How long have you been a butcher and where did you get your start? Have you been working with “sustainable” meats the whole time and if not, what precipitated your shift in practices?
I can honestly say that I was born into butchery. I was surrounded by butchers on both sides of my family. My love and appreciation for the craft started as a young girl at Underlyʼs Market, my fatherʼs small country butcher shop and ice cream parlor in Lydick, IN. Eventually, I would go through a three year in-house apprentice program at Martinʼs Super Market in South Bend, IN to become a journeyman meat cutter. I worked my way up the management ladder to become their first female Meat and Seafood Merchandiser. While working at Martinʼs, I went to school and earned a bachelorʼs degree in Business Administration. It wasnʼt long before I started my own company, Range, Inc. We specialize in helping companies in the perishables marketplace develop merchandising tools and new strategies to help grow business. I have always been dedicated to the sustainability of the craft. Much of my time and energy has been spent in the training and education of meat cutters and food service operators. I have an intimate knowledge of bovine anatomy, and each muscleʼs profile. This has proven invaluable in my quest to develop original and resourceful ways to utilize the animal by creating cut plans and generating undervalued cuts to bring profit to the entire channel.
What do you think about the current media hype and attention on butchery, butchers and meat in general?
“Hype” insinuates an exaggeration of importance or benefits. The attention is real and well deserved. The renewed interest in butchery and the desire to know where your food comes from is not a trend. It is a movement. This shift back to the “closer to home” model is precipitated by the publicʼs demand for understanding the origin and nature of the meat they are eating. Consumers want to know where their meat comes from; they want to know that the animal was humanely raised and slaughtered. And they want to know how to cut it. Not only do food service operators and chefs want to know, consumers are also interested in learning the details of butchery. This makes me happy. I am thrilled to be involved in bringing back the appreciation for our craft and helping people develop their skills to sustain the art of butchery.
What do you believe is the role of butchers in the movement for a sustainable food system and what do you see as the biggest impediment to a truly sustainable meat industry?
A sustainable meat industry has multiple facets. Yes, it involves limiting our impact on natural resources, and being cognizant about animal welfare matters and food safety, but it also incorporates the effect the industry has on employees and communities. I have a keen interest in the sustainability of the butcher and the customer who consumes the product. The well-being and safety of the employee, along with a good living wage is paramount in maintaining a sustainable meat industry. The shift from shipping sides of beef to shipping boxes of vacuum packed beef has transformed the labor practices in our industry. Employees (including butchers) have been forced into repetitive type jobs which require minimal skill or creativity. The steps between the knock and the finish can be dreary and tedious. Cross training of employees in processing plants and packing houses can go a long way in helping to foster a pride and understanding of the process. There is a renewed demand for the services of the skilled meat cutter. It is an honorable job and a dying craft. There is a shortage of the craftswo/man who is able to take a hanging carcass from the plant to portions for the plate. The key is training and education. The role of butchers (and chefs) is to learn to cut and maximize the entire carcass, and teach the consumer to appreciate cuts from the whole animal. There is an increased cost at every level to maintain a sustainable meat industry. My conversations with meat loving consumers around the country have convinced me that people are ready and willing to pay more for high quality, ethically raised and managed animals.
What does being a member of The Butcher's Guild mean to you?
Honored. Excited. Challenged. This is an important time in our industry and change is happening quickly. There is a desire to support local, sustainable farms and a healthy food system. Professionals and consumers alike are hungry for knowledge and skills regarding whole animal butchery and meat cutting. I feel Iʼve been given an opportunity to help bring back the art of butchery and in turn, quality jobs to our communities. This is my passion. I look forward to working with my colleagues on such an important movement.
Your absolute favorite cut and preparation method/recipe:
My favorite cut is the ribeye cap - not the outside blade cap, but the internal portion of the ribeye. Start by removing the blade. Follow the fat seam underneath the cartilage, trim away any heavy, unwanted fat, and remove the back-strap. At this point, you should see the fat cover of the spinalis dorsi (ribeye cap). I use my hands and feel for the seam between the longissimus dorsi (LD muscle) and the spinalis dorsi. (There is one more little gem of a muscle you will find here, it is the posterior end of the complexus. Itʼs shaped like a big chicken tenderloin. Experiment with this cut using dry heat cooking methods.) Use the pull and seam method to separate the muscles and remove the fat (use the fat to blend in to your hamburger). Finish by using your knife to completely separate the two muscles. I leave some fat on the external side, and remove the silver from the internal side.
Marinate with fresh, seasonal citrus (I like a lime and orange combination), fresh garlic, and a little pepper. Remember, this is the third most tender muscle in the carcass, so thereʼs no need to marinate for long, itʼs just for flavor. You can portion it out if you like, but I like to leave it whole and grill over wood coals. Sear over direct heat, and finish over indirect heat. Let rest for 10 minutes, slice thin on a wood carving board. Serve with fresh corn or flour tortillas, grilled jalapeno, fresh avocado, and tomatoes. Enjoy with a glass of your best tequila - neat. I call it “Tequila Solo”.