The Butcher's Case

Fleisher's Official Blog

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Click on photo for larger version
We love old butcher shop photos. They tend to evoke the same sense of community and pride in one’s craft that we strive for at Fleisher’s (not to mention that the meat in the old photos was mostly grass-fed and all hormone- and antibiotic-free). This one, showing an old butcher named William Cohen, was submitted by one of our Kingston customers, who’s one of William Cohen’s descendants.
We’ll be running more of these old photographs in the weeks to come. If you have some you’d like to share — regardless of whether you’re related to the butcher in the photo — send them in. Or just bring them over to Fleisher’s. It’ll make our day.
Have a great Labor Day, everyone. We’ll be back with more meatiness next week.

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Photo by Jennifer May
By Paul Lukas

Today we’re going to address a question people frequently ask about Fleisher’s: Is our beef Prime?

The short answer is no. But in order to understand the answer, you have to know what the question really means.

First things first: While all meat sold in this country must be inspected by the United States Department of Agriculture, it does not have to be USDA graded — that’s an optional program. The big meat operators tend to have their meat graded, so they can use the top grades as marketing tools. Most of the Prime-graded beef goes to high-end steakhouses; the next two grades, Choice and Select, are what you typically find in supermarkets (although you’ll almost never see a supermarket, or anyone else, bragging about Select-grade beef).

But here’s the thing: The USDA grading system is primarily based on the amount of intramuscular fat, or marbling, in a beef carcass. The greater the marbling, the higher the grade. (You’ve probably heard about and maybe tasted Kobe or Wagyu beef, right? The reason it’s so highly prized is that it has an insane amount of marbling — so much that it sometimes looks like fat streaked with meat, instead of the other way around.)

Now, if you’re dealing with grain-fed, feedlot-raised steers — in other words, factory beef — marbling isn’t a bad gauge of quality. A Prime-graded feedlot steak usually does taste better than a Select-graded one. And that’s fine, as far as it goes.

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Photo by Jennifer May

But we don’t sell that kind of beef. Our steers eat grass and roam around in the pasture. They don’t pack on as much fat as their grain-fed cousins, and then they work some of it off because they’re outside, getting exercise. So if you look at the steaks in our display cases, you won’t see a whole lot of marbling. That’s why most producers of pasture-raised beef, ourselves included, don’t bother with grading, because the grading system is designed to measure something our beef doesn’t have, or even strive for. Subjecting one of our beef carcasses to USDA grading would be like judging a great author on the basis of his tennis game.

But that doesn’t mean our beef doesn’t taste every bit as good as Prime-graded beef. Frankly, we think it tastes a lot better. Pastured beef has a fuller, more complex flavor than grain-fed beef. Part of it is because of the animal’s diet, and part of it is that you’re actually tasting the meat, not the fat marbling. Try it for yourself — you’ll see.

We understand that a lot of people instinctively look for marbling, and that even more people automatically perk up when they hear the word “Prime.” But we’re not out to sell Prime-graded beef; we’re out to sell the best, most flavorful beef. We believe we’re succeeding — and once you taste our beef, you’ll know it too.

(One footnote: There’s no relation between Prime-graded beef and the term prime rib, which is another term for a standing rib roast. Any grade of beef can be used for prime rib. In other words, you can make — and some restaurants definitely serve — Select-grade prime rib. Or course, you can also make prime rib from pastured beef, like ours. And it’s the bomb.)

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He had some extra mustard on that pitch: Baseball players sometimes refer to each other as “Meat” (as in “Nice hit, Meat” or “Great catch, Meat”). But as you can see above, things were meatier than usual last in last night’s Rays/Rangers game, as Rangers pitcher Mark Hamburger made his major league debut. He is the first player named Hamburger ever to play in the big leagues, and he honored his namesake sandwich by pitching a perfect 1-2-3 inning in his first appearance. He is now the official Favorite Ballplayer of the Butcher’s Case.

Incidentally, according to the all-time baseball player registry, there has never been a ballplayer named Frankfurter. At least not yet.

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Photo by Flickr user CarbZombie

By Paul Lukas

Hi there — pleased to meat you.

Welcome to the Butcher’s Case, the new blog for Fleisher’s Grass-Fed & Organic Meats. As you may have heard, we’ll soon be opening a new shop in Park Slope, Brooklyn. This blog will help our new neighbors in Brooklyn get familiar with what Fleisher’s is all about, and it will also keep Fleisher’s fans up to speed with what’s going on at our flagship shop up in the Hudson Valley. Recipes, interviews, photos, videos — we plan to have all of that. We’ll also be featuring lots of old-timey butchery photos and vintage meat collectibles, because we think that’s fun. Basically, if it has to do with meat, butchery, and sustainable food practices, expect to see it here.

As the blog evolves and grows, we look forward to your input and feedback. Soon we’ll be running a T-shirt design contest, fielding questions for an “Ask the Butcher” feature, and so on. But for now, tell us what you want, what you don’t want, ask us questions, pick our brains. We look forward to becoming your friends, so don’t be shy.

Many of you in Brooklyn have probably heard of Fleisher’s, and some of you may have ordered from our delivery service. That’s part of why we chose Park Slope for our first New York City shop — we already have lots of happy customers there. But whether you’re already a fan of our meat or have never heard of us, you probably have some questions. We’ll try to anticipate some of them here:

What exactly is Fleisher’s?
Fleisher’s Grass-Fed & Organic Meats is a butcher shop in Kingston, in New York’s Hudson Valley, and soon in Park Slope too. We specialize in delicious pastured meats from animals raised safely and humanely on small, local, sustainable farms. We know all of our suppliers personally and have visited their farms ourselves, so we can absolutely assure you their animals were raised with no antibiotics or hormones, and on a strictly vegetarian diet. Our uncompromising approach to great meat has earned us a loyal following, and has also made us the supplier of choice for many of the New York area’s top restaurants.

We believe in transparency. When you come into our shop, you’ll see our butchers breaking down a lamb carcass, or cutting apart a loin of beef. Nothing is hidden, because we have nothing to hide. We also believe butchery is an important (and dying) trade, so we offer butchery classes for beginners to professionals. Ever bought meat at the Meat Hook in Williamsburg? Tom Mylan, who runs that shop, trained and apprenticed with us. (Not only that, but he gets his meat from us. So if you’ve shopped there, you’re already a Fleisher’s customer.)

We’ll talk a lot more about our approach to meat — and to food in general — as this blog moves along. But if you want to get a sense of our philosophy, check out The Butcher’s Guide to Well-Raised Meat, written by our founders and co-owners, Joshua and Jessica Applestone. It’ll fit right in with those Michael Pollan and Mark Bittman books you’ve been reading.

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Photo by Jennifer May

Where will be the Park Slope shop be located?
At 192 5th Avenue. That’s between Sackett and Union, right next to Cog & Pearl and across the street from Bierkraft. We think it’s a perfect spot, and we’re extremely excited about becoming part of the Park Slope community.

When will you be opening?
September 22nd. We’ll keep you posted here at the Butcher’s Case as the date approaches.

What will you be selling?
The best beef, pork, lamb, and chicken you’ve ever tasted, for starters. A wide array of house-made sausages, too. We’ll have turkeys during the holidays, and we occasionally get our hands on some duck, rabbit, and veal. We’ll also have milk, eggs, and butter from local dairies, and a wonderful selection of cheeses.

We believe strongly in the “nose to tail” ethos. These animals have given their lives to put food on our tables, so we respect that sacrifice by using every bit of them. We love organ meats, like liver, heart, and kidneys, and can show you some great ways to cook it. Scraps that we can’t use get sold as dog food. We even use our beef tallow to make Fleisher’s soap! We try to waste as little as possible.

Will the meat you sell in Brooklyn be the same as what you sell in Kingston?
Yes. It will be the same product, from the same sources. Same high quality, same great taste. We’ve worked carefully with our suppliers, and they’re ready to provide the increased amount of product that we’ll need for the new store.

Is your beef 100% grass-fed?
Here in the northeast, with its cold winters, it’s almost impossible to raise steers on a 100% grass diet year-round. We sometimes have 100% grass-fed beef available for sale, but most of our pastured steers do eat some local grain — usually corn — at some point in their lives. It’s not a staple of their diets, but it’s enough to help them get through the cold seasons when the grass isn’t growing. Most folks think it produces better-tasting meat, since 100% grass-fed can have a strong, assertive flavor that isn’t for everyone. We’ll take a more detailed look at this topic in a future blog post.

Is your beef aged? Wet or dry?
All our beef is dry-aged in-house. The aging time ranges from one to four weeks, depending on the cut. This is another subject we’ll look at in detail later on.

Fleisher's Grass-fed & Organic Meats - Now do the lamb chops look more like lamb chops?
Photo by Flickr user CarbZombie

I already buy pastured, locally raised meat at the Food Co-Op. What do I need a butcher shop for?
We have a lot of respect for the Co-Op. But selling meat in shrink-wrapped Styrofoam trays, even if it’s pastured or organic, doesn’t sound very eco-friendly to us, and it’s not a good way to feel connected to your food. It’s just a supermarket experience with slightly better product. Can the Co-Op cut you a slightly thicker or thinner steak to order, right there on the spot? Can they custom-tie a pork roast for you or French a rack of lamb while you watch? Do they have an experienced, professional butcher on hand who you can talk to about recipes and portions? By all means, keep getting your produce and other items from the Co-Op. But we think we offer a lot more than they do when it comes to meat.

Who needs a butcher shop when I buy my meat at the farmers’ market?
We love farmers’ markets! But just because meat is being sold at the market, that doesn’t automatically mean it was produced sustainably, safely, or humanely. Moreover, the meat you find at farmers’ markets is almost always frozen. We believe — and we think you’ll agree — that fresh meat is better.

What about you, the guy writing this — who are you?
I’m Paul Lukas, a longtime freelance journalist and Park Slope resident. I’ve written about food for a wide variety of publications (The New York Times, Gourmet, Saveur, New York Magazine, The New York Sun, Edible Brooklyn, Time Out New York, lots of others), and it would be fair to say I’m a meat geek. I collect old butchery charts, vintage recipe booklets with the word “Meat” in the title, and other meat ephemera. So writing for Fleisher’s is a dream gig for me.

I’ve lived in the Slope since 1989, long enough to have seen one butcher shop after another close its doors. Liberty Meats, Berkeley Meats, Great Western — all gone. I’m excited to have a real butcher in the neighborhood once again. I’m even more excited that it’s a butcher as committed to quality and integrity as Fleisher’s.

Will you be working in the shop? Can you cut meat?
At the moment I’m still a butchery dilettante — long on meat enthusiasm, and a decent cook, but short on butchery skills. I’ve always wanted do something about that, so I recently took Fleisher’s Butchery 101 course (you can see some photos I took here), and I’ll be going back up to Kingston to learn more. If all goes well — in other words, if I don’t lop off a finger — the progression my “personal butchery journey” may become an occasional feature here on the blog.

Hey, speaking of that, when will the next blog post be, and how often will you post?
We’ll have two more posts this week, and then we expect to settle into a routine of posting about three times a week. I’ll be writing most of the entries, but Fleisher’s co-owner Jessica Applestone will be contributing as well. All of this will no doubt come into sharper focus as we move along.

For now, you can use the subscription fields at the top-right of this page to follow the site. You can also sign up for the Fleisher’s e-mail list, and you can always follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Now, to close us out, here’s Fleisher’s founder and co-owner Joshua Applestone holding forth on a subject near and dear to our hearts (and probably yours too): How to cook the perfect steak. Enjoy — and then come buy that steak from us.

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