Q&A: Butchery makes a comeback

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

Butchery is making a comeback. From customers seeking out relationships with the butcher at their local meat counter to the popularity of butchering classes, like Bluescreek Farm Meats' Breaking down the Hog at the North Market-people want to know where their meat is coming from.

It's part of a trend Weiland's Market proprietor Scott Bowman is definitely seeing. "What we have going for us is that what's old is new again with younger consumers interested in 'snout to tail' eating and old-school professions like meat cutting," says Bowman, a 38-year veteran meat cutter. Bowman and new meat manager and former chef Alexis Randolph, who is a year and a half into the trade, sat down with Crave to compare experiences, and talk about the growing interest in the butcher trade.

What was your first job in the butcher store?

Bowman: I was 12 when I started at Wisch's Butcher Shop in Cleveland as the cleanup boy and trimmer. I had to go through the carts of trimming and trim off all the usable meat for grinds. It was a very messy and bloody job. If the very thrifty Mr. Wisch saw even one speck of red meat in the bone barrel, he'd have a fit.

Randolph: I started with the grinds for burgers and sausages (at Weiland's). Once I had a handle on that, I got to attend Scott's "Butcher 101" class. Scott's class showed me the perfection in the presentation.

What do you see as the major difference between meat-cutting then and now?

Bowman: Back in the day, we hauled around hindquarters on our shoulders and hung them up on rails. I could break it down so much faster on a rail than on a table. Many young meat cutters have never seen hanging sides of beef. Everything comes in boxes now. As the large chain stores move toward "case-ready" meat, more of the job becomes meat stocker instead of meat cutter.

Randolph: Scott's generation has so much knowledge. I am grateful to be the meat manager, but even with that title, I won't claim to know everything.

What do you see for the future of the trade?

Bowman: To me, meat-cutting is both a technical skill and an art. I hope to see enough of us older guys pass along what we know to the younger generation before all of our knowledge is lost.

Randolph: I would like meat-cutting to go more gourmet. People are looking for easy, great-tasting food. I want to use my knowledge to develop recipes that are inexpensive, of good quality and easy to prepare-like the ready-to-braise meatballs I'm working on.

On menus:

Columbus-area chefs are showing interest in the butchering trade, too-focusing on the curing and aging of many meats for house-made charcuterie boards. A few places to try:

-DeepWood: Chef Brian Pawlak dedicates a bold selection of his Downtown menu to house-made pates, sausages, confits and terrines. Diners can customize their adventure, building a board from the day's meat and cheese selections. If it's around, go for the salty duck prosciutto.

-Rigsby's Kitchen: Owner Kent Rigsby spent 10 days in February on a farm in Austria to learn about the life cycle of a pig, including the process of butchering and breaking down the animal and crafting salumi. Salumi, which Rigsby dries in a former wine cooler, is featured on the daily antipasto platter.

-The Table: The Short North eatery is the first in the city to employ a charcutier, a chef whose job is to prepare the daily charcuterie offerings. Chef Donte Allen, who has been with the restaurant since before it opened last fall, crafts seasonal pates and cured meats ranging from pig to lamb -- and, occasionally, even vegetarian selections.