An article in the food section of today’s Star touches on a couple of issues, one of which is the deskilling of butchers.
He says there’s no such thing as butcher’s “papers” nowadays. Butchers learn on the job – except they’re not learning as much as they used to.
Since the 1960s, most meat processing has been done in central plants. Supermarkets and shops receive boxes filled with pre-cut meat – the popular cuts. Their “butchers” subdivide but are otherwise left out of the loop. Ignorance, apathy and bad habits are professional hazards.
Donovan prefers to hire chefs as butcher trainees so he doesn’t have to unteach them. He says it’s entirely possible to interview a butcher who has done nothing but open boxes for 15 years.
I have to say, and I include myself in this, that consumers are part of the problem. My favourite cut of beef is the nice thick steak, can never quite remember what it’s called, that comes in the black package. On my rare forays to the butcher counter, I generally point at what I want – I know what it looks like, but I’m a bit hazy about what it is, other than it’s meat and I like it. The butcher’s professional knowledge is sort of wasted on me, which is unfortunate.
I respect Loblaws for staffing their butcher counters at the bigger stores with actual professional butchers – they could satisfy the vast majority of their customers by piling up plastic-wrapped packages sent from a central depot. I’d be very interested to know what the business model is.
It took a long time to figure out (Loblaws doesn’t advertise it as well as it could – you wouldn’t guess, until it had come up in conversation) that they can source any reasonably plausible thing – geese, for example, or fresh ducks – given a few days.