As consumers become increasingly interested in eating healthy, buying quality food is more important than ever before. But anyone who’s ever used the term “all natural” as a buying barometer can tell you that marketing speak has made shopping healthy incredibly complicated.
And when it comes to the most important part of family dinner—the meat—the questions can seem limitless. What is the best cut of meat for my budget? How should I prepare it? Should I buy locally raised meat? Should I buy organic?
It’s no wonder that American consumers are slowly, but surely returning to old-fashioned butcher shops.
At The Original Farmers Market, Los Angeles, we’re proud to be home to award-winning butcher shops, Marconda’s Meats & Marconda's Puritan Poultry, which operates both a butcher counter and a poultry shop at the Market, and Huntington Meats & Sausages, which also operates Farmers Market Poultry.
Lou DeRosa, owner of Marconda’s Meats & Marconda's Puritan Poultry, has been working full time as a butcher since 1980, although his family has owned and operated the shop since the early 1940s. Down the aisle, Huntington Meats and Sausage is another long-time Farmers Market merchant, in operation for more than 30 years. Owner Jim Cascone joined the operation more than 15 years ago after a successful career at Bristol Farms.
Here, Lou and Jim give advice on why using a butcher—and more specifically the ones at Farmers Market—can help you improve your meat-buying and dining experience.
1. Customer Service
Personalized, service-with-a-smile is often the impetus that converts our Farmers Market patrons from first-time butcher shop consumers into loyal repeat business.
According to Jim, nearly 90% of the business at Huntington Meats and Sausage is repeat business. And no customer request is too big or too small.
“Our regular customers will often bring in a recipe and we’ll help them pick the right cut of meat for that meal,” said Jim.
Customer service is also very important for the staff at Marconda’s.
“Some customers will bring in their favorite seasonings and we’ll add them to the meat when we’re preparing it,” said Lou. “They love that we do all the labor.”
While the importance of friendly customer service can never be understated, our butchers have a vast amount of knowledge they pass along to their customers, which make them an invaluable shopping resource. And that knowledge isn’t limited to just Lou and Jim, but is shared among all the employees at Marconda’s and Huntington Meats.
And both shops will tell you that eating meat that’s locally farmed doesn’t always necessarily mean you’ll get the best flavor for your dollars.
Jim, for example, has recently added beef from New Zealand to his offerings.
“It might not be politically correct to get beef from New Zealand, but with the drought we have in California, the flavor of the beef doesn’t even come close,” said Jim. “In New Zealand they have plenty of water, plenty of grass. Essentially this beef is raised under organic guidelines, but we can’t call it organic because it is not from the United States. If you’re looking for something really special, this is the product to try.”
Both Jim and Lou sell plenty of meat to local restauranteurs, which also means they need to be at the top of their game with respect to knowing what cuts of meat are trending.
The relationship with restauranteurs is a two-way street, however. Jim recently started selling a new product, Wagyu beef from HeartBrand, out of Texas, off of a tip he got from local restauranteur Suzanne Tracht, from famed Los Angeles chophouse, Jar.
Of course the best reason to visit our butchers might just be because the quality of beef you’ll get there is simply better than what you’ll find at most grocery stores.
“With us it’s all about quality,” says Lou DeRosa, owner of Marconda’s Meats & Marconda's Puritan Poultry. “It’s not about price, although we are not expensive compared to any other meat market. But, it’s a whole different business model than the grocery business, where it’s all about ‘what can we get the cheapest?’”
Need a primer on beef quality? According to the US Department of Agriculture, there are three essential “grade shields” that signify high-quality American beef: Prime Beef (produced from young, well-fed beef cattle with abundant marbling; Choice Beef (high quality, but with less marbling) and Select Beef (leaner than the higher grades.)
And then there are the “Standard” and “Ungraded” grades of beef, which according to the USDA, are often “sold as ungraded or store brand meat.”
Both Huntington Meats and Sausage and Marconda’s Meats sell USDA Prime Beef. (Of all the beef sold in the United States, less than two percent carries the USDA Prime designation.)
Quality in this case does not mean a lack of choice. Both butchers offer a huge variety of meats as well as the ability to custom-order exactly the product you are looking for.
“We offer custom cuts to order,” said Lou. “If you want a two-inch thick, aged porterhouse, you’re not going to find that at the grocery store.”
Custom dry aging is available at both Marconda’s and Huntington Meats.
“We make it very easy,” said Lou. “We never suggest you age a piece of meat that doesn’t start off as the very best. We always try to get people to only age Prime Beef. If you take a piece of meat that is ‘almost’ perfect and then age it, then it becomes perfect. We feel it’s the lipstick on a perfect piece of meat.”
Variety is also key at both butchers.
Jim, who’s done a spot-check comparison on what other meat vendors across the country are selling, feels that many butchers fall into a bit of a rut and only sell an inventory of their favorite products.
This is not so at Huntington Meats and Sausage.
“We offer more variety than most butchers in the United States,” said Jim.
Both butchers also offer a number of custom, made-on-site products. At Marconda’s Meats & Marconda's Puritan Poultry, the Uncle Louie’s Delicious Meatballs come from an original family recipe. A pork/beef blend, the meatballs are mildly seasoned with Italian herbs & spices and are the perfect addition to soups and sauces.
At Huntington Meats & Sausages, the butchers hand craft a staggering variety of original, seasonal sausages, with flavors ranging from Tropical Thunder with Chicken & Papaya to Alligator Andouille. Also available is the Nancy’s Blend, a special hamburger blend inspired by James Beard award-winning chef Nancy Silverton.
5. Small Farms, Sustainable Practices
Gourmands who struggle with the conflict of not wanting to support huge, industrial farms, can rest easy when purchasing with Farmers Market butchers. Both butchers specialize in humanely raised, sustainable, antibiotic-free meat.
Both butchers have preferred relationships with vendors such as Harris Ranch, Niman Ranch and others who are committed to supporting small farms, sustainable land management practices and the humane raising and handling of cattle (and other animals.)
And while both butchers keep an eye on what’s trending, they both agree that it is only “once in a blue moon” that they will add or change a vendor. Which means that they work only with vendors that have earned their trust and their personal seal of approval.
And because Lou and Jim, and all the folks at Huntington Meats and Sausage, Marconda’s Meats & Marconda's Puritan Poultry have done the hard work for you, there’s nothing left to do but pick out your next cut of meat and head home with the knowledge that you’ll soon be enjoying a meal with the best-quality meat on the market.