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When speaking of butchers, you can't help but remember the anecdote about the kid who, when asked to describe a chicken, says a chicken is a rectangular piece of meat that tastes yummy when cooked. This is not surprising as it is several centuries since we have had to hunt down animals or to cut and prepare the meat for our consumption.

Until recently, it was thought that the first evidence of butchery was found in Holon, a Lower Paleolithic site, located in Israel's southern coastal plains. Here it was established that early hominids knew the art of butchering the choicest cuts of meat with stone tools. This was based on the findings of specialised cuts, chops, and notches found on the bones of animals. This is said to have occurred some 1.5 million years ago.

If you think that's a long time ago, think again, as recent research in the Afar region of Ethiopia has unearthed bones of animals, dating back to about 3.4 million years ago, with cut marks that clearly show intention to remove flesh and extract marrow using stone tools. This human species, the Australopithecus, appear to be the pioneers of butchery. The bones were identified as bones of animals that were of the size of a cow and a goat.

Given these facts, what is surprising is that butchers took several centuries since then to gain recognition as a trade and to form their first Butchers' Guild in England in 1272. The modern day butcher, you could say, is a skilled craftsman when it comes to cutting and carving his meat.

Butchery has lost its primitive methods and has fine-tuned itself into an art at the hands of a master butcher.

Now, we find regular courses offered in universities to undergo apprenticeship and qualify as a master butcher. In all likelihood your local butcher has studied, trained, and has experience in the many aspects of butchery, which broadly classified would include

• Stunning the animal

• Exsanguination

• Skinning

• Scalding and De-hairing (chicken and pork)

• Evisceration

• Splitting the carcass

• Making primal cuts and secondary cuts

• Preparing and processing the meat

• Packing and storing the meat in optimal conditions

Butchers are also trained in customer service and communication skills. They also undergo cookery classes so that they will be better equipped to advise customers on the best ways to cook the meat. They are also taught the nutritional value attached to each type of meat.

In addition to this, butchers are taught how to order meat, manage their stock, pricing, and even on how to make a profitable sale.

So what you get now at the local butcher shop is not just meat but what can only be termed as a complete culinary experience. Your butcher not only sells you the meat you want, but also introduces you to cuts of meat you haven't tried before, and advises you on the best ways to cook it, and how it contributes to your overall nutrition.