Frequent revelations about questionable practices of the mega-food industry—like mistreatment of animals and food contamination—have had at least one positive effect: people again want to know both their butcher and what they are eating.
Driven by the current Slow Food craze and a return to time-honoured culinary traditions, the butcher shop and deli counter are being reinvented. At the forefront: a passionate young generation who work a carcass “from nose to tail.” Following in the footsteps of star cooks, pastry chefs and sommeliers, the next foodie powerbrokers may well be these creative “neo-butchers!”
The neo-butcher movement was born in New York State, with Fleisher's Craft Butchery in Kingston and The Meat Hook in Brooklyn (founded by a former vegetarian, Tom Mylan!). In Paris, Yves-Marie Le Bourdonnec and his “I Love Bidoche” movement (“bidoche” means “meat” in the local slang) was also an early defender of a return to traditional butchery.
“Eat less meat, but when you do go high on the hog!” cry the neo-butchers. They are driven to revolutionize the butcher shop by encouraging us to adopt healthier consumption habits, those more respectful of animals and less harmful to the environment.
Traceability lies at the heart of this vision. Knowing where the animals we eat come from, and how they were treated and fed are vitally important to neo-butchers. They want to know the provenance of every carcass, and work directly with ranchers and small local producers whose livestock is ethically raised. They know how the animals were fed, the space they are given to grow in, and even the quality of the pastures where they frolicked.
As well, instead of receiving pre-cut and packaged items from large slaughterhouses, artisan butchers work the entire carcass, with an eye to minimizing potential waste. This type of eco-responsible butcher wants to remain transparent and open. A mastery of animal anatomy enables him to relate with chefs and educate associates, not to mention keep customers informed and provide excellent cooking advice.
Customers should be aware that if they serve eight tenderloins for dinner, four beef cows have to be slaughtered! If a butcher receives two calves a week and quickly sells all four legs, he must make good use of the rest of the animal. And so the bones are used to make stock, a restaurateur friend serves up unclaimed offal, and scraps are ground up for sausages and cold cuts. Soap might even be made from beef fat. And at Montreal butcher shop Ça Va Barder, pork skin is dried and rolled into crunchy treats for dogs!
What’s on the table in Montreal!
In Montreal, the new-generation butchers’ creativity and partnerships with local farmers has led to an offer much different than what is found in the grocery store. Now it’s easy to source select cuts of ethically and locally produced meats, from livestock raised with respect for animal welfare, and with maximum traceability and minimal carbon footprint. It means a large selection of organic and dry-aged meats, and original charcuterie created onsite using only the freshest of ingredients.
You will find in these new butcher shops real bacon made on the premises; when not injected with water, it loses no more than 50% of its weight after cooking! Also in the cases might be meats smoked in-house, cheeks and sweetbreads, guinea fowl, stuffed quail, veal meatballs with porcini mushrooms, herb-crusted lamb or roast rabbit. Inquiring gourmands can ask about the much-prized “butcher cuts.” So named because traditionally butchers kept them for themselves, the tasty options include hanger steak, chuck or the rarely seen langue de chat steak.
Entering the world of Montreal’s neo-butcher shops is to make a tour of Quebec animal life: natural pork from Saint-Ambroise-de-Kildare or Mont-Saint-Grégoire, Highland beef from Lotbinière, Wagyu beef (the Japanese breed) from the Montérégie, free-range poultry from Mont-Laurier, the piglets of St. Canute, Charlevoix organic chickens, quail and guinea fowl from the Beauce, Gaspésie lamb fed on algae or Stanstead rabbit.
Where to Go
ÇA VA BARDER!
55 Fleury St. West, Montreal
In less than 2 years, this shop in the north end of Montreal has become a can’t-miss gourmet address. Try the local meats, funky house sausages (poutine, puttanesca, cheese and bacon, etc.) and wide range of creative charcuterie (coffee-cumin sausages, sausage spread, bresaola, etc.). You’ll want to make the trip often!
LA BOUCHERIE DE TOURS
138 Atwater Avenue #8, Montreal
On display: Traditional cuts of meat, game and offal. Alongside the store you will find the Charcuterie de Tours with its local and imported pork products.
1654 Notre Dame St. West, Montreal
This new butcher shop in the Griffintown neighborhood sells meat online and offers home delivery free of charge. But a visit is well worth the effort, as the pieces of meat on display are as artfully arranged as if in a jewelry shop.
5237 St. Lawrence Blvd., Montreal
Meats here are respectfully produced by small Quebec producers. Since the master butchers are also chefs, they can advise about the best way to cook anything on offer.
BOUCHERIE PÈRE ET FILS
1881 Mont-Royal Ave. East, Montreal
Moving the meat locker to the front window offers an unprecedented view of the quality selection offered here. In addition to the many fresh cuts, the counter is packed with homemade sausages and ready-made meals.
LE MARCHAND DU BOURG
1661 Beaubien St. East, Montréal
This genuine old-fashioned butcher shop specializes in aged beef ribs ... sometimes for as long as 365 days!