What Makes a Good Butcher? Sharp Knives and Good Customers
My grandfather ran a company in which he made sausages for Italian, Polish, and German immigrants throughout Boston. My father worked there in summers between college. My uncle worked there for decades. I remember my grandfather telling stories about his craft and his customers, scenarios that culled my appreciation for my grandfather, of course, but also for the art of butchering.
My admiration for the craft was renewed when I moved to Washington, D.C., in 2004, when I met the legendary Pam the Butcher, who yields a mean cleaver and likes her whiskey.
I'd often visit her to learn about various cuts, deals, and ways to prepare meats. But her storytelling was also a draw. "I cussed out my first salesman when I was 10," she told the Washington Post in an interview. "My parents went down to Florida to see my
dying great-aunt, and I didn't go to school for three days." It's Pam who I've quoted in the headline of this blog.
The rise of the butcher shop had just begun in major cities that first year in D.C.,
and I became mildly obsessed, penning "The Right Stuff" in 2008, an article about restaurants making their own charcuterie. My attention hasn't wavered since.
As the renaissance progresses, butchers in major cities are becoming the new rock stars. Katharine Shilcutt of Houston Press penned "Designer Meats" last year, for which she was nominated for a James Beard Award. The New York Times just featured one of many articles on the subject, with "The Lost Art of Buying From the Butcher" focused on the new generation of butcher shops that have recently opened in Brooklyn and downtown Manhattan.
Butchering has become a thing to such a degree that in San Francisco,
it's a form of entertainment, as people stood by to watch a guy hack up a
200-pound steer at the Eat Real Festival this past September, the cover story of last week's SF Weekly.
As residents on the Left Coast stand around watching butchers while
drinking wine from Mason jars, South Florida butchers
like Dave Crumbaker of Smitty's Butcher Shop worry over the future. Here, the butcher revival is in a nascent stage, as the local
food movement is only recently aloft.
Thankfully, my research shows signs of life, as the Baitz family will attest. Read on
about the state of the craft in South Florida. And be sure to swing by
your corner butcher shop rather than hitting up the meat counter at
Publix. It may be out of the way, but you will not be disappointed.
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