The Butcher’s Library

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A teacher of mine, an old German butcher, once said that you can tell the quality of a butcher by his bookshelf.  He then went on to make an unprintable joke about pornography.  Whatever his intention was with that statement, he’s not wrong – having a deep and wide-ranging knowledge of cuts and cuts and cooking styles is just as important as knife skills.  Over the years I’ve collected a huge amount of meat books: how-to’s, cook books, ethnic style guides, and memoirs.  Since it’s the season for gift giving (or buying for yourself on sale) I figured I’d pass along a few that I consider essentials for the professional or interested hobbyist.

The River Cottage Meat Book
The holy book for butchers, or really anyone interested in well-raised meat.  Hugh takes the time to explain the different ways of raising different meat animals, along with what to look for when purchasing them from your local butcher.  Beautiful photography and delicious recipes.  It’s a must have for anyone wanting to expand their general meat knowledge, and is ground zero for many people’s passion for old school whole animal butchery – myself included.

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NAMP Meat Buyers Guide
Every group of friends has that one know-it-all who prides himself on esoteric factoids that most people find boring.  If you can’t think of that person you know then it’s you.  And if it is you, you need this book.  Not in any way a how-to guide, the NAMP lists cuts by specific muscles and muscle groups.  It’s one thing to be able to identify a cut and know how to cook it; learning muscle names and industry specs is taking that knowledge to a whole new level.  Don’t you want to amaze your friends with the knowledge that a boneless Boston butt consists of Longissimus, splenius, semispinalis capitis, and supraspinatus muscles – with a small bit of pectorali profundi mixed in?

Adam Danforth’s books
Danforth’s two books – one on butchering beef and another on poultry, rabbit,lamb, and pork – are great step-by-step guides to humane slaughter and breakdown of animals.  The books cover everything from sharpening knives and tying roasts all the way to stunning and proper bleeding during harvest.  They’re written in just the right blend of highly technical, yet accessible, language.  Plus the pictures are breathtaking.

Home Production of Quality Meats and Sausages
One of the challenges of whole-animal butchery is figuring out what to do with the leftover cuts and trim from the butchering process. Everyone loves a good steak, but not too many customers would willingly chose from a bowl labelled “Meat Scraps.” The solution to this problem is making sausage, a tradition practiced by butchers for thousands of years.  Not only is this book home to detailed sausage making instructions but also has tons of great recipes to try out.  The Marianski’s are traditional Polish sausage makers who incorporate old world European style with Asian and South American influences into their recipes.

Secrets of a Bacon Curer
This guy is nuts.  The last of a dying breed of apprenticeship-trained British butchers, Maynard uses this book to tell his tales of coming up in the business, and the day-to-day aggravation of running a successful butcher shop.  There are no recipes and no pictures, but this book is a must have simply because it’s so full of entertaining stories that people can relate to, whether in the industry or not.  Plus it gives a glimpse into the grumpy-old-butcher future that awaits all of us in the meat business.

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The Complete Nose to Tail
Nobody cooks like Fergus Henderson.  While other chefs pay lip service to noise to tail cooking, Fergus makes it into his central mantra at his restaurant.  Every part of the animal is celebrated and lifted up to it’s highest potential.  I’d consider myself a a pretty adventurous eater, but before reading this book I’d probably have shied away from any recipe for Jellied Tripe or Deep Fried Calve’s Brains.  Yet Fergus can make even these off cuts mouth-watering.  At the end of the day, “whole animal” means “WHOLE animal” and if we truly want to be sustainable we need to start to explore a style of cooking that doesn’t mask what we’re eating, but makes it wholesome and delicious.

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