Swiss Master Butcher Othmar Vohringer will be celebrating 50 years behind the butcher block this October, with no intention of hanging up his butcher’s coat just yet. 

“I love it, otherwise I wouldn’t do it,” said Vohringer.

“Even for me it’s amazing. This year, 50 years ago, my twin brother and I walked out of our apprenticeship with certificates in hand that we are butchers now.” 

Five decades ago, when Vohringer and his brother launched their careers, the education and dedication required to reach Master Butcher status was extensive. A three-year apprenticeship was required to become a qualified butcher, and this apprenticeship covered every aspect of turning animals into food, ensuring compassion, quality and no waste. 

“Back then we had to learn everything, and that’s what I found so interesting,” said Vohringer.

“You had to raise livestock, and you actually had to go to a farm and learn how, and then you had to learn how to slaughter animals, how to use the by-products like tripe, intestines for sausage casing, even how to tan hides,” Vohringer continued. 

“That all had to be done, it’s all part of the whole process. And then you had to learn how to make sausages, and how to break down animal carcasses, and then the last was working in retail, serving customers. To learn how to cook, for that we had to go for three months in a restaurant and learn from a chef how to cook only meat, so that in the store you can tell the customer how to cook meat.” 

Othmar Vohringer. (Heidi I. Koehler/submitted)

The competence and pride instilled in Vohringer through this apprenticeship has followed him throughout his career and kept him in high demand in his industry all over the world, never leaving him wishing for a change. 

“Sometimes you get used to a job and it gets boring, but in all these years I’ve never found that to be the case,” said Vohringer.

“Every morning I look forward to getting up and going to work. Because it is an interesting profession.” 

There have certainly been many changes in the trade since Vohringer got his start all those years ago, more than 8,000km away, with the majority of meat being mass produced for grocery stores in huge meat packing facilities where everything is industrialized, and the focus may sometimes be quantity over quality. 

“Everything has become an assembly line, or in the case of the butcher, a disassembly line,” said Vohringer.  

“The trade suffers, and that sometimes pains me a bit because a butcher I think is the most fantastic job that a person can learn, if they are interested in the food industry.”

In addition to his full-time job at the Local Butcher at 2051E Voght St. in the former Post’s Meats shop, Vohringer owns and operates an onsite custom slaughtering service that travels to farms and ranches around the Nicola Valley slaughtering beef, pigs and lamb, providing food for hardworking agriculture families. 

Vohringer’s willingness to spend his days off still on the job is a testament to his passion.

“I feel privileged that I can pass that on to people, to customers… I can use what I learned and what I enjoy doing all my life, to help people,” said Vohringer, who is also focused on nutrition and what makes food, and people, healthy.  He subscribes to the belief that, just as in computers, garbage in means garbage out.  

“It becomes food,” explained Vohringer of the process. 

“When it hangs there, it becomes food. But having said that, what I never was happy about and still for me the most anxious moment is when I have to kill it. That’s the one part I don’t like. It went so far that way back when, when I learned that, I went to my dad and said, I don’t think I’m cut out for it. He asked me why and I told him why.”

At that time, Vohringer was working at a big slaughterhouse where most of the newly graduated butchers were employed. Every time he had to kill an animal, he felt a clenching in his chest.

“I killed thousands of pigs a day or hundreds of cows in a single day,” explained Vohringer. 

“We used to slaughter in one day maybe 200 beef, and another day up to 2,000 pigs. And at the end of the day, my chest actually hurt.” 

Vohringer’s father told him that he was happy to hear that, and that it meant that Vohringer was a good person who would ensure the job was done with the utmost care and respect, and to feel anything less would be the real problem. 

“Do it right or don’t bother touching it at all,” is a mantra Vohringer’s father passed on that he carries with him to this day. 

Each day, when he puts fresh meat in the case at the Local Butcher, Vohringer enters the retail area and goes over the displays with a critical eye, ensuring everything meets his standards. 

“If I wouldn’t like to eat it, it doesn’t go in the store,” said Vohringer. 

“I’m responsible to feed people, I’m not responsible to make them ill or kill them.” 

In a profession more than 2,500 years old which is mentioned in the literature of the ancient Romans, Greeks and Egyptians, Vohringer has inherited a longstanding dedication to quality and customer service, often surprising customers with his ability and willingness to provide a custom cut of meat almost immediately, or to place a knowledgeable and reliable order for a requested type or cut of meat.  

For Vohringer, this dedication isn’t likely to change anytime soon. 

“I think when I was maybe 30 or even 50 years old, if someone had asked me after 68 are you still going to work, I would have probably called them an idiot,” Vohringer laughed. 

“But I really cannot imagine myself retiring… It’s almost like breaking up a relationship. Every morning you look forward to going to work. As soon as I put my coat on, it’s like I’m in love. Any minute now I’m going to have meat on the table and my knives in my hand.”