I watched the butcher skin this rabbit earlier on today with no small degree of jealousy. The artistry of the butcher's shop is a constant source of admiration for me. In this age of high street supermarket hegemony and discreet dislocation from our food and it's origins, a good butcher is a treasure. A butcher with a sense of humour, a love of his product, a sense of proportion with his prices and infinite patience is therefore something truly special and I keeping schtum about the two fine gentlemen that supply me with the good stuff, they are busy enough, I reckon, without me having to give up the location.
For a longtime, the only places you would ever find a butcher's shop were in poorer areas where they had survived on selling cheap cuts of meat at even cheaper prices, in areas where immigrants settled,where particular cuts of meat where sought after, or, incredibly well to do small towns where expensive cuts of meat and game would go down well with the Range Rover and green wellies brigade. The days when a high street might boast three or four butchers are long gone and these days, it seems to be a major event when a good butcher opens in an area. I've seen Soviet style queues out of butchers shops in South London, scuffles breaking out over the chops and the police brought into quell the threat of violence when all the smoked back bacon has run out.
The papers and food magazines would have you believe that the so called food revolution in this country is a broadly middle class affair. As areas become gentrified then the "good" food shops follow, the fancy deli and the traditional butchers appear, and we can "at last" get good quality meat. This is of course complete and utter arse. Immigrants into London always seem to figure out where the good stuff is and it is a host of Asian and Italian butchers shops that I remember being dragged around by my dad when I was a kid, since they were the guys that could find you things that the supermarkets wouldn't touch. Things like olive oil. My dad tells the story often of how the only place he could buy olive oil in the '60's was in Boots the Chemist, where it was sold as a treatment for earaches. Only as the various immigrant communities grew did it get any easier to get hold of things that we take for granted and it is still very much the case that the only place to get stuff like decent saffron, salt cod or mutton are in areas where immigrants chose to settle.
Back in the butcher's shop I'm thinking, that I like that fact I am having to queue up. There are people asking questions, quizzing the butcher by what he means when he asks if they'd like it from "the blade end". People are learning, finding stuff out. Of course, I say all this like it's something new, old ladies have known this stuff for years, they are the ones looking confident as they march in, watching the scales like a hawk, they know their meat. It's just us poor slobs who need to buck our ideas up and appreciate what's good and not be put off by the fact that we can see exactly what it is we are eating or that it might need a bit of work on our part to make.