MEAT. I love it — but if you handed me a dead cow and asked me to turn it into steak dinner or some burgers, I wouldn’t have a clue where to begin. I’d just call Othmar Vohringer, a Master Butcher from Switzerland who is currently keeping alive his family’s traditional profession in British Columbia, Canada. He’s an old school kind of guy, and his pride in his work certainly shines through in this interview . . . even if he’s not too thrilled by vegetarians harshing his mellow from time to time.
One of the points that this site is trying to make is that if you love what you do, and you take pride in your work, then any job you do is going to be a cool job!
1) When people ask you “what do you do?” how do you describe your job?
It depends what sort of people ask me that question. If it is normal everyday folks I will tell them that I am butcher. If the person asking is one of these militant animal rights activists or vegetarians I will tell them that I am a butcher providing society with healthy nutritious food.
2) What are the things about your job that you love?
Everything. A butcher has a very interesting job that involves a great variety of different aspects. Some of these are cutting meat, making sausages and other meat products, dealing with customers and satisfy their requirements. Last but not least to me butcher is a way of life, I have been born into the profession as a third generation butcher. In other words I am following a family tradition and traditions are very important to me.
3) What are the things about your job that you hate?
I hate or dislike nothing about my job. What I do dislike is the attitude and demeanor some people display toward us that are against eating meat.
4) What education, training, vocation or just plain luck would someone have to have in order to get a job like yours?
This depends, different countries and global regions have different requirements. In Europe, where I grew up, butcher is a profession for which one has to be trained and schooled. Typically the training lasts for four years. Once the initial apprenticeship is completed one can choose to continue with further training and schooling for an additional year to archive the status of a certified master butcher. The trades in Europe are organized in trade guilds and members of the guild are respected people in the community, especially butchers and bakers.
Conversely in North America no particular training schedule exists. Some jurisdictions demand nothing more than a course in food safety and hygiene. The rest of the training is one job without any further schooling. There are now efforts been made to give butchers a recognized status as a trade. These efforts are not on a federal level but rather on a state or province level. Neither are these efforts backed up by any particular laws but rather organized by unions.
5) What is the funniest story you can think of that involves your professional
training or your job?
Well there is that one incident I can remember way back in my first year of training. I was called upon to assist with minor chores in the sausage production. The master sausage maker was just getting the ingredients together for veal brats and one of the ingredients was milk or milk powder. He sent me to fetch him a bucket full of milk powder. Arriving in the spice and ingredient room I filled the bucket with the powder and delivered it as ordered to the ingredient mixer. He in turn added, together with the ingredients, the powder to the meat and turned the machine that cuts and mixes the sausage filling on. Not long afterwards he watched in disbelief as the mixture stared to foam.
To make a long story short the milk powder was actually laundry detergent powder. The person in charge of the laundry ripped the laundry detergent bag. As a new laundry detergent storage container he took and empty milk powder bag. Someone seeing that “milk bag” in the laundry room thought that this indeed was milk and put it in the ingredient storage room.
My father, the owner of the meat plant where this took place, made the laundry person pay the damage in full. For the younger folks reading this: back then it was normal standard that if an employee made a very bad mistake against better knowledge or broke equipment by being careless was made to pay the damage in full. In other words workers where held fully accountable for their actions. I only can wish that it still were like this today. We would get better work quality and better service