What I enjoy most about butchers is their culinary ‘savoir-faire’. A butcher is like a consultant – meat is your primary material to build from. Each piece has a specific duty and a butcher is there to advise you on what is best for your cooking purpose. I got to spend a very instructive afternoon with Michel Stein, butcher in Médoc. Always in a humourous mood, Michel has an excellent selection of meat. The Charolais beef, Corrèzes veal and various delicacies are extremely popular with the locals of Médoc. Michel deals with farmers directly and has a very good reputation with his clientèle. When I queue at Michel’s, I will know what half of the store will be having for dinner – now that is what I call inspiration. Michel was kind enough to show me the tricks of the trade. I even learnt a few tips on cutting meat, and got to wear a very impressive aluminium disk apron for protection.
In France, people love talking about food. It’s a way of life. When I catch up with my aunt, it’s five minutes on general affairs, and fifty-five minutes on our culinary life. Once a month, our dog-food delivery man Jacques comes over. As he stays for coffee, he never fails to impress us with his woodcock recipes. His account on cooking the bird, the cognac glazing, the pan-fried foie gras and the wine makes me have ‘l’eau à la bouche’ (mouth-watered state) by the time he leaves. Médoc in the fall is a gourmet’s dream – it’s all about the ‘cèpes’ mushrooms – saying bonjour goes hand in hand with ‘did you find any cèpes today,’. In France, a butcher could be a food ‘shrink’ – he listens to your food stories (on the other side) and tries to direct you in the best possible way.
According to Michel, the bavette (beef flank steak) is the ‘butcher’s choice’. For a delicious bavette bistro style, fry the meat in a searing hot pan with margarine and lots of shallots one minute on each sides. Rare is a way of living when it comes to the ‘cuisson’ (cooking). We discussed the importance of the quality of meat in France, and how unfortunately farmers are becoming more scarce by the year.
The main advice is clear: we must consume less meat. You would be doing a favour to the planet and to your health by avoiding large-scale meat production. If you want to indulge in red meat, try to find a good artisanal butcher. Less meat, but better quality.