Concerned about climate change? We are, too! Pastured animals are an essential part of regenerating our soil. Soil regeneration combats climate change. This new year we resolve to educate our friends and customers about the virtues of pasture-raised animal husbandry.
—Monica & Aaron Rocchino & The Local Butcher Shop Team
When you first walk into The Local Butcher Shop, a couple things will probably jump out at you. The gorgeous cuts of meat, to be sure, but that goes without saying. You’ll probably also notice the butchers, with their black and white uniforms, hipster mustaches, and clanking metal scabbards tied to their waists.
But what you won’t notice are the things that aren’t there. Like plastic. Think of the last time you walked the meat aisle at a regular grocery store; you probably saw Styrofoam tray after Styrofoam tray, shrouded in yards of clingwrap and tape, covered in stickers. At The Local Butcher Shop, there’s meat and there’s plain paper. Period. No plastic ever, not during shipping, not while the meat is being stored, and not when it’s handed over to the customer. That commitment to sustainable packaging—or non-packaging—alone is responsible for saving hundreds of pounds of carbon-intensive, long-lasting junk that would otherwise end up in landfills.
Another thing you won’t see is a big garbage can, and that’s kind of a metaphor for the Shop’s entire sustainability ethos. There is one small garbage can, way in the back, but it’s only about the size of what you’d find in a typical residential kitchen. There’s no dumpster, no rear alleyway overflowing with black bags, no haul-away service on a twice-a-week schedule like you’d expect at most commercial food retailers.
So how do you explain all the things that aren’t there? “It’s simple,” says Monica Rocchino, the Shop’s co-owner. “If we have to throw something away, that means we’ve failed.” The Local Butcher Shop gets meat as whole carcasses—never boxes of parts—which are meticulously broken down by the butchers. Because the Shop never freezes its meat, making sure that every last piece gets used is both an economic necessity and an environmental mission. “It’s a game of chess,” Rocchino continues, “We have to know where every piece goes before it comes through the door or else we risk it going bad.”
Accomplishing that level of thoroughness is as delicious as it is complicated. In addition to their work as butchers, the staff wear multiple hats to make sure that every piece of an animal gets put to its highest and best use. Consequently, shoppers will find a lot more than just full cuts of meat. Beef bones are roasted and then simmered for twelve hours in order to make deep, flavorful stock; small scraps are transformed into stews and gravies; lard, duck fat, and tallow are rendered and offered in their purest forms; bone broths sell quickly to followers of keto and paleo diets (plus anyone else who craves something rich and warming). If the butchers find themselves with too much of any cut, they’ll transform it into the sandwich of the day, creating mouthwatering specialties like roast turkey with bacon bits, pickled onions, and caracara vinaigrette. And if you’ve never had a chocolate chip cookie made with pork fat instead of butter, you can look forward to the creamiest, most decadent treat that you’ve ever sworn you wouldn’t eat five of in a single sitting.
The use-everything ethos extends beyond food. Fat is combined with orange essence or rosemary to make soaps and balms. Any fat left over after that is picked up and converted into biofuels. Dog treats are also popular, not just bones but ears, tails, jerky made from liver, even dried hearts and kidneys that pets can’t seem to get enough of.
Berkeley’s diverse, international community has also been a valuable resource for—and a beneficiary of—the quest to use every last piece. European and Asian cuisines call for cuts of meats and offal that American tastes are just waking up to. “Did you know that there’s a meat-focused holiday every month of the year except August?” Rocchino asks a visitor. In January that meant preparing 300 pounds of haggis for Robert Burns Day, the annual tribute to the Scottish poet. And you can count the Shop’s own staff in that parade of geographic diversity: four of the butchers hail from the Lehigh Valley, so they make sure to always have on hand a steady supply of scrapple, the Pennsylvania breakfast specialty.
And while there are a lot of things you won’t see at the Shop , one thing you will see is the meat itself, slabs and slabs of it, half cows and pigs, hanging from hooks just like your great-grandmother’s butcher intended. Framed by boards reclaimed from a neighbor’s fence, a large picture window offers customers a direct view into the meat locker. It’s a literal commitment to transparency.
Everything about The Local Butcher Shop revolves around doing the largest amount imaginable while having the least possible impact. It’s far from the easiest way to do business and it’s not the cheapest, either. But it’s undeniably the best, and it’s a process that everyone involved can feel good about at the end of the day. Rocchino sums it up perfectly: “Working here is about a whole lot more than just cutting meat.”