Along with all of the other little details that go along with being a culinary instructor, one very important thing I talk to my students about periodically is the wide range of choices they have in front of them when it comes to thinking about specializing in a specific area within the food service industry.
One niche that is growing increasingly popular these days is that of the small-scale butcher/meat processor/sausage maker/charcutiere. It seems like everywhere you turn, there's either a magazine article, a blog, a TV show, or something in the paper about yet another chef or foodie that has decided to open a shop specializing in meats of one sort or another.
I say great! I used to hear stories about the days when my parents were kids and there was literally a neighborhood butcher shop on every corner. These days, most meat lovers seem to allow the impersonal service of the supermarket to stand in for the higher quality and face-to-face experience of the local butcher.
This all leads me to my experience last weekend with my family while on a weekend getaway in a small Wisconsin town called Cedarburg. We were staying at an Aunt and Uncle's beach house, and we had a great little kitchen to use while we were there, so we needed to stock up on a few provisions. While strolling around Cedarburg, we stopped in at the town butcher shop, called Schwai's. Talk about friendly, helpful, personalized service...this place is it! And then there's the smell; Schwai's is also a smokehouse, and one of their specialties is a smoked, salami-like summer sausage. There's nothing quite like the smell of hickory smoke to get your stomach growling. In addition to a couple of beautifully cut rib eyes and two of the loveliest bone-in pork chops I've ever laid eyes on, we also bought a few of their house made bratwurst. All hand selected and carefully wrapped in pristine white butcher's paper.
While the brats were certainly delicious, the story that I'll always remember about this place has to do with the fact that they also sells buns for their various sausages. But not just any old buns...no, these buns are made extra long specifically for Schwai's elongated links by the owners of the small bakery across the street. It seems that the baker came in one day for some sausages, noticed that the proper length buns were nowhere to be found, and offered to begin baking and delivering ones that fit the bill.
I shop at the supermarket out of convenience too, but an occasional experience like this sure makes me long for the rich sense of community and camaraderie still found on a regular basis at the neighborhood butcher shop. It is with great excitement that I look forward to the continued increase in popularity of this small slice of the food service pie.