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The healthy butcher

The healthy butcher

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Merit Mitchell on the increasing consumption of ethically-produced meat in Canada @ MaisonNeuve. It all ends up in here. The bits and pieces, the undesirables. The trim. Kept cold in a fridge at minus twenty degrees Celsius, it moves through the silver grinder and squeezes out the front plate, like ribbons of mottled Play-Doh, into a blue Rubbermaid bin. In the basement of the Healthy Butcher on Toronto’s Eglinton Avenue, Ryan Klauke looks at the white board on the wall to see which recipes he’s following this morning. Three days a week he’s here, before most of us are out of bed, to get elbow-deep in these odds and ends. The boombox on the butcher block behind him plays Bach. From the shelf above the stainless steel countertop he selects herbs and spices and pours them into their respective containers: thyme, cayenne, pepper. In go garlic, chopped onions, white wine. He mixes by hand, forming fists and pummeling the meat, making sure the spices don’t clump. It’s surprisingly unyielding, and cold enough to be painful. But it beats the hell out of sitting at a desk nine to five, which he did for eight years, working in customer service for a major bank. When he left he took a picture of the stack of unfinished paperwork sitting on his desk. Klauke doesn’t like dealing with customers anymore, so he’s in the basement with his Philip Glass CDs and buckets of soaking intestines.

Klauke forms four little patties of sausage meat and heads upstairs to the kitchen. He heats a frying pan on the industrial gas range and slides the patties into the oil. This is quality control—ensuring the sausage fill is seasoned correctly before it’s packed into casings. Morning tastings are another job perk, and for an avowed carnivore like Klauke, “It’s never too early for meat.” Back downstairs, he packs the first batch of fill into R2, a metal cylinder that works like an upside-down trash compactor: inside the cylinder, the floor rises toward the lid, forcing the meat mix out a metal nozzle on the front. Klauke feeds a length of casing—pork intestines—onto the nozzle and it bunches up like slimy white panty hose. He leaves three or four inches of lead hanging off the tube, leans against a teal lever on R2’s side and out shoots the meat—a rope of flesh coiling up on the counter to his left. He makes about five feet of sausage before the intestine runs out and a column of loose mix shoots from the nozzle and splats on the wall. Later he pinches off the rope in eight-inch lengths and spins it to create individual sausages connected by links. Klauke twirls one sausage toward him, one away, one toward, one away, again and again. He pops air bubbles with a bamboo skewer. After this batch, he’ll load R2 with another and repeat. He does this all day.

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