May. 12, 2010 - Issue #760: The Meat Issue
The lost art of butchering
For a growing number of people, the grocery store's meat department doesn't cut it
Darcy's grandpa, Real Auger (who the store is named after) was a butcher for 23 years in Legal, Alberta. A lot has changed since his grandpa's time as a butcher. Today, instead of cutting meat at room temperature, which causes bacteria to multiply, meat is now cut in a refrigerated cutting room. In the past, popular cuts of meat included flank, hanger, chuck and round steak—the old staples. Darcy says today's butcher uses "less generic cutting." Some of the store's most popular cuts include rouladen, beef tenderloin, baby back ribs, and stew meat. Other favoured products include pepperoni, jerky, sausage, bison patties and smoked chicken and turkey. Darcy also does fancier cuts such as butterflied tenderloin and Maui cut short ribs.
Darcy's wife Alicia thinks of butchering as an art because "you can create cuts for any individual taste or preference." This art has been undergoing a revival because grocery stores can't satisfy the complex palates of today's consumers. I've tried to buy certain cuts of meat at the grocery store and been told that they don't have the tools to cut the meat I requested or they don't carry that cut. Dedicated butchers often use different tools than the grocery store butcher and can put in the time required to properly prepare something such as a Frenched rack of lamb or pork crown roast.
Real Deal Meats receives whole beef and bison and customers can purchase a half or full beef and then choose how they would like it cut. Grocery stores are limited by the size of meat they receive whereas Real Deal receives 350 lb sides of beef, so there are no limits to how they can be cut. Butchers can even cut on demand, giving you exactly what you want on the spot. Alicia says that the biggest challenge butchers face today is "trying to be a cut above grocery stores in a competitive market." Real Deal Meats also offers after-hours custom cutting and processing during hunting season.
Another reason butchering is seeing a resurgence is because people are no longer blindly walking into the grocery store and purchasing whatever meat is laid out. They want to know if the animal was grain-fed or grass-fed and the type of life the animal led. They want to know if they are supporting local farmers. Smart consumers want to know what organic means and if their meat is organic. Real Deal Meats' local suppliers include AAA Angus gold beef from Picture Butte, Alberta organic beef from Prairie Roots Organic Farms in Bittern Lake, Alberta and AAA beef that is used for dry-aging from a local supplier in Sherwood Park. It receives its free-range chickens from Warburg, Alberta, Halal-certified lamb and goat from Leduc and pork from Sturgeon Valley. The brine and spices that are used in the meat are gluten and MSG free.
Butchers are also anxious to receive feedback. They are concerned about the quality of their products and want to ensure their customers are satisfied. When I was last in Real Deal Meats, they asked how our skirt steak—the last item I'd purchased—turned out. Darcy's advice to people who are new to the world of butchering is, "Don't be scared to ask questions." People often come into the store and ask what they should buy to put in their crock pot or on the barbecue. Most butchers are happy to make recommendations.
Another part of butchering that has changed over time is dry-aging. Beef can be dry-aged in a cooler at 2 – 4 C for 28 days and up to a maximum of 45 days. During this period the enzymes break down and a crust forms on the outer layer of the meat. The outer crust is cut off and you're left with the inside and most tender part of the meat. Dry-aged beef costs more than regular beef because the outer layer of the product becomes unusable. This is something you just can't get at the grocery store and something that only a true butchering artist can create.
While Darcy thinks that butchering is a lost art, he is happy to hear his repeat customers say that they skip the meat section at the grocery store. As people begin to broaden their knowledge of different types and cuts of meat and grow more and more concerned about what goes into their food, butchers will no longer practise a lost art in the near future. V
Darcy and Alicia Boisvert
Real Deal Meats
2427 Ellwood Drive, 780.469.3325
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