Beau Butchery and Bar, which opened in Montpelier in December, is yet another example of the growth of the local food movement. It’s also an effort to recapture the tradition of the neighborhood butcher shop.
The stainless steel slicing machine hums away under the music. Next to it, two deli cases display rosy cuts of fresh beef, plump pasture-raised whole chickens and richly marbled curried squash pork sausage.
A lot of time is spent passing out freshly sliced samples to customers. For such a small space, there’s much to sample.
Co-owner Jules Guillemette points through the deli case glass and lists some of what Beau Butchery and Bar has to offer: “Smoked sausages, ham hocks, duck leg confit, smoked rib. That’s southern fried right there.”
The raw meat, mostly brought in as whole animals or sides from local farms, is butchered at Beau.
Beef comes from LaPlatte River Angus Farm in Shelburne. The pork is from Snug Valley Farm in Hardwick. There's chicken raised at Maple Wind Farm in Huntington and turkey from Stonewood Farm in Orwell.
In addition to selling cuts of raw meat, Beau offers its own products — smoked, brined and made on the premises by Guillemette, including sausages, pates, roast turkey, corned beef, pastrami and deli meats.
The broths are especially popular.
“See how dense and solid they are? It’s because there’s so much bone and connective tissue and meats in the kettle that we cook it in and we cook it for so long,” says Guillemette.
Guillemette, who uses the pronoun "they," often draws on their French-Canadian farm family’s traditions. Their approach is more improvisational and intuitive than by-the-book.
A lot of time goes into preparing the meats, and quite a bit of time is spent talking to customers about it.
Guillemette wants people to stay a while — hang out on the outdoor patio, linger over a sandwich or deli plate or have a cocktail from the Prohibition-era style bar.
“It seems to me people coming here, buying their meats with a cocktail or glass of wine, they can look at what we have, tell us what they want,’ says Guillemette.
Guillemette learned how to cut meat in a high school vocational program, then went to culinary school, worked as a chef and did a stint at a slaughterhouse. All along there was the idea of opening a butcher shop with locally raised meat and products that were made on the premises.
To many of us, food shopping is something we’d like to minimize: Load up the shopping cart and fill the freezer.
Co-owner Crystal Maderia, a chef who owns the Montpelier restaurant Kismet, says Beau is trying to recapture something once commonplace, when the custom was to make the rounds at the butcher shop, bakery and grocer a couple of times a week for fresh food.
“One of the things that we can guarantee is exactly how fresh the meat is and exactly where it came from, and that really does change the quality of the product you have,” says Maderia.
Take bacon, for example.
“Most bacon and ham that you buy is already pretty old, and fat goes rancid pretty quickly,” she says. “You’re tasting a meat that we took the ham off of the pig, we cured it, we smoked it, you’re eating it all within a seven-day process. You can’t get fresher than that unless you make it yourself at home.”
Maderia and Guillemette say it’s not just the freshness, but how the meat is handled and processed. The chicken is air-chilled, not-water chilled, so it doesn’t absorb water. Aged meat is dry-aged. Deli meats are made without common additives or processing shortcuts.
Montpelier once had local butcher shops, but it hasn’t for a while. It does have a thriving farmers market and a large co-op, so it makes sense a business like Beau would work here.
Guillemette says Beau’s ability to rely on locally sourced meat might have been impossible not long ago.
“When I first started working on doing this kind of business, there weren’t the resources that we have now," they say. "I was trawling online looking for farms, or, if I drove down a road and saw a sign for local beef, I would stop and look for someone to talk to.”
Now Guillemette says farmers are stopping by to inquire about selling meat to the shop.
Maderia says there are still regulations and bottlenecks that work against small meat-producers. The cost of getting a few animals to a slaughterhouse is one obstacle. Getting the meat from the slaughterhouse to Beau is another.
“We’ve had to go pick up animals from the slaughterhouse ourselves, which means driving up in our car, putting them in the back of our car and driving quickly with the windows rolled down,” says Maderia. “That’s not really a sustainable method for distribution, but it will change.”
She says Beau is involved in the larger discussions about solving those problems, to pave the way for other businesses that rely on local food.
“We talk about fresh with our customers, then when we’re closed, we talk about the politics and how do we solve the problems,” Maderia says.