In 1998 Oprah Winfrey was famously sued by Texas cattlemen in a response to a comment she made on her show several years earlier. In response to the “mad cow” scare that was going on at the time Oprah had said, “I’ve eaten my last hamburger.” She was later cleared of libel by a jury but one would have gotten the impression that Oprah didn’t eat meat anymore.
After arriving in Sydney we walked around our new neighborhood checking out the food shops. When people heard our American accents they recommended we try a famous butcher shop named Victor Churchill that was just up the street. They all had the same refrain, “It’s where Oprah went when she was here.” Our closest connection to Oprah is that Michael was a classmate of Dr. Oz’s before he was Dr. Oz. But we were looking for a butcher anyway so we went to Churchill’s.
The original Churchill’s butcher shop opened in 1876 and has been operating ever since. They are consistently ranked as the premier butcher in all of Australia, and we’re talking a country that likes its meat. We learned that when Oprah made her mega-farewell tour of Australia in 2010, along with 300 of her fans, she stopped in at Victor Churchill’s to sample some of the wares. Since she was on her way to the airport at the time she couldn’t get a few steaks to throw on the barbie, but she did try some of the charcuterie.
Churchill’s is a throwback to a day when working in the food industry was a well-respected profession; that’s still seen in countries that value their cuisine, such as France, where butchers and bakers serve as apprentices for years, often starting as teenagers.
The shop recently underwent a $2 million renovation. Stepping through the front entrance, with its metal doorpulls shaped like a string of sausages, is like walking into a carnivore’s dream. On the left side of the store white apron-clad butchers work behind a wall of glass, chopping away and preparing the day’s prime cuts. Next to them the ageing room is on full display as carcasses of meat, hanging from hooks dangling below a ceiling height conveyor, gently swing around the room. The stone walls, timber beamed ceiling and Italian marble slab floor all contribute to the Old World effect.
Meats and other goods are displayed in humidity-controlled cases made of glass, wood and copper that would not look out-of-place in Tiffany’s. The first thing we noticed was the quality of the meat. It ranged from standard pasture-fed beef to cattle that had been grain fed for 300 days (to increase fat marbling and flavor) and then aged for up to six weeks.
The next thing we noticed were the prices; the highest end beef is the Wagyu aged Scotch fillet at ninety dollars per pound. This beef is so well marbled that it’s hard to tell where the meat ends and the fat begins; it looks like a Jackson Pollack painting rendered in meat. Okay, that sort of sounds disgusting but in person it’s not.
We were celebrating a special event and had decided that instead of going out to a pricey dinner, we would indulge ourselves by buying a steak from Churchill’s and throwing it on the barbie. Despite the special occasion the Wagyu was still outside our budget but we didn’t exactly settle for chopped liver. (Although they do have that in the form of fine pates.)
We purchased an aged sirloin steak that had been grain-fed for 300 days. Feeding on grain instead of in the pasture increases the marbling that is so desired. This was priced more reasonably; for 22 bucks we got a steak that was big enough to share. Throw in a side of potatoes cooked in duck fat and some veggies and we had ourselves a mighty fine steak dinner.
We’re sure the meal would have gotten the Oprah seal of approval.