What’s the Beef?

From beef jerky to butchery

“Fresh pork belly can be unreal,” Chris van Ouwerkerk, owner of Butcher & Butcher and Jerkules Fine Beef Jerky, tells me as we sit down to chat. My previous encounters with pork belly can be counted on one hand and only some have been favourable. But the passion with which van Ouwerkerk speaks about fresh local meat and butchery is contagious, and I already know I’ll be giving pork belly another try.

Butcher & Butcher, van Ouwerkerk’s small butcher shop on St. Peter’s Road has a cozy, yet retro feel to it. Hand-written signage and the warm, dark interior enhances the ambience.

Photo Credit: Jessica L. Fritz

Van Ouwerkerk and Eric McMurray, who works at the butcher shop, explain that their specialty is offering the best local meat they can find and cutting it to your liking. I experienced this myself when I visited the shop in search of a long flat piece of beef to make rouladen, a meat dish from my native country, Germany. But I’m not the only one that’s visited Butcher & Butcher in search of meat cuts from other parts of the world.

“No two days are ever the same,” van Ouwerkerk says. He cuts meat for his Brazilian customers in a very different way than he would for his Canadian customers. He also has to be on top of the metric and imperial systems for weights and measures, given our enduring proclivity for using pounds and inches over kilograms and centimetres. And in a similar vein, both he and McMurray work to ensure that they’re familiar with the different terminology used to describe a cut of meat. Knowing that a sirloin in the UK is a striploin in the US, and striploin is a rump in the UK is an important distinction. This nuanced attention to detail and the exemplary customer service that results are part of what sets Butcher & Butcher apart.

“There is not a whole lot of people coming up in the industry, and want to do it. We need more young butchers,” van Ouwerkerk says. As a clerk with KJL Meats at the Riverview Countryside Market his interest in butchery was kindled when he was shown how to break down a chicken. Not long after, he packed up his bags and flew to Vancouver with no job lined up. Fortuitously, he found a six month apprenticeship at a small butcher shop, Harkness & Co. Butchers, run by Patrick Harkness-Lait. There he learned the art and science of whole animal butchery.

While one can apprentice under a butcher, butchery is not a red seal trade. You have to find someone that’s willing to teach you the trade. And so van Ouwerkerk wants to pay forward the gift his mentor provided him.

“We keep it as traditional as possible […] It’s a good workout cutting an animal and doing everything by hand”, he says jokingly. “Butcher & Butcher is likely the only shop on the Island without a band saw.” Van Ouwerkerk and his team use only a hand saw and a hand crank machine to make their sausages. He uses his grandmother’s recipe book for the classic ones and local ingredients as the inspiration for more unusual varieties, like their lemon-blackberry flavour.

Locally-inspired sausages showcase unique Island flavours//Photo Credit: Jessica L. Fritz

Van Ouwerkerk is intent on educating Islanders on what makes good quality meat. He explains that sourcing locally-raised meat is important, but one should also consider that there is a distinct difference between grass-fed and grain-fed. Most importantly, van Ouwerkerk suggests, is whether the animal has been raised humanely. That’s why he works with suppliers who share the same vision: Papia Papa, MacQuarrie’s Meats, and the Larkin Bros, to name a few.

Being a butcher is a tough business and van Ouwerkerk credits the team efforts of both McMurray and his girlfriend, Jenn Callaghan, whom he says is the backbone of the business, for the shop’s success.

“We are staying open 7 days a week because of the short shelf life of our product.” Jerky, sausages, different cuts of meat – those are all ways to use every single bit of the animal. “For now I have this [the shop], I am very happy with it”, says van Ouwerkerk, who recently graduated from law school while running both businesses. Clearly, he has the chops to succeed at whatever he’s passionate about and Islanders are fortunate that quality meat is one of those passions.

In-house beef jerky, sold under the name Jercules: Fine Beef Jerky, is a big seller at Butcher & Butcher//Photo Credit: Jessica L. Fritz

About Jessica Fritz

Jessica is “from away” in the truest sense of its meaning: her roots are in Germany. She immigrated to Toronto, Canada in 2010 and only recently moved to PEI. As a passionate home cook Jessica likes to explore different types of cuisines including her native one. “Thinking globally, buying locally” is her foodie mantra and growing her own veggies will be her next big adventure. Putting words on paper has always been a way to express herself. Hence, writing for Salty combines her love for food and the written word while at the same time discovering PEI’s thriving culinary landscape.

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