responses to I got a beef

  1. Rosa says:

    I do have access to a real butcher in my village. That job is very important and it’s a pity the younger generations aren’t being taught how to be true butchers…

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  2. I WISH I had a real butcher. I was so excited when the local grocery store re-opened with a butcher counter. But the ground meat they do always has bits of bone in it. YUCK….Whenever I can I go to the Farmers Market in Thornill and get good meat, nitrate-free cold cuts and free-range eggs.

  3. Don says:

    In my neck of the woods, we have one independent butcher shop called Sasloves (there are 2 in Ottawa) and a fine food store dedicated to local food, the Piggy Market. The former sells all things meat and some fish. The latter sells some of the best sausages in town, in-house smoked bacon, and lots of charcuiterie, whose ingredients are sourced within 20 clicks.

    What I find about mega-mart (supermarket) butchers is that they are about as knowledge-able about meat as the kids at the fish counter. One pimple-faced fish monger once asked me, “fish have scales?” Asking a pimple-faced butcher at the meat counter about marbling, the right cut to prepare a particular dish, or secondary cuts often result in blank stares. Further, the age old discipline of cutting meat with a knife and cutting bone with a saw has been lost in the drive to save time and cut costs. I feel there is simply too much bone meal in mega-mart cuts. Meat is no longer aged and pork usually comes pre-brined.

    Hug a REAL butcher? Will do!

  4. Sigh, I sure wish an artisan butcher (who also knows how to source from artisan farms/slaughterhouses) would move to my neighborhood. Though thankfully, I finally found a reasonably local ranch/butcher combo from whom I’m willing to buy a 1/4 head of cattle🙂

    ps As you might guess, I treat meat counter encounters as a sport. One of the worst meat counter encounters I’ve had? Asked guy if he had grass-fed beef. He looked at me strangely, paused, and said “cows can’t eat grass.”

  5. danamccauley says:

    Want to learn more about cutting up meat? Check out this video link sent to me by @blm849 on twitter:

    http://kottke.org/09/11/butchering-a-side-of-beef

  6. Are you far from one of The Healthy Butcher stores in Toronto? They are teaching the next generation of butchers there. (As well as the occasional old fart, too.)

  7. Diva says:

    Fortunately, I do have access to a real butcher just two blocks away from my home. I love him so much we’re on a “kiss hello” basis! When I get rave reviews from dinner guests, I always credit Tommy because his product(s) are so superior.

    And this reminds me … I need to go see him and order my Thanksgiving Turkey!

  8. Cheryl says:

    I have butcher envy. I’m eating far less meat these days so when I do eat it I’d love to feel really good about it. Tell Peter to come down here!

  9. Your description of the behind the counter butcher cracked me up because actually you described one of my butchers! We have the Euro Spin grocery store chain (in Italy) and they actually butcher the meat in the store. My favorite guy we call “The White Guy” because this dude must never, ever go outside, I’m convinced he works nights in a rock band, but he knows his meat and gets to practice his English on me, while I speak my Italian to him.
    Butchers are alive and well in Italy, thanks God. Virtually every town has a ‘macelleria” (and a church and a few bars) and wars are fought over who makes the best sausage.
    Fortunately in NY, we have Jeffrey, who is the torch bearer for keeping butchering alive.
    And, I’m wondering if you were at Fergus Henderson’s seminar a few IACP conferences ago where he suggested that we hug our butchers. I’m a firm believer in hugging the butcher…well, maybe not The White Guy….oh, what the heck, he deserves a hug too!

  10. Fortunately, I do have access to a real butcher once again. When my butcher retired last summer, I actually cried. Apparently I wasn’t the only one to break down in tears in his shop. And I did give him a big hug before he left.

    Now that I’m onto “real” butchered meat I can’t buy the stuff in the supermarket.

  11. I haven’t bought supermarket meat in years! Shortly after we moved to Calgary we found a butcher we liked. He closed and another took over the space. I love going in there and actually being refused the cut I want because they aren’t happy with the aging. That shows pride and I will happily accept their alternate suggestion. And the best part is that they have a couple of 20 and 30 somethings in there learning the ropes.

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