Prague's Real Meat Society: butchers with attitude

Photo: archive of Real Meat Society

A boutique butcher’s called The Real Meat Society was established last year in Prague’s New Town. Since then, the small shop has become a popular stop for carnivores looking for meat from “happy” animals. With only three employees, the butcher’s sells one cow, some five pigs and two lambs a week that are processed from nose to tail, a concept that many Czech butchers seem to have forgotten. I sat down with one of the Real Meat Society’s founders Michaela Jorgensen and asked her about the shop’s philosophy.

Photo: archive of Real Meat Society
“When we talk about real meat, we believe the meat should come from animals which lived lives that every animal deserves. That means living outside with its family, being fed on its mother’s milk for as long as possible, thereby building up its own immunity system, and so on.

“The animal should of course be slaughtered in the most humane way possible. And then comes caring for the meat, hanging it, getting the right tenderness, and then using as much of it as possible, without anything thrown away. So we want to show love and respect for the meat.”

Your website boasts that you are the best butcher’s in Bohemia. Is it your attitude to meat that makes you different from regular butchers?

“We don’t want to suggest we are the best to compete with others. What we want to say is that we believe that we’re the only ones who respect the principle of whole animal butchery which is very simply: we only buy entire animals from our farmers, and it’s our job to sell every piece of it. We have been trying to explain to our customers there are only that much steak or cutlets in one animal. What we pride ourselves is that we only work with farmers who have free-range animals. For us, the live of the animal is very important, that is has not been rush-grown.

“Our major know-how is how to treat the meat. I think we are the only place where you can buy steak that has been dry-treated for nine weeks. That’s where we are good.”

I have to say the steak we are looking at right now that has been treated for nine weeks does look delicious. But don’t you think the concept of whole-animal butcher is well-known in the Czech Republic? Many people in the countryside do these home pig killings, and they always process the entire animal.

“I don’t think the concept is new to anyone. That’s the way it used to be before big corporations took over the business. Now you have slaughterhouses where hundreds of animals are being killed every day, and their prime parts go here and other parts go there.

Photo: archive of Real Meat Society
“But many people only buy some parts of the animal which forces shops to stock only those parts because they sell better. Whole animal butchery comes from the past when there was more respect for the animal.”

You mentioned what sort of farms you work with. How do you look for them? And what sort of offer is there of what you are looking for?

“I’d say there are more and more of them. It was difficult at the beginning but now there are more farmers who find joy in breeding happy animals and having them outside. So you might find a dedicated farmer with beautiful animals but what we do find very hard is working with the local slaughterhouses. I know from my own experience there are many butchers with no respect for the animal, and sometimes we see animals butchered and cut in a very random way without much are. That’s still very upsetting.”

What about you customers? Who comes typically to shop here?

“Our customers are incredible. We really have the luxury of having incredible people come to our shop. All of them are excited about cooking, they want to know where their food comes from, they are very educated and positive, and love to try new things.

“I’m Czech, and before we opened, I had all these negative ideas that everything was going to go wrong and nobody will come to the shop, and that Czechs in particular will not come. But I’m proud to say that the majority of our clients are Czech. From our experience, I think that when you show people what they can use, all the different cuts and so on, people – and Czechs especially – love to experiment.”

Is this a sustainable business model? The Czech economy has been through a very difficult time, people are not spending much. Do you think people will learn how to appreciate good quality meat at higher prices rather than buying the cheapest products available?

Photo: archive of Real Meat Society
“I think there will always be people that will want to eat cheap food without caring where it comes from or what the animal was fed. But I believe that people are beginning to think about their lifestyles and how they live, and maybe about health risks associated with what they eat. So I see people being pickier about what they eat and they are definitely more willing to pay more if the quality is good. As far as meat is concerned, we always say that the key to eating better meat is eating less meat. I know many Czechs who cannot imagine their meal without a piece of meat on their plate. That’s wrong. We didn’t use to live like that.

“So I think we should educate ourselves to understand more about meat. We should also educate our kids to see how animals should live. They don’t normally see animals because they are all locked up inside. And another thing: if there are more good butchers, there will be more good farms, the prices will go down. So I think it’s a very sustainable model. It’s good for the economy in villages, and food is something Czechs are becoming mere aware of.”

Do you have plans to expand your business, in Prague or elsewhere?

“Well, we would love to but it’s difficult. We are very closely linked to our farmers, and we are very careful about working with new people. We need to trust people who we work with and it takes a while. Also, there is an absolute lack of butchers. It’s unbelievable. Young people choose to go study things like, well, I don’t want to offend anyone…

President Zeman gave cultural anthropology as an example.

“Yes, it just makes you wonder why there are more craftspeople. So if there are more butchers, good butchers, we might expand. We would like to. But there are many factors and skilled butchers are hard to find in this country.”