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A butcher is, at the most basic level, someone who prepares meat for sale. He or she may specialize in different parts of the process of turning a carcass into saleable meat, and some may even handle every step of the process.
The first line of a butcher's job is selecting a carcass. Depending on the situation, it can be important to look for tainted meat, meat with a good consistency, and meat which has few defects. Most modern butchers don’t actually undertake this part of the process, as they receive their carcasses from trusted suppliers who have already culled the bodies, but historically it was expected that they would have a good eye for an overall carcass.
The next step is selecting a side or quarter of the carcass, and then choosing where primary cuts will be made. Usually, this is for an eye towards how to waste the least amount of meat, but for some higher grades, the priority may be on only taking the best parts of the carcass, and leaving the rest for someone else to use.
Once a side or quarter has been selected, the butcher then cuts the carcass into its primary cuts. This is probably the most dangerous part of the job, and their equipment reflects this. Most wear fairly sturdy armor among their stomach, usually made of chain mail or plate, although some modern butchers use Kevlar®, as well as gloves made of the same materials. Depending on the size of the carcass, he or she may either use hand tools or large tools such as band saws to make the primary cuts. The cuts are then often boned and trimmed down.
A butcher may also have the job of making sausage. Traditionally, sausage was intended as a vessel for using the parts of a carcass left over after making the primary cuts. The leavings were mixed with salt and other spices, and put into intestinal casings. Modern sausage may use leavings, but it may also use actual minced cuts of meat. Different casings are also used, and there are a wide range of styles and spices that it can be made out of. For this reason, sausage making is no longer just an easy side job, and someone who makes sausage is often a specialist.
After making the cuts, the butcher is also responsible for choosing the best cuts to present to customers on a given day, and interacting with them daily. He or she will likely cut the primary cuts into smaller pieces as customers request them, and may give advice as to the best meats and cuts for a certain purpose, and may even give advice as to how to prepare the cuts.
This meat expert may also be in charge of the everyday business of running a shop. This can include buying supplies, handling taxes, choosing distributors, and other things that may not seem to have a great deal to do with butchery.
Interesting article. I have never stopped to think about all of the different steps that are involved in being a butcher. I kind of just assumed that they learned where all the cuts of meat came from and went to town with saws and stuff.
Like the article mentions, though, I think it would be a lot harder to be a butcher in the past than today. Before, butchers were one of the most important people in town. Since you didn't have refrigerated trucks to send pre-cut meat across the country, every town needed at least one good butcher.
I doubt in the past that there were classes teaching people how to butcher animals. I am betting most butcher shops were passed down from generation to generation with fathers teaching their sons the trade.
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