Old-fashioned butcher shops making comeback


At Avedano's Butcher Shop in San Francisco's Bernal Heights neighborhood, supplies are limited.

"We have some shanks, a neck, some riblets, some shoulder, round bone," explains butcher Angela Wilson.

She is one of three owners of the butcher shop. It was a neighborhood fixture since it opened in 1901, but closed in the 1980s when business declined. Butchers just could not compete with supermarket prices and closed their doors. Today, butcher shops are seeing resurgence as people want to get closer to their food.

"I think you'll see small butcher shops opening up all over the place," Wilson says.

Avedanos opened three years ago and sells meat from local farmers. It comes in fresh weekly and once it is gone, there is no more until the following week.

"When you come to our shop, all the pieces of lamb are from the same whole lamb," Wilson says.

It certainly is not cheap. Meat prices there average about twice as much as you would pay in the grocery store.

"People are trying to learn these old skills again and a lot of times they are sort of learning from one another or learning off of YouTube videos," says Marissa Guggiana, author of 'Primal Cuts,' a new book about butchers.

'Primal Cuts' is a collection of recipes and instructions gathered from butchers all around the country. Guggiana is a co-founder of the Butcher's Guild. She says the local butcher is clearly coming back.

"Now, we're like, recreating a ghost of a food system that used to be in all of our local communities," she says.

Butchery has largely been industrialized to keep prices down. Today, most butchers use machines to cut large quantities of meat.

"Everything goes to the middle of the country. Cows that are raised in Marin County get trucked once a year to the middle of the country and end up in a feed lot, and all of the cutting happens in huge factories there. It doesn't happen at grocery stores or butcher shops anymore," Guggiana says.

That factory processing has turned a lot of people away from meat that comes from grocery stors or giant warehouse retailers.

"They want to know where their food's coming from, what farm it's coming from," Wilson says.

"I like being able to meet the people that have actually handled the meat, worked with it," says customer Byron O'Brien.

O'Brien does not just want to know where his meat comes from. He wants to know how to cut it himself.

"I enjoy cooking. I enjoy working with meat and I saw it as a great opportunity to learn a little bit more about how these cuts are made," he says.

Avedano's does not just cut meat.

"During the class, I give instruction, but I don't do too much demonstration," butcher Tia Harrison says.

They will teach you how to do it. Harrison is a local chef and part owner of a butcher shop. She teaches a three-hour long class. It cost $300 per person and includes lunch and $100 worth of suckling pig and lamb meat to go.

"I've been pretty much booked solid for that last two-and-a-half years," she says.

Her students call it a visceral experience.

"These guys make it look easy, but it's actually really challenging," O'Brien says.

If taking the butcher class is not enough, you can also dine while you learn. Avedano's has teamed up with Sociale restaurant in San Francisco. On December 5, they will butcher half a pig and cook and serve the other half.

Butcher demonstration and meal
When: December 5, 2010
Where: Caffe Sociale, 3665 Sacramento Street, San Francisco
Info/Reservations: 1.415.921.3200

Written and produced by Ken Miguel

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