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Whole Foods butcher counter in Oakland, and why are they so confused?

I feel like I'm setting myself up on this one. I know Whole Foods can't possibly compete, in terms of expertise in specific topics, but what is the deal with the butcher counter?

Part of me expects some competence at a store where I have to specifically ask for what I want from a case, and then pay several hours wages for it.

I read in a magazine a few months ago about rendering fat to make lard - which I wanted for my pie crusts. So I went to the Whole Foods Oakland, which I live very close to and shop at regularly. The guy knew what I wanted - back fat, but refused to sell me any and told me that they throw it all in the garbage, and that was the policy. How Weird, I thought. I wanted to actually pay for it.

I wanted some oxtail last week, no go.

Finally, this evening, I asked if they could actually just special order me a pork belly. The guy seemed almost shocked by the question, and said they can't get "that stuff".

Can someone possibly a butcher for me to go to in Oakland? And really, what is the deal with Whole Foods.

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  1. Check with Ver Brugge, on College near Alcatraz.

    1. I'm a long way from Oakland, but out there in Cali-for-nye-eh surely they have Asian supermarkets. Take thee and get thee to a nice big Asian supermarket and you will find tons of what you are looking for, in many varieties, right there in the self-serve meat case. Cheap too. You might start rethinking your misguided devotion to whole paycheck.

      1. What are you looking for? If you're just looking for the cuts, then an Asian or Mexican market is your best bet. If you're looking for those cuts from a natural/sustainable producer, then you should check out Baron's Meats in Alameda. Verbrugge is good, but most of their stuff is conventionally raised.

        I'm not a fan of Whole Foods, but the attitude you describe is surprising. Surely the fact that pork belly has been increasingly trendy for several years now hasn't escaped them.

        1. I have a possible explanation for the lard thing. I once had a lot of trouble obtaining beef fat for rendering. Several butchers at Chinese markets, Andronico's and Mollie Stones refused to sell it to me. The guy at Andronico's explained it to me: apparently there is a regulation that says that they cannot sell meat products that have touched meat products of another species. Usually, when they trim meats all the fat goes into the same waste bucket, so in that bucket, there is pork fat, lamb fat, chicken fat, etc. Therefore, it is contaminated and can't be sold or given away. We solved the problem by talking one of the other butchers at Andronico's into hauling out a beef roast, trimming it, and giving me the suet.

          1. WF is not a butcher. It's a corporate grocery store with a meat department. If you want special orders you need to go to a real butcher.

            1 Reply
            1. re: PeterL

              I can not agree more. I once worked at a whole foods and I can tell you that there is no "real" Butchering going on. Coming from a restaurant background we did much more butchering than any corporate store does.

            2. If you want pastured pork, call the butcher counter at Cafe Rouge.

              If you don't care, grasa should cost under $2 a pound at a Mexican butcher. Closest to you might be Carniceria Zacatecas at 1536 23rd. Any butcher in Chinatown should be able to fix you up either.

              1. You're really close to Ver Brugge, the butcher shop at Rockridge Market Hall, and the butcher shop inside Star Grocery (on Claremont), all of which are full service butchers who can probably give you much better service.

                1. Jacks meat market in the housewifes market might be a better option.

                  1. Piedmont Grocery on Piedmont Ave.

                    Great butcher counter with much better prices than all the others mentioned.

                    Friendly Pro union butchers.

                    Free parking in back

                    The Mexican Carnicerias are great and very reasonable prices, However they don't carry all the gringo cuts you may want.

                    1. I think you should realize that there are very few "butchers" around. They are not needed in todays market. My father was a qualified butcher, and made it clear that a "meat cutter" was not a "butcher". In the old trade, a butcher must be able to slaughter the animal and fully dress it. Most modern markets receive their meat in primal cuts, and all that need be done is cut up the meat properly. It isn't quite fair to expect a meat cutter to perform the complex duties of a butcher.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: OldTimer

                        There's nothing complex about reserving some of the fat when breaking down pork primal or sub-primal cuts. All they need to do is throw it in a bag and then label it with the name of the customer who ordered it.