Look around your neighborhood. Notice any new butcher shops? They’re popping up across the nation in small towns and big cities alike, often run by impassioned, young men and women, dedicated to the art of butchery.
I recently interviewed one these young butchers and asked him to share his thoughts about butchery and why it’s important to get to create a good relationship with your butcher.
Adam Danforth of Brooklyn, New York abandoned a decade-long career in advertising and technology, to become a butcher and local food movement advocate. He trained in slaughtering and processing in Upstate New York at SUNY Cobleskill, then went on to work at the renowned Marlow & Daughters, New York City’s first whole-animal all-local butcher shop. He is currently working on his first book about slaughtering and butchery for Storey Publishing, due out in the fall of 2012.
Q: It seems the independent butcher is making a comeback. What do you think has led to this change?
Interest in the craft is certainly on the rise as is demand for access to such kinds of meat. From the consumer point of view there is growing value to having a tangible sense of place for the meat they are consuming. The same trend is occurring across the board within the food industry; hence the surge of farmers’ markets and CSAs across the country.
Q: Why did you decide to become a butcher?
After more than a decade I no longer wanted to sit in front of a screen all day. I wanted to work with my hands and with a tangible product that was rooted in food and agriculture.
Q: What are the benefits of creating a good relationship with your butcher?
First and foremost, if animal proteins are a staple of one’s diet, and quality is paramount, then having an establishment to rely on is critical… Just because [a recipe] says pork tenderloin, does not mean [it] will not work with something else; trust the substitution recommendations of your butcher until they prove otherwise. Furthermore, relating with a good butcher allows for access to custom cuts, like crown racks, ham bones, pork coppa, or leaf lard—things that you will rarely, if ever, find in a convenience store. A good relationship with your butcher also provides dependable sourcing for hard to get items, like tail, offal, and, depending on how they break down their cuts, smaller individualized muscles. Lastly, it’s a wonderful thing to walk into a shop and be able to inquire about “what’s good today,” with a confidence and trust in the answer.
Q: How do you find an independent butcher?
As when searching for anything these days, I would head to Google first when searching for a local butcher shop. You could also head to sites like chow.com and eGullet.com and inquire on the boards about where folks get reputable meat. Heading to farmers’ markets and asking around may also prove beneficial.
Q: What should people do who you live in area without independent butchers and meat markets?
Again, I would head online to find online sources for ordering meat. It may not be local but you can certainly find respectably raised meat available via online ordering… In the absence of a true butcher shop one might find a farm stand or inquire to some local farms about procuring their products.
Q: As a butcher, what tips can you give consumers on befriending their butchers?
Starting a relationship with a butcher is just like any other relationship: start simple and work your way towards a deeper trust. Begin by ordering some of the more accessible items—pork chops, ground meat, fresh sausages, house-made bacon—and find out if you like the quality because, in the end, it has to taste good. Ask how frequently they grind their meat, make their sausages, get their meat, and other sourcing questions that will indicate a commitment to freshness and quality. If you buy something and it tastes off, tell them—not everything is perfect every time—and work with them to find a suitable solution. Rapport is important—you should enjoy conversing with your butcher—but the most important factors are quality of cutting and the product.
Q: Conversely, what tips do you have for butchers on creating rapport with their customers?
Misinformation and meat often go hand-in-hand, and what many people think they know may be inaccurate. Others who enter your shop may be intimidated, knowing the limitation of their meat knowledge. Everyone can learn something more about the meat they eat. Having time to spend with customers is one of the great benefits of a personalized butcher shop, and handling customers with patience and empathy is paramount.
A customer’s needs are often driven by either recipe ingredients or cultural habits. If you are out of pork loin chops recommend shoulder chops. Sell them on the fact that they are more marbled and have an array of muscle groups which leads to more interesting textures. These are opportunities to educate the customer on viable alternatives; if your shop breaks down animals on-site than help them understand the basics of whole-animal utilization. Inquires are natural when one is witnessing the dissection of a full carcass and it is an opportunity for the butcher to create further interest. It is a natural sales opportunity. Lastly, know how to prepare what you sell. Proving sound advice on culinary handling will greatly increase the acceptance of your recommendations.