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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Butchers Face Off in Slice-&-Dice Race

For MTAlexei, a butcher from the Ostankinsky meat-processing plant, dissecting a pig carcass in the last round of competition Thursday.
Three knife-wielding men and three pigs faced off Thursday in a bloody battle at the Manezh Exhibition Hall in downtown Moscow.

The occasion was an expo by the nation's meat industry, so the pigs were, not surprisingly, on the losing side of the battle: They were in the hands of three of the country's best butchers, each slicing and whittling his way through 40 kilograms of pig meat for the title of Best Butcher 2002.

To the sounds of George Michael singing "My Baby Just Cares for Me" -- and, if you listened very carefully, the squealing of two nervous piglets from the nearby stall of the Kuznetsky meat plant -- the butchers sharpened their knives and dissected a carcass each.

An audience of a few dozen meat industry specialists watched entranced as legs were sliced off, shanks cut away and fat sheared off on a stage set up at the Manezh.

"It's always nice to see a professional at work," said Vladimir Borisov, watching the competition from his stall, where he offered specially built ovens for making kolbasa.

The competition took place in a meat lover's paradise, as the industry showed off its wares -- from the latest in sausage-stuffing machines to multicolored kolbasa wrappers to stalls groaning with meat of all shapes and sizes. To attract attention, each of some 20 to 30 expo participants tried to outdo their neighbors -- whether with live piglets housed next to not-so-live ones, roses sculpted out of spam and ham, or fake trees laden with sausage and chops.

Before the start of the butchers' competition, chief judge and deputy director of the All-Russia Scientific Research Institute for the Meat Industry Boris Yefimov delivered a paen to the meat cutters, saying they were "the main figures of the industry" and not only "hard workers, but creative." He then explained the precise anatomical details of what would come off what in the slice-and-dice race.

In Soviet times, butcher competitions were a regularly held event. But the post-Soviet collapse of the country's farming industry put paid to that. It is only in the last few years that the meat industry has begun to grow again, and Yefimov said he hoped the revival would continue and help improve standards.

Alexei Pichugin, of the Pushkin Meat Dvor and a butcher for more than 30 years, took home the trophy. As a 16-year-old in 1967 he signed up for a yearlong training course, he said, not because of his love of meat but because of the good pay and to help his elderly parents.

Butchers who can cut up a carcass are some of the best paid workers in a meat factory, said competition judge Irina Anisimova. In a single day, she said, a good butcher can handle 2 1/2 to 3 tons of pig or a bit less cow.