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Cutting attention

Old-fashioned butcher skills earning more attention

January 8, 2012
By?RODNEY MINOR , The Leader Herald

Across the nation, there is a renewed interest in butchers and their skills.

Knowing your butcher used to be a key factor in putting tasty food on the table. But with the advent of plastic-wrapped steaks and chops that appear as if by magic in cold cases, the butcher became all but invisible, a white-coated figure glimpsed occasionally through a swinging supermarket door.

John?Peruzzi, of Peruzzi's Meat Market in?Canajoharie, said he can provide a customer with quality service they would find difficult to get at supermarkets.

Article Photos

Whitey’s Deli in Johnstown is shown Thursday.
The Leader-Herald/Rodney?Minor

For example, Peruzzi said, some recipes are based on cuts of meat that were comparatively cheaper 40 years ago. When a recipe calls for flank steak, which has jumped in price over the years, he can provide a substitute that will work in the recipe and save the customer some cash.

"I try to educate people," he said.

Peruzzi, who started cutting meat in 1974, started his own business 13 years ago.

As a meat cutter, Peruzzi said, he has noticed customers are interested in the personal contact they have with him. They can talk to him and make sure they get exactly what they want, he said.

Steve Melita, owner of Whitey's Deli in Johnstown, started butchering about 20 years ago.

While many cuts are already done before the meat arrives at the store, Melita said, they can do custom cuts for people. Not only can they give people exactly what they want, he said, it can be more affordable to do that.

Butcher book

Ryan Farr is not your grandmother's butcher. He's been on TV with Martha Stewart, has a new book out, "Whole Beast Butchery," and is one of a group of culinary luminaries on the cutting edge of a new food movement - the carnivore connection. As more people have taken an interest in learning where their food is coming from, they also are taking an interest in how it gets to their dinner plate.

Farr, a classically trained chef, came to butchery as a cook first, teaching himself the basics of meat-cutting as a restaurant chef and sous chef. In 2009, he and his wife, Cesalee, founded 4505 Meats in San Francisco, a meat company that supplies a number of restaurants in the city and also the site of Farr's popular butchery classes for home cooks.

"Whole Beast Butchery," a visual guide to cutting up beef, pork and lamb with photographic step-by-step instructions, is intended to get more butchering novices started. "Basically, we needed to have something that I wish I had when I was learning this whole process of butchering," says Farr.

Understanding the characteristics of the various animal parts - is it lean, is it fatty, did it move a lot, a little - helps in figuring out how best to cook them, Farr says. Meanwhile, buying whole animals, or going in with another family or two for the big cuts like a side of beef, means you'll likely know where the animal is coming from and how it was raised. An added bonus is that when you butcher your own meat you'll get the lesser-known and cheaper cuts that often don't make it into supermarkets, such as lamb neck and shanks, delicious when properly cooked.

Farr hopes to spark a return to the days when more consumers were in touch with where their meat came from. "People really want that," he says. "Our classes have had a big impact because we're coming close to completing the circle, knowing where the animal is from, know what you're eating, know how to cut it, know how to cook it."

Even when someone is not a butcher by trade, just knowing more about cutting meat can be a handy skill.

Judy St. Leger, of Dutch Barn Farm in Fort Plain, said she thinks the interest people are showing in where their food is coming from is not a fad. It shows people have become more conscious of the process that ends with food - plants or animals - on their dinner plate.

Leger, who owns and operates the farm with her husband, Marc Kratzschmar, said the farm ships lambs for processing, but they butcher their own chickens for customers. The chickens are raised using free-range farming methods. The pasture-raised chickens also are hormone and antibiotic free.

The couple started the farm in 2009, and both still work at their jobs full time - Leger as a veterinary pathologist and Kratzschmar as a software consultant. While neither Leger nor her husband thought they would be butchering chickens when they started their farm, part of being responsible farmers means they have to produce meat as humanely as possible, she said. As the people who raise the animals, she said, they have an interest in making sure the processing is done correctly.

While butchering their chickens saves them money compared to hiring someone to do it, Leger said, it also saves the chickens from having to travel to a processor.

"We believe that's a better way to do things," she said.

Leger said while they have to send their lambs to a processor now, they would prefer not to.

For more information about the farm, visit its website at

Information from the Associated Press was used in this story.



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