Ask The Butcher

Kobe beef, wagyu

At a time when consumers are being hit with sticker-shock and wanting things cheap, corners are being cut. It’s no wonder fast-food chains can serve a five-dollar foot-long sandwich. But those of us who want the proper nutritional values and flavour profiles must source the real thing. Where can we go? Who can we trust?

Butcher shops offer cuts and brands not always found in supermarkets. They know their products and advise us on their best preparations. We have an over-abundance of information and have become wise consumers, motivated to ask the right questions and demand higher quality.

The Butcher Shoppe, photo by Dan Janetos Bellwether

The Trust Factor

The key word is trust, even more important now than ever before. We demand transparency. We want to know where our products originate. Allan Weisberg first opened the doors to The Butcher Shoppe in Kensington Market in 1984. His family-run business, which he operates with his two sons Stacey and Noah, is one of the largest beef processors in Canada. “We like to think of ourselves as boutique,” shares Stacey Weisberg. “We care about what we do, and we want to get good product into chefs’ hands.” He tells me, “We wouldn’t let anything leave this building that we wouldn’t feed our own kids.”

Tomahawk Steaks

Customized to Order

Walking through the facility, I am awestruck by the massive inventory of products from around the world. The size and scale of this production allows an impressive selection of grades and cuts from Japan, New Zealand, Australia and the US, but this is mostly a “fresh house,” processing fresh-to-order and cut-to-order. All products cut here are customized, as they would be for a chef’s order at a restaurant.

Everyday, 100,000lbs of protein are customized by hand, from the usual suspects like beef, veal, lamb, bison, chicken and pork, to game meats like venison, Cornish, quail, guineafowl and squab. There’s even kangaroo from Australia. When the pandemic hit, like everything else, distribution to food service providers was immediately complicated. The answer lay in direct shopping through online ordering, so all the product would be available to individual consumers.

Dry Ageing

A good steak has two requirements: flavour and tenderness. Flavour is derived from the grade. The higher the grade, the more flavourful the beef. Tenderness comes from ageing. The Butcher Shoppe holds beef for much longer than most—at least 40 days—before steaks are cut.

The Real Wagyu

Wagyu has become the word du jour, a fashion unto itself, but just because a burger or steak is labelled “wagyu,” doesn’t mean there is any traceability or accuracy to ensure the truth of that label. Maybe a product is 25% wagyu—which is still theoretically wagyu—but that’s a far cry from the real thing. Similarly, there is “Angus Beef” the brand, and then there is “Angus Beef” the breed. Misnomers abound. The only way to discern the veracity of the label is to ask the butcher.

If you love wagyu—as I do—you should know that every prefecture in Japan boasts its own brands, and you’ll want to try them all. The best wagyu selection I’ve seen in Toronto is at The Butcher Shoppe. They carry brands from across Japan (as well as American and Australian Wagyu,) each representing a different taste of place:
snow-aged wagyu

  • Kobe Beef (Hyogo Prefecture)
  • Kagoshima-gyu (Kagoshima Prefecture)
  • Miyazaki-gyu (*1st place winner at 15 consecutive Wagyu competitions)
  • Ozaki-gyu (*Miyazaki Prefecture. This beef is sweet and smooth without being greasy)
  • Joshu-gyu (Gunma Prefecture)
  • Hida-gyu (Gifu Prefecture)
  • Takemori-gyu (Yamaguchi Prefecture. This beef is also known as “Drunken Wagyu,” because the cattle are fed a sake mash that elicits a mild, silky flavour profile.)
  • Kobe Wine Beef (Hyogo Prefecture. This is the result of culinary matrimony: Kobe Beef married to Kobe Wine. Cows are fed the grape lees by-product from the local wine production, and the resulting higher polyphenol levels in the cows enable lower stress levels that yield even more tenderness.)
  • Snow-Aged Wagyu (Niigata Prefecture. This beef is placed in a yukimoro room insulated and covered with snow and ice for a humid, cold, natural aging.)

I could not resist the Snow-Aged wagyu, and had to prepare it for my family. So soft; it was like cutting through a cloud. It requires specific care in cooking. Ask the butcher.

The Great Debate Continues

Which is the better product: grass-fed beef or grain-fed beef? And what really is the difference?

See Also

Weisberg cautions me: let’s say we buy beef that is labelled 100% grass-fed, or even just “grass-fed,” and it’s also raised locally. We have to consider how many months of the year we can actually grow grass in Ontario. If we can only grow grass for three to four months of the year, what is that animal eating for the other eight to twelve months during the two to three years for which the label states it’s just grass? Ask the butcher.

What is the difference between Ground Chuck and Ground Beef, and which one should we buy?

How thick should a steak be? It depends on the cut and weight. Check out The Butcher Shoppe’s Steak Thickness Guide.

Today, we source our meats the way generations did before us. We want the trust, the direct personable interaction, and the satisfaction and knowledge that we are providing our families the best quality and taste we can find. Just ask the butcher.

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