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It takes a steady hand

Behind plastic curtains in a refrigerated room at the Grand Union supermarket, a towering man with a peaceful smile and blood on his apron stands with a sharp knife, poised above a slab of beef. With enormous steady hands, veteran butcher Frank Hohman artfully and effortlessly cuts off the excess fat and slices the plank of a steers hind end into top round steaks. Beside him stands his apprentice, a young man studying the art of meat cutting. He will learn from Hohman six months before he officially earns the title of meat cutter. Apprenticeships arent what they used to be, Hohman said as he carved away. When Hohman first learned to cut meat back in 1965 in Long Island, he served as an apprentice for three years and then served a fourth year to become a journeyman, which is a breed of butcher he said is nearly extinct. It means youre supposed to know what youre doing, Hohman added. The world of meat cutting has changed dramatically since 1971, when Hohman and his wife moved upstate and he started as a butcher with Grand Union. Back then, butchers were delivered practically a whole animal to cut up, routinely with the skins and the fur intact. You had to be like a surgeon, Hohman explained. You had to know where to stick the knife to make the right cut if you put the knife in the wrong spot you could lose 20 steaks. And thats before they had carcass rails, so a butcher had to carry these animals on their shoulder and hang them on a sharp hook. If you missed, you could easily hang your hand on it. Hohman still has the puncture holes in one of his legs a reminder of how dangerous butchering once was. Back then, Hohman said, sanitary rules were less stringent. Carcasses hung on hooks in room temperature until they were cut. While a lot of meat cutting can be routine, Hohman recalled finding a mutilated gold ring in some chopped meat. When no one claimed it, he kept it, and today it remains in his jewelry box. These days, meat delivered to the Grand Union is packaged in primal cuts, which are sections of the carcass that have already been separated. The word butcher isnt even used anymore, except when referring to people who slaughter animals. People who cut meat are simply called meat cutters. One thing that hasnt changed over the years is Hohmans old-school work ethic. I get very particular on certain things, he said. Every item in his cases gets Hohmans scrutiny. The fat is trimmed off, the wrappers are always neat, and the meat is always placed best-side-up on the trays. Hohman has now been living and working in the Adirondacks for more than 36 years. He and his wife raised their four children here, who are now all grown up three teachers and an electrician. Its a different atmosphere than down in the city, he said. Not so hustle and bustle, hurry up and get it done, he said. You have to get your job done but you dont have that city type of pressure. When hes not cutting meat, there are lots of things Hohman enjoys doing. One of these is eating meat, and Hohmans favorite is a porterhouse steak, thick and rare. And I have good cholesterol, he said. Hohman also likes to spend time in his yard gardening, or on his boat fishing for perch or bass. He also enjoys hunting and has his own little meat shop at home where he processes deer. What he enjoys most, though, is staying healthy. I think health is the biggest thing. Ive had a couple of little bouts and lemme tell you, you gotta be healthy, nothing matters unless youre feeling good. Jessica Kane is a long time resident of Brant Lake. Her column will appear regularly in the Adirondack Journal. Suggestions for this column are welcome and can be submitted at thom@denpubs.com.

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