Why did you become a butcher?
To be honest, the initial reason was just that I needed a job. Little did I know, butchery was something that I would become really passionate about and pursue as a career. I’m from Biella, a little town in northern Italy near the Alps – this is where I got my first job working with meat. I started my career as a butcher at a big, family-owned shop in Biella where I worked for 12 years total, 3 of which were my apprenticeship. After that, I decided to pick up and move to Vancouver. I’d known some people who had made the move, and I felt like a change at that point. I ended up only staying in Vancouver for a year, and then quickly decided Calgary would be a nice place to settle. Immediately started working at Second To None Meats, now known as Urban Butcher, in 2012 and have progressively loved butchery ever since.
What do you like about butchery now?
I love the idea of being able to create. To me, being a butcher is sort of like being an artist – being able to make something that people enjoy and admire. I think chefs often have a similar sense of fulfillment and excitement, because in professions with food you are able to be creative and inventive by doing things like mixing and melding flavours in different ways.
I also love working with my hands, and I always knew I wanted a career where I could do so, so I’m glad I picked butchery. It is a very hands-on work environment, and that’s definitely one of my favourite things about it.
What is your favourite thing to make at home?
When it comes to the day-to-day, I like very simple things. I find enjoyment in cooking at home with as little ingredients as possible, because I love being able to taste all the inherent flavours in a good quality cut of meat. For example, I love eating a naturally raised and local steak with nothing more than a little salt and pepper on it. Sometimes I’ll incorporate some herbs like rosemary and thyme, and if I’m really feeling like indulging, some butter – this is a British style of serving steak.
My favourite steak to make is probably a Beef Tri Tip. This is a huge, tasty cut of meat – good for 3 or 4 people which is great, because its something I can make easily for my whole family to enjoy. Usually I’ll chop up some carrots, onions, and celery and sauté them a little bit before tossing in an oven dish and placing the steak on top with some simple seasoning and nutmeg. I cook this at 350 degrees for 20 minutes per pound until it is a nice medium-rare. Then I’ll take it out, blend up the veggies and pan juices to create a smooth and rich sauce, and serve it like this. It’s delicious.
One of my favourite products to use at home is the Urban Butcher Chimichurri – it’s very similar to a sauce from Biella called Bagnetto Verde. Back in Italy, people tend to serve this sauce over cooked beef tongue that is sliced very thinly like deli meat. It’s a delicacy. But here, I enjoy having the Chimichurri on chicken or lamb… or to be honest, anything. It’s always delicious.
Why do you think its important to shop at local butcher shops?
I find that, whenever I’ve shopped at a big-box grocery store, the butchers know very little about the actual craft of butchery. Oftentimes, if you want to ask a questions, the staff who are responsible for the meat will have to go get a manager to answer your question. There is very little knowledge that is passed down through the work chain in these big operations as their main concern is efficiency and quantity. I worked in one of these big chains for 6 months, and that was long enough for me to realize I didn’t want to continue. I didn’t have any room to grow or learn as a butcher.
I think quality is one major concern when shopping at big chains. They often use large and automated machines to cut the meat, and actually know very little about anatomy and how to properly break and animal down. For example, cutting with versus cutting across the grain.
When I was still in Biella, working at that family-owned store, I was able to learn the difference between this type of establishment and a big chain grocery store. During my time here, they let me try out recipes, be creative, and experiment – these are the things that customers don’t see, but they are representative of the values of your workplace. Now, I place a lot of importance on being given a chance to express my creativity and try new things in the work place, being given the space to create.