Butchers seeing resurgence as people look for healthier, preservative-free, local meats

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CLEVELAND -- Butcher shops were a staple of American life for decades, before grocery store chains almost made them a thing of the past.

As people became more concerned with convenience and cost, the corner butcher just seemed like an extra, unnecessary stop for busy families.

As Northeast Ohioans become more food-conscious, though, butcher shops are making a comeback. People see the value of knowing exactly where their meat is coming from, and exactly what is in it.

"We're not adding any chemicals to something that doesn't have any hormones or antibiotics or shenanigans pumped into it," said Chef Penny Barend. "The animals are raised so humanely. They get to live in pastures. The hogs get to wallow."

Barend is the co-owner of Saucisson, a butcher business she runs with Chef Melissa Khoury. Working out of the Cleveland Culinary Launch Kitchen, the two focus on traditional Mediterranean meats, sold at area farmer's markets and at local restaurants. They source most of their products from local farms, like New Creation Farm in Chardon.

"Starting with a good product, you don't have to do much to it," Khoury said. "We just try and focus on keeping the recipes simple. We don't use nitrates."

So strong is the desire for responsibly-sourced, healthy meats, that Saucisson is just one of three new butchers becoming part Cleveland's already rich food community. It will soon be joined by Meat & Curing Company, set to open in Ohio City, and Butcher and the Brewer, already renovating space on East 4th Street.

This trend is only expected to continue. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of American butchers is expected to grow at least over the next eight years.

"Even the few sausage shops that still exist that are amazing and have been doing it for so long, they're starting to see a little bit of pop in their business, because people are becoming more educated," said Khoury.

One shop that has withstood the "lean" years is Old Brooklyn's The Sausage Shoppe. First opened as Kirschberger Sausage in 1938, many customers have been coming here for decades.

"People want to do business with people. Not with some farm factory in Nebraska," said Ted Sulak, a customer who's been coming here for over 20 years. "You're dealing with the man who's putting the spices together, putting the mixes together."

That man is Norm Heinle, who's been working here since he began mowing the lawn for the butcher shop at the age of 13. Now 70 years old, Norm and his wife Carol own the business and are just as well-known to their regulars as their kielbasa.

"A lot of our customers, they're more like friends than customers," said Carol.

Norm believes the benefits of butcher shops over chain stores are freshness, taste and maintaining all-natural ingredients. In many ways, it's a return to farmhouse living.

"Friday morning you come in and everything you bought was an animal on Monday," said Norm. "And that's part of why you can make the product without the chemicals, without the preservatives."

Consumers are learning more about how their food is treated, and often how it is mistreated. As Northeast Ohioans hope to get more of their food from farms instead of factories, it could simply mean taking a trip to the corner butcher shop.

For more information on The Sausage Shoppe: www.sausageshoppe.com

For a list of the farmers' markets where Saucisson can be found: www.saucissoncleveland.com/find-us/

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