BY PAUL BICKLEY
At The Butcher’s Block you can get the standard tailgate and backyard barbecue favorites—steaks and ribs, brats and chicken. But behind the counter, a chalkboard also lists some 20 lesser-known exotic meats, everything from alligator and antelope to elk and kangaroo.
Bison was the first exotic meat sold at the shop. “Farmers in the area were raising bison, deer, and ostrich before I opened,” says owner Dave Schell. He started The Butcher’s Block, 115 S. Ind. 46, in 2004, a year after graduating from the Indiana University Kelley School of Business. “I’d become familiar with the meats while working in a butcher shop during college,” he says.
Schell continued adding to the list over the years. Colorado black bear, camel, and alpaca are the most recent additions. Customers don’t see exotic meats on display up front. “They’re frozen because they’re slower moving,” Schell says. But they account for up to 10 percent of overall sales.
Those sales occur for a number of reasons, Schell says. “Some people just want to try something different.” Sustainability concerns drive others to seek proteins whose production requires less feed, water, and space. And the globalization of food, Schell says, has lengthened food supply chains and educated people know about what those in other parts of the world eat.
Many people living here from other cultures are just looking for food with which they are familiar. “Bloomington’s internationals eat what they grew up on,” Schell says. “Muslims buy goat for holidays. I recently sold a 45-pound-bag of pork kidneys to a Chinese restaurant.
“I’m regularly asked for things I don’t sell,” Schell says. “There’s always something—horse, dog, deer penis, beef heads and lungs.”
For those interested in trying exotics, Schell has a suggestion: “Try them in ground form. You’ll get the flavor but no texture issues.”
The Butcher’s Block is open Monday–Friday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Visit bloomingtonmeat.com for more information.