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Australia's new-wave butchers

Click here for our feature on Sydney's best boutique butchers.

ADELAIDE
Feast Fine Foods
Richard Gunner's affection for meat stems from the farm. His family not only breed top-quality livestock on their property flanking the Coorong at Meningie in South Australia, but also act as meat marketers and encourage other breeders to pursue the type of beasts that restaurant chefs find so appealing. The Gunners own Feast Fine Foods, a chain of five superior butcher shops located in Adelaide and Victor Harbor that carry their own branded meats - including Coorong Angus Beef, Pure Suffolk Lamb and Hay Valley Lamb - along with the brands of other leading Australian meat producers.

The steak: "I've been getting into a lot of slow charcoal cooking, thanks to some fantastic mallee root charcoal I got from Loxton, so I've been using the flat-iron ($25/kg) cut, which is oyster blade with all the bone and trim removed," says Richard Gunner. "When cooked slowly, cuts like this have so much flavour. Now I understand why the Argentineans get so worked up about charcoal grilling."

The sausage: Chicken, apple and cinnamon. "We came up with this combination to enter the Sausage King competition, and it won the best chicken sausage in 2009, so we've kept making it. It works a treat. It's all chicken, with no meal or binder added, so it costs a bit more ($14-$16/kg), but I reckon that $10 a kilo is the pivot point for any decent sausage, and below that you get a lot of additives. Always get sausages with natural skins, which give a nice snap to the cooked sausage, and never prick the sausage skins while you're cooking. If the sausage has the right fat-to-lean ratio, it's not necessary; all you do is let the juiciness and flavour run out."

The burger: "Just meat - no egg, no nothing. Grind up beef chuck ($10-$12/kg) and work the mince until the proteins start to catch and it sticks together naturally. It's a bit of an art to do this without flour or any other binding agent, but nothing interferes with the taste of the meat. Treat it like you would a good steak - just sprinkle with salt and throw it on a hot grill."

Feast Fine Foods, Stall 15, Adelaide Central Market, Gouger St, Adelaide, (08) 8231 4700; Shop 17, Norwood Place, The Parade, Norwood, (08) 8332 2538; Shop 21/22, Unley Shopping Centre, Unley, (08) 8271 7286; Fairview Green Shopping Centre, Hancock Rd, Fairview Park, (08) 8251 8025; Victor Central Shopping Centre, Shop 11b, 77 Torrens St, Victor Harbor, (08) 7522 4025.

BRISBANE
Gordon & Luxton Gourmet Butcher
You won't find any art installations here, just a trim, traditional cabinet display neatly stocked with trays of pristine cuts. One of Brisbane's newer butchers, Gordon & Luxton opened in Graceville in 2010, and there's a faint whiff of old money in the air - not to mention a freezer stuffed with pheasant, duck and quail. Qualified butcher Chris Luxton owns the shop (the Gordon in the name is Luxton's uncle who bankrolled the shop) and he's just as happy selling ham hocks, osso buco and shanks for slow cooking as he is dispensing ideas about what to do with venison or a boneless wild boar shoulder. The beef he carries varies according to what's best: it might be a local product from Queensland's Diamantina Channel Country, or Black Angus from Victoria, but the staff will always be able to fill you in on its provenance. One of the few butchers to break down beasts, Gordon & Luxton is also one of only a handful of Brisbane butchers to stock Bangalow Sweet Pork.

The steak: "A rib fillet grain-fed Black Angus ($41.99/kg)," recommends Chris Luxton. "Probably without the bone, though the bone can be nice if you want to dress it up. A nice, thick fillet - about 300 grams - is good. It's got marbling, tenderness and flavour."

The sausage: "A Cornish sausage ($14.99/kg) that's made to our own recipe. It's got a beef base mixed with a little carrot, onion and parsley. We generally use topside and do the sausages with about an 85 per cent lean-to-fat ratio. We also do a Canadian breakfast sausage ($14.99/kg) that's pork-based with ham and bacon pieces, some smoky bacon seasoning and maple syrup."

The burger: "We do a rissole mix ($16.99/kg) made from lean topside. We put a bit of lamb fat through and season it with paprika, garlic, salt, pepper, a bit of onion and parsley. The lean-to-fat ratio is about 85-95 per cent. I use this at home and usually put a bit of chopped chilli through it. But I'd be more likely to use a thin-cut rib-eye for a sandwich at home. I put the beef in a toasted bun with beetroot, salad and some smoky barbecue sauce."
Gordon & Luxton Gourmet Butcher, Shop 2, Bank Rd, Graceville, (07) 3379 4280.

Kobe's of Whites Hill
Pete Cabassi describes Kobe's of Whites Hill as Australia's only "tongue-to-tail" wagyu beef butchery. Hidden away in a stand of suburban shops beside a large Woolworths, compact Kobe's has a cute old-fashioned feel and has become a destination butchery for carnivores in pursuit of fresh wagyu across all marble scores. Here you'll find not just neat pre-packed rib fillet and strip loins for grilling, but also the far harder to get succulent secondary wagyu cuts such as cheek, brisket and tri-tip. Since the shop opened in 2009, Cabassi has been gradually widening the range that's on display in the cabinet. As a partner of award-winning wagyu producer/wholesaler/exporter Cabassi & Rea, he has access to some of the best beef in the country. The Cabassi & Rea brand won the open division of the Sydney Royal Branded Beef Competition in 2011, its third gong in the category. Kobe's also stocks grass-fed Tasmanian beef and excellent lamb. "People are not usually good at selling the whole animal," he says, "and that's our point of difference. We're lucky - we get to select what cuts we want and send them to the shop."

The steak: "My preference is for a rib-eye (boneless, marble score 2-6, $49-$79/kg)," says Pete Cabassi. "I'd go for the bottom half of the marbling, so you get all the wagyu flavour without too much fat. But if I'm doing a barbecue at home, I'd be doing a roast on the rotisserie - a rump cap, done in the Brazilian-picanha style. It's sublime. You really knock people over with that. Just do it long and slow, at a low temperature."

The sausage: "We've got a few. The most popular seems to be the wagyu beef sausage with freshly cracked black pepper and Worcestershire sauce ($13.99/kg). You get all the fatty sweetness from the wagyu; you've got the pepper, and then you've got the Worcestershire to cut through. The wagyu helps with that explosion of juiciness. We sell them as a thick sausage with natural casing.''

The burger: "We sell a 100 per cent wagyu beef burger ($16/kg), but at home, to make a steak sandwich or burger, I'd use thinly sliced shabu shabu wagyu ($55/kg for premium; $36.99/kg for the "poor man's version"). Pan-fry it and put it in a burger. It takes less than a minute to cook. Serve it with sautéed onion and some Gruyère or Gorgonzola."
Kobe's of Whites Hill, Shop 7, Samuel Village, Samuel St, Camp Hill, (07) 3398 6611.

CANBERRA
Fyshwick Gourmet Organic
Fyshwick Gourmet Organic has built a strong local following over the past two decades for premium free-range and biodynamic poultry, game and organic meats. Beef and lamb are sourced directly from the Cherry Tree Organics farm in South Gippsland - where stock is raised organically under sustainable conditions, and shifted onto fresh pasture each day. The game range extends to goat, guinea fowl, squab, hare and emu, and more recently, the local Happy Pastures range of smoked products. Manager Pat Flynn prefers the subtlety of flavour that high-altitude German beechwood (often used in German beer brewing) imparts on trout, duck, chicken and lamb racks. Sausage-making is also carried out in-house, with the butchers using quality organic cuts. The range includes Toulouse, English pork, kangaroo and bush tomato, and lamb, chardonnay and French herbs.

The steak: "I love the high-score wagyu rump ($40.59/kg) most of all for its marbling and tenderness," says Pat Flynn.

The sausage: "The staff have different favourites and are equally passionate about them. The customers return for the 'wild' mushroom and garlic (which has a distinct porcini flavour), and the lamb, chardonnay and French herbs (both $15.99/kg)."

The burger: "I prefer a patty of freshly minced high-marble-score wagyu ($20/kg)."
Fyshwick Gourmet Organic, Fyshwick Fresh Food Markets, Dalby St, Fyshwick, (02) 6295 6869

HOBART
Vermey's Quality Meats
At Vermey's Quality Meats, Marcus Vermey continues a butchery tradition that goes back generations. Marcus's father, Bill Vermey, was born above his father's butchery in Amsterdam, and started working at the Sandy Bay butcher shop in 1964. Marcus - who occasionally moonlights teaching The Whole Hog and All Beefed Up cooking classes at The Agrarian Kitchen - took over the Sandy Bay establishment in 1998.

The shop looks very different these days, but there's still a strong connection with its past that's most evident when you watch the skilful butchers cut from a carcass and then trim something special - like a piece of dry-aged rib-eye for roasting - on the commanding butcher's block. The conversation negotiating the purchase of a bespoke piece of meat is the great pleasure that separates Vermey's from the anonymous aisles of supermarkets packed with pre-cut meat sealed in plastic. Well, that and access to meat of the quality of Robbins Island grass-fed wagyu.

The steak: "My favourite is the rump cap ($22.95/kg)," says Marcus Vermey. "It's a small triangle of meat cut from the top corner of the rump. I barbecue it whole then cut it across the grain. It's as tender as fillet steak but has much more flavour."

The sausage: "We're best known for our pork, veal and fennel ($13.95/kg). It's a coarse sausage with a ratio of about 60 per cent pork to 40 per cent veal - very simple but a robust flavour. They're good grilled or pan-fried."

The burger: "Our burgers are a mix of gravy beef and chuck ($12.99/kg). The gravy beef is gelatinous and that little bit of stickiness helps them stay together well without any binding ingredients. I add salt, pepper, a little Worcestershire sauce and finely chopped onions. At home, I barbecue them on a flat plate."
Vermey's Quality Meats, 180 Sandy Bay Rd, Sandy Bay, (03) 6223 6378
 
MELBOURNE
Peter G Bouchier
Peter Bouchier started as apprentice in a butcher shop in Malvern Road in 1976. In 1983, he took over this business just a few doors away and he now has other shops and a deli in David Jones stores in Melbourne City and Chadstone Shopping Centre, as well as a processing facility in the outer suburbs. Bouchier is considered by many to be Melbourne's most prestigious butcher. While there's plenty of ready-to-go beef Wellingtons in the front window, old-fashioned whole carcass butchery is at the heart of the business with lesser-loved cuts, such as lamb forequarter, making a comeback. "The closer to the bone, the sweeter the meat," he says with a smile. He attributes the kindling of the love affair with less-pricy cuts partially to the GFC - with people wanting value for money - but also to the rise in cooking shows. "I sell more pork bellies than there are pigs to get 'em off," he says with a laugh. Bouchier has been a familiar local face for 35 years and has a broad and strong customer base, some of them coming from three generations of the same family. "Many of the team are from the country so they know who is growing what and where to get the best," he says. "So if someone walks through the door with a copy of Gourmet Traveller pointing to a recipe for a certain cut of goat meat, the next day we'll have it in stock for them. Customers know exactly what they want, and that can change quickly. We simply have to be ready for them."

The steak: Although he prefers a rib-eye for the grill, Bouchier is also enamoured of lamb forequarter blade ($22.90/ kg). "I marinate about four of these in lemon, oregano and olive oil," Peter Bouchier says. "Then I pack them together and grill them over charcoal on a small spit-roast I bought from Bunnings. It takes about two or three hours, with a good half-hour resting. It's sweet, sticky and lip-smackingly delicious."

The sausage: A pork sausage ($18.90/kg) with bread, mace and other traditional British spices - the recipe was purchased from Musk's of Newmarket in England. "They've been making them for the royal family by warrant since 1907, and now we're making them."

The burger: Bouchier's burgers (about $10/kg) are a straight-forward family-pleaser made with minced yearling beef forequarter, mainly oyster blade, with the addition of onion and seasonings.
Peter G Bouchier, 551 Malvern Rd, Toorak, (03) 9827 3629.

The Organic Meat Specialist (TOMS)
With siblings in Jock's Ice Cream & Sorbet and Gamekeepers of Australia, Tom Niall was born into a legendary food family but was a latecomer to butchery. He has just four years under his belt at The Organic Meat Specialist (TOMS) at the South Melbourne Market - a business he built up from scratch - but in that time he has surrounded himself with some of the best organic meat in Victoria. Most of it is sourced directly from the farmers, including the excellent grass-fed wagyu he buys from Neil Prentice. Niall deals in whole carcasses and generally ages his meat for four weeks, and up to 10 weeks on request. What he lacks in experience with a knife he makes up for in his skilled staff, with South Melbourne meat legend Merv Clark overseeing the daily blade work. Niall also carries a good range of offal - particularly tongue, which is prized by his clientele: a mix of the health conscious hooked on the 100 per cent organic credentials and food-lovers who seek the extra flavour from grass-fed wagyu. "What I am most passionate about is dry-ageing," says Niall, "It's something only little businesses like mine are prepared to do."

The steak: "The best steak for the barbie, in my eyes, is the four-week-dry-aged organic rump ($45/kg)," says Tom Niall. "A much underrated cut made from a bunch of different muscles that are packed with flavour."

The sausage: Niall's simple choice of nutmeg, pepper, garlic and salt for his half-beef, half-lamb sausage ($18.95/kg) puts the focus on its succulence. "We pass it through the mincer twice," he says. "This makes the proteins in the meat cling together to make it so juicy."

The burger: Beef forequarter ($18.95/kg) - and given its dry-ageing, it has good body and clean tang.
TOMS, Shop 30, South Melbourne Market, Coventry St, South Melbourne, (03) 9699 7926.

PERTH
Mondo di Carne
To Vince Garreffa, it doesn't matter if you're an internationally lauded chef stocking an equally top-flight steakhouse or a nonna chasing an old boiler for the soup pot, from the moment you enter Mondo di Carne (Italian for "world of meat", and locally known as Mondos), it's all about you and your shopping list. "At Mondos, we take it personally," Garreffa says. "If we let someone down, we feel like losers. From day one, we've been led by our customers." Just as his clientele have led the Calabrian-born butcher, they've followed him, too, from the original Mondo di Carne that opened in Midland in 1979 to the Inglewood site that has been headquarters since 1997. As well as the staggering assortment of animal flesh, a refurbishment in 2007 has allowed Mondo di Carne to also double as a providore, with shelves groaning under the weight of largely boutique Australian and Mediterranean ingredients. Seasonal fruit and veg can also be had at old-school prices, both in the store and at the Saturday morning markets held on site through spring and most of summer. If you want it, Garreffa will do all he can to get it, never mind the status quo. "There is nothing in the meat industry, legal or illegal, that I won't try to source for customers," he insists. The incendiary horse-meat-for-human-consumption incident of 2010 proves how seriously he takes this commitment, but he's also supportive of less controversial campaigns such as bringing Western Australian White Rocks Veal to the international stage and changing the law to allow the sale of kangaroo meat locally.

The steak: "As much as I love Scotch fillet on or off the bone, I just can't go past the value of the grass-fed organic rump ($27/kg)," Vince Garreffa says. "Because it's so badly shaped, rump has fallen out of favour over the past 10 years. It's the ugliest piece of meat we've got, but it's just the best value on earth for flavour and tenderness."

The sausage: "Our pure pork sausages with chilli and fennel ($15.95/kg) have always been good sellers. We also make a gluten-free merguez ($16.50/kg) with lamb, red wine, salt, extra-virgin olive oil and spices in a lamb casing. Nowadays there are so many wonderful varieties of sausages throughout Australia that, if you choose carefully, they can be a daily meal if you wish."

The burger: Garreffa's preference for rump also carries through to his burgers, whether he's shaping a pure meat patty or a steak tartare-ish hybrid where mince is combined with capers, finely chopped onions, flour and an egg yolk. To prevent burgers from drying out, Garreffa suggests starting them on the grill ("for the marks") before finishing them on the hotplate.
Mondo di Carne, 824 Beaufort St, Inglewood, (08) 9371 6350.

WORDS RICHARD CORNISH, SUE DYSON & ROGER MCSHANE, GARETH MEYER, DAVID SLY AND MAX VEENHUYZEN PHOTOGRAPHY CHRIS CHEN

This web exclusive article was published in December 2011.

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