Chewing the fat is multi-meaningful if you find yourself at a butcher’s counter with the right crowd.
“It’s pork belly,” says Eddy Shin, owner and butcher at A Cut Above Butcher Shop on Santa Monica Boulevard, as he hands a glistening piece of fat to myself and Jason Wise, a filmmaker who is currently directing a documentary about the lost art of butchery.
We taste. It’s like butter and bacon had a baby.
Why are butcher shops so few and far between? It is a question that Jason is trying to answer, and a void that Eddy the butcher is trying to fill.
One significant reason is money. While industrializing meat often means adding hormones and antibiotics, a factory born and slaughtered cow does make that 15 pack of ribeyes at Ralph’s so affordable. Sustainably sourced, grass fed, antibiotic free, are all methods that lower yields, and drive up prices. But it has also become a philosophy more consumers are seeking out, even if it means shelling out a few more bucks.
“I know it’s a cliché but I can look Eddy in the eye and ask him where this cut of meat came from,” Jason said, eyeing a lamb shank.
“And I can tell you that it came from John the farmer,” Eddy replied as I’m pretty sure he was eyeing the same shank.
A Cut Above sources their beef from Dey Dey Farms in Santa Rita Hills, chicken from Jidori Farms in the Central Valley, and lamb from Sonoma County.
“People want to know where their meat is coming from. It’s a credit to a lot of documentaries, but it’s also credit to the Food Network, and food porn where people say to themselves ‘I want to braise a pork belly, or I want to try to do a shank’ instead of getting a bunch of hamburger patties and calling it a day,” Eddy said.
All of a sudden A Cut Above Butcher has become to meat what a Farmers’ Market is to produce. Strawberries from Harry’s Berries at the Third Street Farmer’s Market may cost two or three times more than the pack at a Smart & Final. But a strawberry from Harry’s Berries actually tastes like a strawberry too.
“I think a whole generation doesn’t know what actual beef tastes like,” said Eddy, adding the fact that most commercially processed meats retain around 15 percent water. “Water is money, that’s why when you put it in the frying pan it shrinks.”
“Water also means salt,” Jason added. “That’s why lots of bacon just tastes like crispy salt instead of understanding what fat tastes like, which is an unfortunate thing because it tastes so good.”
For Eddy, the opportunity to open a butcher shop is something most people are not afforded.
“I’ve been a chef for about 20 years, a lot of them have become high end steak houses; going from executive chef was an easy progression into this,” he said.
“From a fiscal standpoint that does not somehow seem like a progression, you gotta love what you do to do this,” Jason added, speaking in solidarity as a documentarian.
Jason struck a chord with the wine world and beyond with “Somm” (2013). A movie following four sommeliers and their journey to pass the infamously difficult Master Sommelier examination. Fans of “Somm” are anticipating his next film in production now, “The Art of Butchery.”
While the butcher business is not necessarily pretty, the way most of the meat in this country is processed, packaged, and sold on a mass level is downright ugly. The more people who awake from their McRib-induced comas and realize it’s not a real cut from the pig, the better chances Eddy Shin and other butchers have of survival.
If you go
A Cut Above Butchers
2453 Santa Monica Blvd.
Santa Monica, Calif.
Michael can be seen riding around town on his bike burning calories so he can eat more food. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/greaseweek