Leave it to Cleaver
Who gets to handle the nicest racks and firmest rumps in town?
Why, Overland Meat Company owner Mark Cohen, of course.
Cohen practically was born with a cleaver in his hand. He’s been in the meat cutting business for 34 years … and he’s still got all his fingers.
“I started off at Ralph’s Grocery in Southern California,” Cohen said. “I’ve been here for 14 years now.”
According to Cohen, the term “butcher” is outdated and almost offensive to serious meat cutters.
“A butcher doesn’t have a systematic way to do things,” Cohen said. “Meat cutter is a more precise term. It really is an art. That’s where you separate the meat cutters from the butchers.”
Cohen said the type of meat a customer chooses should depend on how they’re preparing it, or how well they like it cooked.
“When someone comes in and says, ‘ I want a round steak’, I’ll say, ‘How are you going to prepare it?’ Because you don’t want to barbecue a round steak.”
Loin cuts are best for those who like their meat rare, medium rare or medium, Cohen said.
“If you like it well done, you should choose a top sirloin or a filet,” he said. “Filets are considered to be the most tender, but it’s not always the most tasty. So I think a Spencer or a top Sirloin or a New York are better cuts of meat that you can barbecue.”
A skilled meat cutter should not only be able to recommend a particular cut according to a customer’s needs, but also show the customer how to cut it and cook it.
“We make a cut on it to show them which way to cut it,” said Cohen, who also shares recipes with his customers. “I get requests all the time. People bring in their recipe books and ask, ‘What meat should I use for this?'”
No order is too big or too small for Cohen, who said he’s gotten over his fear of large orders.
“I used to service boats in Southern California, the big Merchant Marine type boats,” Cohen said. “They’d come in and buy thousands of dollars worth of meat and say, ‘We need it by 6:15 a.m. tomorrow.’
“I don’t have a problem taking care of my orders, whether it’s two or 200. So a big order doesn’t really scare me anymore.”
Like any line of work, being a meat cutter has its pros and cons.
“The best part of my job is dealing with the customers, knowing them by name and knowing what they want before they even say it,” said Cohen, who enjoys tasting customers’ creations. “Sometimes they’ll bring me a taste in. That’s what makes having your own business worth while. Or even just a thank you means so much.”
Some of Cohen’s regular customers even bake him cookies for the holidays.
“That’s always neat,” he said. “It’s nice to establish those kinds of relationships. Our customer base is built on local trade.”
The worst part of the job for Cohen is dealing with all of the licensing and employee regulations.
“Every time you turn around, there’s another license you have to have, and most of them (serve a good purpose,)” Cohen said. “The problem is all of the special audit taxes attached.”
But for the most part, life is good in the world of meat, and Cohen is confident in the American public’s loyalty to beef.
“There are more people eating meat now than ever before,” said Cohen, whose oldest daughter is a vegetarian. “I’ve converted a lot of non-meat eaters. They may have stopped eating meat because it stopped tasting good to them because of all the steroids pumped into it. I can convert them because my meat is natural, without the steroids or antibiotics.”
Overland Meat Company is located at 2227 Lake Tahoe Blvd. in the Kings Trading Post center.
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