There’s the beef

A post-taxidermy sanglier, or wild boar. The French hunt them with dogs and cure sausage from their meat. Photo by Kelly S. Kurt

A mate sent me this Florence Fabricant piece about the emergence of butcher shops in Gotham. A shiny, hoisted cleaver illustrates the story, unfortunately. Another example of food falling into the realm of fad and hip hijinks. It could be illustrating a story on slasher films, but then we’ve shown as a culture that we’ve more stomach for televised gore than edible guts.

If the butcher’s shop is back, we might do well to ask where it went. Growing up, I never experienced the craftsman’s hand at the butcher block. By the time I started buying meat on my own, it was all cellophane and styrofoam—the butcher hiding at a safe remove behind the curved, squeaky-clean glass of the counter. I had to move to France, which I did for a year in 2002, to see a butcher in action.

At our Thursday and Sunday market stalls, you could inspect a rabbit prior to purchase, its ribs flayed open to expose the intact innards. Proof of freshness that little grandmeres would poke before buying. It was the same in the shops. Under the tutelage of Monsieur et Madame Peyras, I learned to ask for veal breast instead of chops, discovered the best lamb for braising versus grilling, figured out that lard is what held the Midi together.

At Peyras’ shop, like others, the eggs were so fresh they were kept in a basket on the counter. The time it took to place and take an order was so great that chairs were installed near a window. You didn’t take a number, you took a seat. And it might take several minutes, for, when it was your turn, you got the treatment. Kind of like our post offices, which seem primed to go the way of the butcher shops.

I went in one day to ask for some lamb loin to grill. There wasn’t any at the counter, but Madame said, “Pas du probleme,” then disappeared into a locker. She emerged with an entire lamb carcass across her shoulder. Then she laid it across the block, nearly sacrificial in her tenderness and caretaking, and proceeded to shave off four glorious chops.

Hearing the knife slice, to me, was both proof and privilege.

Read more about my year in the Languedoc here.


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