ANTWERP - Why would a butcher open a store at a brewery? The question doesn’t throw Luc De Laet, the man who has done just that at the De Koninck brewery. “We share our respect for traditional crafts,” he responds. “And we are both going back to the roots of our trade. Each animal has its own story. We use its meat in the most sustainable way possible, ‘from nose to tail’.”.
Crafts and everything ‘artisan’ is hip these days. But there is more to earning the label than just a long beard and tattoos. Craftsmanship lies in the art of selection and purchasing, in making the right cut, and processing the meat in the correct way to create an end product that makes the customer want to return.
The chain must be right from beginning to end.
It’s also a sustainable process, as Luc explains: “We throw away as little as possible. For example, our salami is encased in pork guts.”
Here we find not only a natural link with brewers and their beers, but also with gastronomy. The butcher uses pigs’ trotters in his croquettes. However, whatever the final product, he wants to be able to recognise the star ingredient. Masking the taste is simply not done - although he will add herbs and spices where necessary. “Our philosophy is quite close to that of the Italian slow food movement,” Luc says. “We prefer working on a small scale and in a sustainable manner and that also goes for our suppliers.”
So, how do you go about selecting a good piece of meat? First of all, consider the breed. Then look at the origins - the terroir - and the taste.Luc’s outfit, Slagerij De Laet & Van Haver, works with a wide range of suppliers of top-grade meats.
These include pork from the Duke of Berkshire, Duroc d’Olives and Iberico pig breeds. Beef also comes from a number of breeds: Black Aberdeen, Piemontese, Belgian blue, Westvlaams rood, Chianina, Simmental, Salers, Aubrac, Charolais, Rubia Gallega, and Blonde Aquitaine. “We have gone for European terroir,” Luc explains. “Piemontese can only be produced in the Piedmont. Rubia Gallega comes from Galicia. After all, the terroir is largely responsible for the taste of the beef.”
Luc De Laet is known for his dry-aged beef, produced in a process that involves dry cold-storage of the meat for weeks on end. Natural enzymes work to tenderise the beef and concentrate the taste. “At the end of the day I want to be able to taste the terroir in every single piece of meat – the soil, the plants, the water…,” says Luc. “Piemontese cattle are grazing in the Italian Alps, so you want to detect those wild herbs in the meat itself.”
This craft butcher also smokes his own hams, pork bellies for bacon, salts his meat - either dry or in brine - and produces his own charcuterie. In-store, the meats are cut in front of the customer. “We have nothing to hide,” Luc laughs.
At the site of the De Koninck brewery you will not only find a butcher’s but also a chocolatier, a bakery, a cheese affineur (a cheese ager and finisher), a restaurant, and a barbecue restaurant.
This brings about culinary cross-fertilisation. “We make sausages with Wild Jo beer by De Koninck,” Luc tells us. “We use the beer in paté and salami, we marinate meat in beer before putting it on the barbecue, our cordon bleu is made with Van Tricht cheese, we stuff our meat with mascarpone and mozzarella, we work with the baker to produce sausage rolls and he uses our pork lard as an alternative to butter….”
Luc is a keen beer lover. Which does he prefer? “A lambic or old gueuze as an aperitif, a Duvel as a digestive, a simple pint to quench my thirst or to go with a barbecue… I am enjoying the Triple d’Anvers by De Koninck, especially now the recipe has been fine-tuned. And their new Lost in Spice is a splendid summer beer.” This butcher does not live on an island. Far from it: he is building bridges with the other artisans who have found a home in this most welcoming brewery. “Over here, it’s one big playground of tastes,” Luc says with a smile.
He is also forging ahead with exports. Barcelona, Paris, Lyon, London, Amsterdam are all in his sights. “We are looking for distributors who understand our approach and are able to get our story across.” International Gourmets, watch this space.
The Butcher's Store - Antwerp City Brewery De Koninck
The Butcher's Store & Dining - Antwerp City Brewery De Koninck
Kapelstraat 102 Hove
Butcher's Store Antwerpen by De Laet & Van Haver
Butcher's store Hove by De Laet & Van Haver