Monday, August 6, 2007

The Butcher, The Baker ... Who Needs a Candlestick Maker

When I was young I have clear memories of Mr. Talyor driving up the long driveway to my grandmother's house and selling various cuts of meats out the back of his pick-up truck. the meat was recently slaughtered, well butchered and delicious. My grandmother would go down, and various cuts would be taken out for her consideration with some being dispatched back into the depths of his truck (too small, too fatty, too expensive). Others made the grade and, after a discreet negotiation and exchange of money (true blood money), were taken into the house where they would be turned into my grandmother's irresistable cooking.

In St. John's, while most of our meat came from Dominion ('it's mainly because of the meat') I still remeber my father coming back from Shield's Meat Market with a variety of delicious treats including black and white puddings. Black puddings -- or blood puddings for the purists -- are those thick spicy (in an English spicy sort of way) sausages that are coloured and flavoured by the addition of blood in the course of preparation. While their origins make some squeamish, they are one of England's great contributions to the world's cuisine and Saturday morning breakfasts have not been the same since I have been deprived of easy access to them.

Since moving to the mainland I have learned that one of the most important things to find in a city (and it is not a real city if you cannot find it) is a good butcher. The plastic wrapped meats of uncertain origin that are to be found in even the best of supermarkets just don't cut it ... they inevitably taste as if the essence of their styrofoam and plastic wrappings have leached into them depriving them of the real taste of food (much less meat). A true butcher will know where his meat has come from (usually nearby), will know how to cut it, will give you helpful suggestions where he hears how you plan to miscook it and is actually able to identify those peculiar cuts of meat you read about in cooking magazines. You have no doubt that they eat what they are serving and likely know more ways to cook any given cut then you will know for all types of meat in your whole life.

Victoria is a city blessed with two excellend butchers. One is the establishment man -- long established, filled with regulars who range from age 18 to 85 -- while the other is the new upstart. Slater's is the long reigning champ -- a family affair you can walk in and see father and sons at work on any given day. Dressed in white uniforms, serious and businesslike these men have purveyed Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving and endless special dinners to Victoria for decades. There is no better place to get prime rib and you had better get there early to be near the head of the line to pick up your pre-ordered turkey at Christmas.

The Village Butcher in Oak Bay is the upstart. Located near Ottavio's and clearly riding on the growth of the food loving culture in Victoria, the Village Butcher exudes the atmosphere of a group of guys who have thrown aside other pursuits because they have found their true love. These guys love meat in the way that men love their first post-divorce, mid-life crisis younger girlfirend. You can see that they want to be around the meat; they want to serve the meat; they feel liberated by the meat -- I can only hope it will last in a way that the girlfriend won't. They know things about the meat that seem almost unseemly: just on Saturday I was told that the leg of lamb was so fresh, "it was walking around Metchosin on Tuesday."

It was delicious.

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