Today, in part one of a two-part story, our man in Lima, Greg DeVilliers, takes us inside Osso, the butcher shop in the eastern reaches of Lima that’s changing the face of Peruvian cuisine.  In just ten months, owner and butcher Renzo Garibaldi has managed to permanently stamp his name–and his flavors–on the exploding Peruvian culinary scene, cooking for greats like Massimo Bottura and Gastón Acurio, as well as making an appearance at Mexico’s Mesamérica back in May.  If this is what ten months can bring, there’s no telling what the future may hold. 

By Greg DeVilliers

[Greg DeVilliers]

[Greg DeVilliers]

Part I: Ladies and Gentlemen, the Butcher

Osso. Bone. A fine name for a butcher shop. It helps remind us where our meat comes from; it brings back the visceral to our carnivory. And to loosely quote the king in Gabi Nitzan’s Badulina, it makes for a great handle on your steak. Renzo Garibaldi opened up Osso, butcher shop and charcuterie, ten months ago in La Molina, a sunny, new-moneyed district of Lima and has since been celebrated from Spain to Mexico to Argentina.

[Greg DeVilliers]

[Greg DeVilliers]

He has joined the ranks of the returning artisans, young men and women dedicated to a trade, who have spent years learning to do one thing, and will probably spend the rest of their lives learning to do that one thing better. Garibaldi chose the art of carefully reducing entire animals to edible bits, and right now – although you still might find a greater variety of cuts in Buenos Aires –there’s no other butcher close to him in South America in terms of level of consideration from origin to final, paper-wrapped pound of flesh.

Beginning with carefully chosen producers both in Peru and in the US (His Wagyu comes from Snake River in Idaho and other US beef from two small ranches in California) his focus is on top quality, sustainable meat. Local beef, which makes up some 80 percent of his stock, is grass fed, grain finished, in a surprising move away from his stateside contemporaries, because, says Garibaldi, you have to consider local environment. Lima is essentially a desert, and to produce enough grass here would be an unnecessary strain on water resources.

[Greg DeVilliers]

[Greg DeVilliers]

His beef, hormone free and humanely slaughtered, is brought over to his cool-room where it is hung and, after butchering, various prime cuts are dry-aged anywhere from 15 days through the most common 28 days and all the way up to 200 days. This is his secret to using the often scorned local beef; the breeding stock simply isn’t as good as in Argentina or Uruguay, the best known beef producers in the region, so it must be aged, allowing the connective tissue to break down, softening the otherwise tougher meat. Even better, this means that butter soft steak can be achieved in the tastiest but not traditionally most tender cuts like porterhouse or rib-eye.

His pork, for now the only other meat that they deal in at Osso, is just as carefully selected. “In the 70s, to fight low sales [of pork in the US] some clever marketers invented a campaign for ‘The other white meat’!” His bristly moustache twitches in irritation, his six foot two, checkered flannel and denim wrapped frame is indignant, “and it all went to shit, because from then on, pork was white. When has pork ever been white?! Pork has color, it has fat… they want to standardize everything, make it all taste like chicken!”
Garibaldi eventually found a producer close to Lima who would supply him with pigs at least 6 months older than the Peruvian standard of six to eight months. When they’re too young, he says, the muscles are flabby, there is too little fat and the meat has a bland pale color. Those extra six months allow the muscle to develop so the pigs come in weighing double the standard, with a good two fingers of fat and three distinct shades of pink and red in the meat.
Needless to say, Renzo Garibaldi is passionate about pork.

[Greg DeVilliers]

[Greg DeVilliers]

The butcher shop, a small three by seven meter space lined with display fridges showing off neatly arrayed steaks from T-bone to skirt in various stages of ageing, pork chops, in-house cured and smoked bacon – including a sublime jowl bacon or guanciale, piles of hamburgers and sausages, some with the added punch and complexity of aged meat, others with rocoto, herbs or cheese. There are meatballs and baby back ribs, there’s pulled pork, smoked pork shoulder, salamis, pates, rillettes, home-made BBQ sauce, beef stock and lard. It’s enough to leave any carnivore dizzy, wide-eyed and drooling just a little. About the only things in sight that aren’t edible are the meat themed posters on the bare brick walls and the little pile of beef fat soaps on the far counter that are made by Garibladi’s wife, Andrea.

[Greg DeVilliers]

[Greg DeVilliers]

The epicenter of the Osso meat storm are the two temperature and humidity controlled fridges at the back behind the counter, the wire racks inside looping under the weight of prime dry-aged hunks of meat. Here little tags mark Garibaldi’s prizes, some set aside from clients, some experiments – just how long can he age different cuts for? How do the flavors change? There’s an 11 kilogram Wagyu rib-eye from April that’s earmarked for Mistura in September. Nearby there’s an American porterhouse with just over a month and a half of ageing; the meat has wrinkled, darkened and sags between the bone and fat that frame it. The meat has lost around 15 percent of its weight, mostly water, concentrating the flavor, but that’s just the beginning.

[Greg DeVilliers]

[Greg DeVilliers]

The leathery surface is beginning to develop a crust of friendly fungi that produce beneficial enzymes (the two exposed and overgrown ‘faces’ of the meat will be trimmed before sale); inside, natural present muscle enzymes are subtly changing the proteins and fats into amino acids, aromatic fatty acids and even sugars.
If you hold your nose up real close to it, close your eyes and breathe in, you’ll feel like you’re pressed against a forest floor, clean and earthy, surrounded by sweet, nutty mushrooms, maybe cheese; there’s a sweaty ox standing just behind you. Angels may be singing.

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