With the time constraints of modern life leading toward a focus on convenience, potentially at the cost of quality, an adapt-or-die ethos has seen the closure of thousands of butcheries the length of the country. Despite this grim truth, Brendan Manning explores the lasting legacy of the neighborhood butcher.

Once a staple in every suburb, those which now remain have done so through a fortuitous combination of location, reputation and innovation.

"Unfortunately, stand-alone butcheries are falling over left, right and centre," Neat Meat director Tim Eriksen says.

Supermarkets are the reason for the majority of the closures - their bulk buying power drives down the cost of meat to levels many butchers can't compete with while offering the convenience of getting all your shopping done in one place.

"You buy some pretty average meat from the supermarkets, very average, often Aussie meat. It's total convenience," Tim says.


'Destination' butchers are struggling and those surviving are doing so because of their hard-earned reputation, he says.

Westmere Butchers are a classic example of a cult butchery thriving in the face of challenging times, offering brilliant service, and a varied, affordable range of artisan products.

"That's what we like to think we're doing as well and hopefully creating that same sort of experience," Tim says.

Those flocking back to their neighbourhood butcher are relishing the sense of community and connection with the product it offers. Instead of blithely picking a black polystyrene tray of meat out of an open-faced fridge, the experience of a butcher offers customers a chance to chat to the butcher who cut their meat, talk to them about what they're cooking and usually learn something in the process.

Tim says despite the success of their flagship Ponsonby Central store, without the company's loyal and hard-earned industry clients, it would be a struggle to remain viable.
His family-owned company has been operating for 13 years, with its main industrial butchery on Parnell's The Strand operating a 24-hour operation to satisfy demand.
Clients include Ostro, The Grill, Blue Breeze Inn, LSG Airlines, and a handful of restaurants in Queenstown and Wellington.

Specialist breeds of beef, grain and grass fed, are sourced from across the country. When it arrives in the chiller the meat has usually been aged for at least a week as a whole carcass and individual sirloins, rib eyes, flat irons and fillets are hung further in store.

Some customers buy their steak by the ribeye, coming in once or twice a week to have a steak sliced off for dinner that night while the rest of their cut continues to age, Tim says.

One of their top butchers, who Tim affectionately describes as "the best looking butcher in the southern hemisphere," is Zak Grammer, who has recently returned from spending four years living in London, including a stint at Jamie Oliver's renowned Barbecoa butchery.

Zak brought back from the UK techniques and knowledge that hadn't been seen in the country before, Tim says.

Zak says working directly with top chefs every day keeps them challenged and aware of the current trends.

Butchers have had to evolve as chefs find new things to do with different cuts, he says.
More recently, there's been a focus on using cheaper cuts of meat.

Those particularly au fait will be aware of the bavette, a cheaper and relatively unknown cut from the skirt, which has been rising in popularity after appearing on restaurant menus.

"It's from them going to Logan Brown and going, 'oh, skirt steak, what's that?', or going to some of these restaurants, or seeing them on TV and demanding it," Tim says.

With a greater awareness of the potential of cheaper, and more obscure cuts, and the rising popularity of getting back in the kitchen, one can only surmise that as long as the neighbourhood butcher keeps pace with innovation and current trends, their legacy is here to stay.

Our five favourite neighbourhood butchers:
Neat Meat Ponsonby Central
Westmere Butchery
Seaview Meats
Grey Lynn Butchers

Do you still use the local butcher?

- www.nzherald.co.nz