The View from My Kitchen

Benvenuti! I hope you enjoy il panorama dalla mia cucina Italiana -- "the view from my Italian kitchen,"-- where I indulge my passion for Italian food and cooking. From here, I share some thoughts and ideas on food, as well as recipes and restaurant reviews, notes on travel, and a few garnishes from a lifetime in the entertainment industry.

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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Bye, Bye, Boston Butt: "Simpler" Names for Cuts of Meat?

Meet Your New Meat

Like Will Rogers, I only know what I read in the papers, and here's something I read recently: apparently some people are confused by meat.

According to Progressive Grocer, the National Pork Board and the Beef Checkoff Program have gotten unanimous approval from the Industry-Wide Cooperative Meat Identification Standards Committee – try saying that one three times fast – to introduce updated terminology for Uniform Retail Meat Identification Standards (URMIS) that retailers use on fresh beef and pork package labels.

Why?,” you may ask. I certainly did. And it turns out that it's because some people have problems figuring out that pork butt does not come from.......where they apparently think it does. People in the know, of course, know that it does not originate anywhere near the piggy's tail. It is a shoulder cut. In some places it's actually called “pork shoulder.” Unless you're in Boston, where it goes by the name “Boston butt.” Or if you're driving through rural South Carolina, you might see it advertised as “butt meat.” Yes. I'm serious. “Butt meat.”

Some sources trace the term to the wooden casks, or “butts,” in which the relatively cheap cuts of pork used to be stored and shipped. Some take an anatomical approach: a pig's foreleg has a “shank” end where it attaches to the foot and a “butt” end where it joins the shoulder. This meets the dictionary definition of “the larger or thicker end of an object.” 

However it evolved, the term confuses the bejeebers out of some folks, so the meat industry decided to change it. Henceforth and forever – or at least until they change their minds again – the cut of meat formerly referred to as “Boston butt,” that which comes from the upper foreleg of a pig, shall now be called “Boston roast.” How that's going to play in rural South Carolina remains to be seen. “Roast meat?” Nahh.

And no more “pork chops,” either. Nope. Now you'll have the infinitely less confusing "porterhouse chops," "ribeye chops," and "New York chops" from which to choose. These cuts used to be “loin chops,” “center rib chops,” and “top loin chops,” respectively. And for you folks who enjoy a good rump roast, look instead for “leg sirloin.” Don't you feel clearer already?

Cows also get their due. No more “boneless shoulder top blade steaks.” They have become “flatiron steaks.” Gone, too, are “under blade boneless steaks.” They are “Denver steaks” now. “boneless beef loin top sirloin steak” now will simply be called a “sirloin steak.”

In an attempt to make things even more less confusing, the new changes will cross species. A bone-in loin cut will be called a “T-bone” whether it’s pork or beef.

All in all, expect to see as many as 350 different names for different cuts of beef and pork. And if that seems a little overwhelming, don't worry; the “old” names will still be on the labels, too.

After two years of research on the subject, marketing people became convinced that consumers are stupid. Sales of beef and pork have declined and it must be because people can't figure out what they're buying, right? So let's come up with new marketing terms! That always works! Think of what it did for prunes when we started calling them “dried plums!”

According to one industry PR flack, only butchers and meat cutters actually care about the part of an animal from which a particular cut comes. The rest of us average stupid consumers only want to know what it is and what to do with it.

Frankly, this stupid consumer actually knows what an “under blade boneless steak” is. I've never heard of a “Denver steak.” And I guarantee the people who wrote the hundred or so cookbooks in my library didn't write recipes with “Boston roast” or “leg sirloin” in mind. You wanna talk about confusing?

If it ain't broke, don't fix it” does not register with ad people whose mantra, instead, is “if it ain't broke, break it and then charge double to fix it.” If the problem truly is uneducated consumers, how 'bout we educate them rather than making wholesale changes to a well-established system? Hmmmm?

As always, I am merely a voice crying in the wilderness. The meat industry movers and shakers are already on board with this. At least the beef and pork people are. The chicken people have declined to participate. A National Chicken Council representative says, “a chicken breast will remain a chicken breast.” Sorry if that confuses you.

This is a voluntary thing within the industry. Retailers don't have to go along with the changes. Feds at the USDA are just kind of shrugging and saying, “whatever.” But even they admit that the whole thing could become a pain in the Boston butt. Says one Bucky Gwartney, a federal agriculture marketing specialist, “The intent certainly was not to confuse consumers, but there are some situations where that certainly could happen.”

Ya think?

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