Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Butcher vs Meatcutter

As part of my introduction to a new class I compare the work and knowledge of a "butcher" to that of a "meatcutter" To those who are not familiar with these terms they may seem the same. Is not a meat cutter a butcher? The term butcher dates back to times when farmers brought live animals to the market and the butcher would need to select the best for their customers. Then the butcher would need to be able to conduct the slaughter and convert the parts of the carcass into salable meat. In the European guild system the butcher's guild was often a politacal voice in the town or village. They controlled a major part of commerce and could influence farmers and land owners to raise animals to their liking. The butcher's guild developed a system to renew itself by creating levels of skill that would place the cutter in a rank. This still continues in some European countries today even though it is not nearly as prominent as it once was. There are three categories, the apprentice, journeyman and master. The apprentice would work for a master for a number of years until graduating to journeyman. At this point the journeyman would work for a number of different shops and had a high level of skill. The journeyman could attend a school to earn their master degree whuich would typically take about two years. They would learn all facets of the industry including slaughter, selection of animals, food safety and disease detection. They may learn sausage, ham, smoking, curing and various preservation techniques. They would also receive a business education and understand profit margin etc.

When the journeyman graduates they are considered a master butcher and can own a shop or slaughter facility. They also can hire apprentices. Only masters could teach the craft and continue all of the traditions. This sytem is still in place in some European countries today and the traditions are carried on even though there are now many meat cutters there as well.

A meat cutter on the other hand is more of a factory worker. They are highly skilled in one area of the industry. Maybe they remove striploins off of a primal cut all day and become very proficient but they don't really cut anything else.

The difference between a meatcutter and a butcher is similar to the relationship between the line cook and the chef. The line cook can be excellent at cooking a fine dish but the chef understands the entire process of putting that plate together.

There are many cooks out there that call themselves "chef" and the same goes for meat cutters.