September 4, 2014

The Butcher Shop

I entered the butcher shop in Saulieu and saw a man ordering what looked like a leg of lamb. The butcher was alone, a young man maybe 22 with a crew cut with a little wave sprouting up towards the sky on his forehead. A woman and two other men were in line, making me 5th in the queue. 10 minutes, thought I, 12 max. 
He boned the leg of lamb, tied it, sawed through the bones for the man, and bagged it all up. The man ordered a few more items. It had been a good 7-8 minutes. Three customers still to go. Worse yet, the woman had a long list in her hand. I sighed as the first man walked out, but was immediately pleased to see the butcher reach into the fridge behind him and take out six or seven packages that the woman had apparently ordered the night before. I saw some tied roasts, some ground beef, some small salads. This was going to be quick.
France laughed in my face as the woman began -- mind you, after calling ahead of time and placing an order of nearly 100 dollars worth of meat -- asking for slices of ham, a little tomato/sausage stuffing, perhaps just a little container of the cabbage salad. Abruptly, she sat down on the bench in the rear of the store, her packages neatly assembled next to the cash register. Apparently, Madame had forgotten her credit card.
The butcher moved on to the next client, a big man in his late sixties in Levi jeans and a checked button down shirt. Like the other clients, he seemed to know the young butcher, and they bantered back and forth with ease. The customer was clearly an eater, someone who was ready to get down to the business of ordering and buying some serious meat products. Our friend the butcher went into the back and brought back a piece of beef he called "le talon," which, literally, means the heel, but that couldn't be right. The customer inquired...what is that? He explained that it was a tender piece of meat, usually about 6-10kg, and everyone would love it for his Saturday meal. In the meantime, he had, with a surgeon's accuracy, lifted out the nerves in the piece of beef, pronouncing it ready for cooking. The customer asked for a farm chicken, but not the ones in the window; they were too big. To the back room! When the butcher returned with the bird, he asked if the client wanted him to "gut it."
An affirmative reply led to a two or three minute display of butchering skill as he hacked off the bird's black feet, decapitated it, delicately lifted all the viscera out, and wrapped it up, ready for roasting. His eyes, surprisingly, wandered with some regularity away from the sharp blade and gazed out the window. One particularly long glance made me turn as well, and I saw two beautiful women walking away. I liked this butcher.

In the middle of this chicken evisceration, Madame's husband arrived with her card, so she could pay and leave, stopping all other progress, of course. It had been 25 minutes so far for two and a half clients. There were now three people in line behind me, all of whom were silent throughout the wait. No chitchat, no opinions shared between customers, just quiet waiting.
Eventually, Levi’s wrapped up and the next client seemed to be more of a single guy than a "I am buying for ten" type, so his sausages, paté, some steak, turkey, and ham was pretty efficient. While I waited, I noticed that the butcher had been using the same two knives for the entire time I was in the store. With the large one, he had cut big pieces of red meat and sliced turkey escalopes. With the smaller, he had boned several different animals, cut patés and terrines of every origin, scored the fat on a beef steak, cut butcher's string, and separated the guts from the inside of a chicken. He never once rinsed or wiped either blade. He was not wearing gloves and he neither rinsed nor washed his hands. The same cutting surface was employed for every operation, whether it be poultry or beef. The cutting board was neither changed, rinsed, nor washed. His store had been open for several hours, and I doubt he had taken a break to do cleaning. Hard to imagine in your local Whole Foods.
When my turn came, it was small potatoes: a couple of chicken legs, some turkey escalopes, and some paté en croute. I took less than two minutes, firmly on the faster side of average. Which, I guess, shows how far I still have to go.

No comments:

Post a Comment