Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Butcher's Guild Hall of Butchers

As more of our charter members join, The Guild will be honoring esteemed colleagues of its ranks by gifting special membership to its Hall of Butchers. These are butchers and meat scholars with deep experience and unquestionable authority who take a strong stand for education. These experts strongly represent the tenets of the Butcher’s Guild oath, particularly, the “hand” and “voice” elements. As the gatekeeper’s to a wealth of knowledge and history of this trade, they do much to further and improve it by passing their skills on to others. They shape the industry and exemplify the lifelong mastery of skill that defines the craft of whole animal butchery. We believe this vast experience and proven leadership in this industry warrants a special designation among the cutters, curers and creators of The Butcher’s Guild.

We are proud to introduce our very first Hall of Butchers inductee, Dr. Gregg Rentfrow, Professor & Extension Meat Specialist at the University of Kentucky. As mentioned in this post about the Carolina Meat Conference, Dr. Gregg Rentfrow was one of the most outstanding folks we had the pleasure of meeting and working with. Tia, Marissa and I were in awe of the calm and relaxed way in which Dr. Gregg not only possesses immense knowledge of meat science but the personable and approachable way in which he shares it. We were rapt with attention as he taught classes right next to our teaching area. Often one of us saying to the other, “Did you just hear that?” or “Hmm, I didn’t know that” as we listened through the curtains separating our "classrooms". Everything from great information about the effect of bandsaws on myoglobin to the best jokes we heard all weekend, one might say the Guild was more than captivated by Dr. Rentfrow’s presence at the conference. Personally, Dr. Rentfrow inspires me to continue seeking a more academic approach to the industry and ways to improve it. A dedicated and long educational journey to dig deep into this complex field of study combined with the applied theory and practical base of real experience cutting is the holy grail in my book.

Dr. Gregg was just given the Outstanding Service to Kentucky’s Beef Industry Award by Kentucky Cattlemen’s Association and the American Meat Science Association honored him with their Achievement Award. Dr. Rentfrow is active in the American Meat Science Association, the American Society of Animal Science, the National Country Ham Association, the Mid-State Meat Processors Association and the Kentucky Country Ham Producers Association. Dr. Gregg’s coolness runs even deeper! When he’s not teaching the next generation of industry professionals or working to improve the industry as a whole, you can find him riding his Harley-Davidson and competing in powerlifting meets throughout the Southeast and the Midwest.

The Butcher’s Guild humbly introduces our first Hall of Butchers Member, Dr. Gregg Rentfrow.
Interview by BG Co-founder Tia Harrison.

Dr. Gregg Rentfrow, Ph.D.
University of Kentucky

How long have you been a butcher and where did you get your start?

I started in 1987 in the meat department of the local IGA in my hometown of Shelbyville, IL. I started at the bottom, grinding hamburger and helping the cutters package, overwrap, and label everything. Eventually I worked my way up to a meat cutter, head meat cutter, assistant meat market manager, meat market manager, and zone meat manager for three different retail companies. I ended my retail career with Wal-Mart Supercenters, during the time of the initial explosion of those stores. There, I trained other meat cutters and helped open the new stores. I even served as Interim Meat Lab Manager at Mizzou while working on my Ph.D.

Tell us about what you do now, how did you become a meat scientist?

My appointment at the University of Kentucky is 80% Extension, 20% Teaching. I work closely with the meat industry in Kentucky and the Southeast, which includes everyone from the small, family owned custom butcher shops to the large meat processors harvesting 1200 pigs an hour. Kentucky may be famous for fast horses and smooth bourbon, but we are also know for our country hams. We have several country ham curers that produce products that can be found throughout the Southeast.

I have two major marquee programs, the University of Kentucky Meat Cutting School and the Food Systems Innovation Center. We have trained over 300 retail meat cutters, over 50 foodies, and over 100 chefs at the UK Meat Cutting School. The Food Systems Innovation Center is geared to provide affordable research and development for small and medium sized food entrepreneurs. We are still in the beginnings of this program, but so far we have helped over 50 products make it to the market place or expand into larger markets.

How I became a meat scientist; originally I wanted to follow in my dad’s footsteps and teach high school agriculture, but the draw of meats kept sucking me back in. I went to junior college, dropped out for a couple years, went back to salvage my GPA enough to transfer to the University of Illinois and major in Animal Science with a Meat Science specialty. I earned my masters in meat science at the U of I, researching the effects of feeding high levels of vitamin D and E on beef quality. After my MS, I transferred to the University of Missouri and earned my PhD in Meat Science and Muscle Biology by studying the effects of postmortem glycogen metabolism on meat quality. I graduated in 1997 with my BS and earned my PhD in 2005, so it has been a long road to become a meat scientist.

What do you think about the current media hype and attention on butchery, butchers and meat in general?

Someone told me that butchers were the new celebrity chefs and the new sex symbol of the food industry. I told the guys in the meats lab about the sex symbol part and they are planning a calendar for next year. I think the old is new again; people are becoming more interested in food and wanting to know more about their food. I feel the biggest challenge facing us in the meat industry is destroying the vast amount of misleading information and internet rumors about meat. I’ve heard some really crazy things over the years, from the ridiculous to the asinine. Regardless of what the media and the internet says, we produce the most wholesome, safest meat and food supply in the world. We have other countries coming to America to learn our food safety regulations and practices. I have trained several people for several different countries on safe food handling and HACCP. I think we need to tell our story and address this misinformation.

What do you believe is the role butchers in the movement for a sustainable food system and what do you see as the biggest impediment to a truly sustainable meat industry?

We are in an unique time in our history; we have more disposable income to spend on a wider variety of foods than ever before. As I said before the old is new, and a well trained, artistic butcher can only help to accelerate the local meat movement and the world meat movement. When I say a well trained, artistic butcher, I mean someone who knows how to properly cook a piece of meat and can recommend a good recipe, knows the science behind the meat, and takes enough pride in their craft that each piece of meat looks like it jumped off of a magazine cover. This is what we need for the meats industry, regardless of local, sustainable, or global. There’s room on the table for everyone; we need the artistic butchers to remind us of what meat can be and we need the large guys to feed the world.

What does being an honored member of The Butcher's Guild mean to you?

I’m not a wordsmith and my wife will tell you that I don’t communicate my feelings very well, but when I say that words cannot explain the honor, I mean it. It was so great to meet people with the same goal that I have, which is to bring back the local, knowledgeable, respectable butcher. Fictional characters like Sam the butcher (Brady Bunch) or Alex the butcher (Kroger) come to mind when I think of this person. And I feel we are bringing back these images. Hopefully we can remove the image of guy in a red stained apron with the mean look on his face. I really believe in what the Butcher’s Guild is doing and I am extremely humbled by being an honored member.

Your absolute favorite cut and preparation method/recipe:

Favorite cut… tough one for a fat guy to narrow down. You cannot go wrong with a well marbled beef top loin steak, cut a butcher’s inch thick, lightly seasoned with salt, fresh ground black pepper, and garlic powder, cooked on the grill just to the point where a good vet cannot save it. I have been experimenting with smoking these cuts in my new smokehouse at home with some tasty results. Or a good slice of country ham cooked 45 seconds to a minute per side on the grill. As you can see, I’m very much for lightly seasoned and not over cooked, we over season and cook everything

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Meet The Butcher's Guild!

Angela Wilson
Avedano’s Holly Park Market - Owner
San Francisco, CA

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 have been a cook since I was 20 years old. I have been a butcher since I was 40 years old. I opened Avedano's when I was 37 years old with a cook's knowledge of meat, using my intuition about what is right. I wanted to sell meat I feel good about selling. Utilizing and selling whole animals is the best way Avedano's can support small farmers in our area while at the same time helping to create a great dinner in our customer's homes.

What do you think about the current media hype and attention on butchery, butchers and meat in general?

I THINK people want to know where their food comes from. I think people are ready to face the fact that meat is an animal, who once lived. I think people are hungry, thinking past the supermarket and neatly packaged cuts to life on a farm. These farms are struggling, butcher shops are struggling, everybody is struggling, they can relate. I don't know if the interest in meat and animals and butchering would be possible during the boom of dot com; with this bad economy, it is back to the basics of life.

What do you believe is the role 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 butcher can dedicate her/himself to small farms, using whole animals. A butcher can educate the customer about different cuts so it doesn't matter if you use shanks or neck or shoulder in a recipe. At Avedano's, we cut two lambs a week so we have to recommend alternatives. Lack of a local slaughter house is a big stumbling block for sustainable meat. Also, as a butcher shop owner, it is not economical to cut and sell sides of beef, we break even.

What does being a member of The Butcher's Guild mean to you?

Being a member of the Butcher's Guild means being part of a community of like-minded people who want small farms to thrive, small business to thrive and to live a life worth living.

Your absolute favorite cut and preparation method/recipe:

Lamb neck:

Peeled and cleaned. Oven 400 degrees. Rub with a tiny bit olive oil, salt, pepper and place in dutch oven for 2-3 hours. Fall off the bone delicious.

Short, simple and to the point, that lamb neck recipe sounds incredible! Thanks, Angela!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Meet The Butcher's Friday Feast!

Tia Harrison
Co-founder of The Butcher’s Guild
Executive Chef at Sociale
Owner of Avedano’s Holly Park Market
San Francisco, CA

What does being the founder The Butcher's Guild mean to you?

Co-Founding The Butcher's Guild has been an amazingly inspirational experience. The Guild was created to do what guilds do. To create a support system for meat professionals, to preserve the craft of butchery and to adhere to a moral code. To create rewards and recognition for our heritage, integrity and community is where I want to spend my energy and passion. I often think about the fact that most of the people who are butchering right now are doing it because they want to give their customers tastier, more nourishing meat. They want to use their hands to create something really special and support a farmer that is doing it right. These things deserve consumer support and I feel we need to help create that. The Guild's purpose is natural and genuine and reveals itself to me through every conversation, experience and friend I make in the industry.

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 am Executive Chef and co-owner of Sociale Restaurant, and co-owner of Avedano's, a neighborhood butcher shop. I started butchering when we opened Avedano's. I spent six months freezing in a walk-in cooler "working" it out. I had no idea what I was in for, but I had years of working with the end result in my restaurant. All I had to do is figure out how to put it back together in my mind, then break it down and make it look better, right? Not quite. I am really lucky, I have had many great teachers. I have massive respect for butchers and cutters and I will always remain on the path of continuing to educate myself.

When I started cooking fifteen years ago, consumers were not asking questions about where their food came from. My shift to working with more "sustainable" meats came about as a natural result of constantly working to hone in on the best, most delicious products available and tell my customers where they came from.

What do you think about the current media hype and attention on butchery, butchers and meat in general?

I think consumers want to be able to make choices and have sufficient information to do so. The many years prior, void of this knowledge, just didn't feel right. Now discerning consumers are asking better questions. As butchers, we play a big role in getting this information to our customers. We are in the position to create consumer trust through honest labeling and product education. We can help our customers try new cuts of meat or preparations. I think it's huge and deserves attention.

What do you believe is the role butchers in the movement for a sustainable food system and what do you see as the biggest impediment to a truly sustainable meat industry?

I believe one of the most important roles of being a butcher now is consumer education. I think it is paramount to the success of professionals who source and break animals from small, local farms. We are dealing with an industry of unforgiving margins and short shelf life. We really need to focus on the details, crunch the numbers to ensure that we are profitable and use all of the animal. Consumers need to understand why it costs more to shop with a local butcher than at a chain supermarket. And more importantly, why it matters.

Your absolute favorite cut and preparation method/recipe:

It depends on the meal. I really can't say that I love flap meat or skirt steak better than, say, pork shoulder because that would make me a liar. I will say I love to quick grill and braise though- either cook it fast and rare, or slow and soft. Sounds like me: no middle ground.

Thanks tons, Tia! I’ve actually got a nice pork shoulder recipe for today’s Friday Feast!

Just as Tia said, pork shoulder is all about “slow and soft”. This melt in your mouth braised shoulder will make great pulled pork if you let it go long enough, if you’d prefer a sliceable roast, simply pull the shoulder out when it reaches an internal temp of 160 degrees F and allow to rest before cutting to keep in all those luscious juices! I've tried it with all types of whiskey and this floral/herbal rub is always a hit!

Woodland Herb Pork Shoulder

5-6 lbs bone-in pork shoulder
1 tsp. chopped pine needles, from the green tips of new growth.
1 tbs. lavender
1 tbs. juniper berries
1/2 tsp ground star anise
1 tbs fresh sage
1/3 c. maple syrup
1 tbs. kosher salt
white pepper

whiskey-maple glaze for basting-
1/3 c. maple syrup
2 tbs. whiskey
pinch lavender
pinch pepper

May be marinated up to 3 days, the longer the better. Place shoulder in large bowl or on large baking sheet. Pour maple syrup over entire shoulder, making sure to get in all crevices. In a small bowl, mix kosher salt and all other ingredients, rub on shoulder in same manner as maple syrup. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 12-36 hours.

Remove from fridge and allow to return to near room temp while oven heats to 350 degrees. Once shoulder has lost its chill, heat a large preferably cast-iron skillet. If you do not have a pan that can go from stove to oven, you'll need both a skillet and roasting pan.

Heat the skillet on medium-high and when hot, place shoulder in pan fat side down and sear to a dark caramel. Sear on both sides then place shoulder fat side up. Baste with small amount of glaze. Move skillet from the stove to the oven, or move to roasting pan and then oven if necessary. Roast to an internal temp of 160 degrees F, about 2.5 hours. If you would like more of a pulled pork consistency, roast to 190-200 degrees F. During last hour of roasting, baste shoulder in glaze every 10-15 minutes. Baste with remainder of glaze immediately upon removing from oven. Let rest 10 minutes before carving. Serve with veggie sides and a starch, or make a nice herbaceous twist on a pulled pork sammy by whipping up a tangy mustard-vinegar sauce and slapping all this goodness on a fresh roll with slaw.


Thursday, April 7, 2011

Meet The Butcher's Guild!

I am so happy to post this introduction!
Meet Marissa Guggiana, co-founder of Butcher's Guild!

Marissa Guggiana
Berkeley, CA

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 began running Sonoma Direct, a USDA-inspected wholesale meat processor, in 2005. I am not a butcher myself but know well the challenges and rewards of the meat industry through running a business, trying to make a profit and make a difference. When we opened, we were only butchering large quantities of imported meat and selling cuts to hotels in Vegas, by the truckload. My curiosity and conscience led us to a model of working only with local farms and customers.

What do you think about the current media hype and attention on butchery, butchers and meat in general?

Fascination is a good thing. It can only help to make a permanent shift in our eating habits. Butchery is hard work and requires a great deal of skill and intelligence to be profitable. Renewed appreciation for this work is appropriate and heartening.

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?

Our food system has centralized for reasons that are hard to combat- financially and logistically, it makes sense to centralize, if you are going to feed a large population cheaply. But, as anyone who studies systems understands, diversity is important- in business and in nature. We need alternative routes to nourishment and we need these local food systems to be viable for everyone on the food chain. Butchers are the key to getting meat from farms to tables. They hold the knowledge to turn animals into protein and to instruct us in how to prepare that meat. So many of us have lost the will or knowledge to cook and butchers are helping to restore that knowledge.

What does being a member of The Butcher's Guild mean to you?

Starting The Butcher's Guild is the dream of being able to support all the talented and committed butchers and meat pros. When I was writing Primal Cuts: Cooking With America's Best Butchers, i learned so much about the struggles of others'. Even many of our most famous and inventive meat people are challenged to make money and stay afloat. I want this industry to be here in ten years! I hope The Butcher's Guild will have a hand in distributing the collective wisdom and solutions so that we can all thrive.

Your absolute favorite cut and preparation method/recipe:

The best cut is the one I am eating! I like to spread the love around. But when it comes to cooking at home, I love shoulders- beef chuck, pork butt and lamb shoulder. I am a braiser and relish the cuts that can stand up to the long heat.

Thanks, Marissa! Can't wait to get Tia's intro up as well!
It's finally time for another Friday Feast! I've got a good one for tomorrow that would fit right into Marissa's favorite cuts category.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

That Dog'll Hunt.

Last Sunday, I posted a quick blurb from the Carolina Meat Conference in Concord, North Carolina. I’m back with a little more on our incredible weekend!

Tia and Marissa were waiting by baggage claim when I met up with them after we’d all taken red-eye flights. I had just flown from Seattle, where I had enjoyed a 22-hour visit home from New York for my anniversary before hopping on the plane to North Carolina. As I counted that morning, I had been in 4 airports, 6 times in 3 time zones in less than 48 hours. I didn’t know which way was up, most of the sleep I had gotten in the previous day or two was on airplanes. It was 7 am on a sunny North Carolina morning and we were driving not to crash in our comfy hotel beds, but to the convention center to set up for a weekend of butchery classes-I knew we were in for a hell of a weekend.

We arrived at the Cabarrus Convention Center, met up with Casey McKissick of NC Choices, who, as coordinator of the conference, had put together 3 days of classes, panel discussions, demonstrations, food vendors, accommodations-I’m sure I’m leaving out a dozen other shoes Casey filled in producing this successful conference focused on local, pastured meats in only 3 months! Casey showed us around the space and we immediately got to work putting up tables and deciding on the flow of our classes.

We had 9 hogs, 11 lambs, a side of beef and a few cases of chicken to spread across 3 butchery classes where 25 students would be taking home meat and 2 meals for about 200 people each. I love kitchen math! We stacked and restacked the lambs. We climbed over whole and halved hogs weighing from 40 to 285 pounds, attempting to organize the carcasses in a way that would keep this shuffling to a minimum over the weekend. In order to do all this, there was quite a bit of jenga to be played with the carcasses in the reefer van that was parked right near the entrance to our area.

BBQ master Bill Eason then popped in for a chat about which of the hogs he’d need and how he wanted the beef and pork cut down the next morning. We’d be putting 2 whole Red Wattles and a few extra cuts of pork from our classes, a lamb, the side of beef and a few chickens up for smoking for the two meals. We were all struck with Bill’s demeanor, he was just the kind of meat guy we were hoping to meet on our trip. A portly man with bushy white facial hair, a great sense of humor and a cigar for style points. Bill is a decorated master of the pit. He is a board member of the North Carolina Barbecue Society and has led his Little Red Pig Team to over 100 awards in competitions all over with his self-built trailer that fits several whole animals and cuts at once. After taking a few photos with Bill and hounding him with questions about his badass portable smoker, we went back inside to see what else needed to be done before we went to check-in to our hotels.

Tia Harrison and the great Bill Eason.

Berlin and Marissa and The Little Red Pig

Remember, we’ve all come from an all night flight and are running on fumes. We were fading a bit, but Bill’s gruffly jovial personality perked us up before we went inside and then Tia saved the day by figuring out a place in the cavernous convention center to hang the chains for the sides of beef that would be used in the next day’s processing classes. Riding on waves of sleep-deprived delirium and jetlag, the rush of meeting new people and the anticipation of what the weekend would hold, we went outside to sit in the sun and take it all in. It was about one in the afternoon, were we done for the day? We were at that place where you aren’t sure if you should keep going until you drop or throw in the towel for the day. As we wavered, Casey came out and sat next to us on the bench. “How ya’ll feelin?”, he asked.

We were just starting to manage an enthused rumble, when Casey continued to say he hoped we could last just a bit more, because, he added, “at four o’clock, you’re all going to be going 160 mph around a race track”.

We looked at each other, Tia and I obviously a little more excited than Marissa about this surprise. We got the details for our Nascar experience and went to check in to our hotels, passing the Charlotte Motor Speedway just a mile or so before the hotels. We had exactly one hour to check-in, shower, nap, eat or do anything we’d been dreaming of since arriving that morning. I went with some blogging, a shower and cable TV. I think Marissa managed a disco nap. We met at the rental car at 330pm and the butterflies were aflutter as we drove back toward the track.

I know, I am young. I’ve got the cheeks and dimples of a 12-year-old, but I am fast approaching the very last year of my twenties! So, when the woman at the gate passed the releases to Marissa and Tia and began to give them instruction on how to sign for the minor in the car, it was not unexpected, it was more than hilarious. The gate attendant apologized with Southern charm as we laughed and thanked her. We parked and went in to get suited up and sign our lives away.

L to R: Marissa Guggiana, Tia Harrison and Berlin Reed just before Nascar.

Top: Marissa after Nascar. Bottom: Tia after Nascar.

After Nascar, sleep was as foreign an idea as driving at only 60 mph. We were all grinning ear-to-ear and the warm sun was just the icing on the cake as we drove away from the speedway. Margaritas were now the goal, and they were found at a sort of cheesy Mexican place we spotted out solely because of its outdoor seating. A pitcher of ‘ritas and spread of appetizers later, we were ready for bed. FINALLY.

The real work started Friday morning, the first day of the conference. The three of us started the day by cutting down all of the cuts coming from Dr. Gregg Rentfrow’s processing class. A professor in University of Kentucky’s Animal & Food Sciences Department, Dr. Rentfrow holds a doctorate in Meat Science and Muscle Biology. He had the three of us hanging on every word we could catch in between cutting and Tia decided right then to make a point of picking his brain for the rest of the weekend. We were swamped in meat and getting nervous about time. Luckily, we had the help of local food folks, Drew Brown of Farmhand Foods and Sarah Blacklin, manager of the Carrboro Farmer’s Market. They were our right hand people all weekend and we couldn’t have done a thing without them. We all cut and cut until just before our first class, which was scheduled to start at 2pm. Tia and I did a quick lamb breakdown for the local TV station and then we got ourselves ready to teach our first class.

Processors, farmers, chefs, consumers, butchers and others in the industry had all registered for the conference. We’d be teaching classes geared toward home butchers the first two days and then Craig Deihl was to lead a chef-specific class the last day of the conference. This group teaching experience was new for all of us, as it was the first Butcher’s Guild class. It went better than any of us could have imagined, and was a reminder of exactly why this guild is going to be so transformative. This was the Hand and Voice tenets of the oath in action.

Through teaching these classes, we are bettering our trade, connecting with the community and improving our own skills as butchers. For 3 days, 4 butchers from 4 very different backgrounds, who work in very different areas of the industry and geographically, were teaching people how to break down whole animals. It was amazingly educational for everyone involved. We all had something to teach and to learn. Craig is a celebrated chef who is known for coming up with all kinds of insanely ingenious ways to use every part of the animal in his restaurants. Marissa is a 4th generation USDA processor and author who has had the pleasure of meeting butchers all over the country, I likewise travel around doing local foods-centric whole animal dinners and other events solo and in collaboration with chefs and farmers. Tia runs a restaurant and co-owns a butcher shop. These are all overlapping but separate experiences from which to give instruction. We all have cutting styles that differ a little because we use our animals differently. It was really quite eye opening to teach in this setting. We sort of circled the groups of students, supporting each other in a very natural and seamless way. I sniff a butchery school forming...

Remembering what it was like watching all of these novices jump into cutting down whole animals for the first time, I think back to cutting my first whole animal a few years ago in the shop in Brooklyn I where I picked up this trade. In this early period of my butchery training, I was only beginning to learn about sourcing and knew only that the pastured goat I named “Billy” had come from a farm in upstate New York. It would take me many more months to gain the knowledge needed to start a business that reflected my personal ethics, but working at this counter with Bryan Mayer (my mentor butcher, now at Fleisher’s) is where I began to form those moral codes. I did not have an opportunity to see Billy’s farm, nor did I meet him while he was alive, both of which are practices central to The Ethical Butcher dinners now. In those early post-vegetarian days, I didn’t even know visiting the farm where my animals came from was an option.

Billy’s rose and ivory marbled carcass lie there in wait. With tingling ears and throbbing heart, I looked into his eyes as if I were waiting for approval or permission, or hesitant about doing this while he watched. Not until I slaughtered my first animal would I feel so personally accountable for the life lost in order to feed us. Roughly the size of my border collie, the naked goat carcass was a humbling and sobering presence. The horns had been sawed off, but there were two little stubs left. I was a medic before entering the food world and can never resist a bit of anatomy and physiology when I break down whole animals. Studying the cilia of the ear canal and comically crooked teeth before severing tendons and ligaments, anatomy becomes gastronomy.

Lower on the body, I held open the cavity created when the entrails are removed. There two kidneys hung by dense, fatty tissue from the spine, and the liver and heart rested inside the ribcage. With two small cuts, the kidneys were free and I placed the offal in a bowl. I began counting vertebrae of the neck, using the side of my thumb to palpate the evenly spaced mounds of bone cushioned by bands of muscle stained deep red from the carcass being bled out.


I picked up my boning knife and began cutting. Making quick passes straight through until I hit the spine, I prepared the path for my bone saw to follow. The rest of the body held firmly to the board with my left hand, I sawed through the spinal column and set the head aside. I positioned it so that it faced away from the rest of the body (it did still have its eyes after all). It felt morbid to have it watching me, tongue hanging to one side as I cut the rest of its body. Reaching inside the body cavity I counted again, making a cut between the last two ribs, up eight more and again just before the pelvis. Sliced from spine to belly in three places, the carcass resembled a bear claw pastry, each primal cut nearing amputation. The bone saw returned to aid in the secession of each primal. With each cut, I felt more accomplished in abolishing the squeamish vegetarian inside. The grace of this craft is addictive as it is centering. There’s a calm focus and relaxed elegance required in butchery that belies the blood and guts that are more obvious. That dance of power and control takes years to master, and I felt the muscle memories taking root that day. With the grunt work behind me, now came the act of turning those rough cuts into gorgeous rib racks, neatly tied leg and a loin roast. A selection of offal, shanks and stew meat rounded out the yield and two very happy New Yorkers took home local goat for the first time.

We had a few students comment the next day about how they had prepared their chops and boneless half chickens with a similar pride as I felt that day. After our class on Saturday, I took some much needed time to collect my thoughts and prepare for the panel discussion I’d been eagerly awaiting. The panel was titled “Facing Ethical Issues in a Growing Market” and I was to address the challenges and opportunities for improving transparency & addressing ethical issues in this industry. The panel ended up shifting focus a bit as it took place in reality, though. The conversation took on a life of its own with audience participation and we quickly found ourselves discussing the role of labeling and regulations in ensuring food quality.

As I travel the country with a bag of knives, a few bucks in my pocket and little else, I have the opportunity to observe, document and collaborate with folks working all over the country. One big problem, as the conversation exposed, is that USDA Organic is effectively the only regulated term that customers have to relate to higher quality foods and products. However, those standards are often questionable in intent and problematic in application. They focus far too much on only a few elements of the question. The trend is that consumers and in fact, many of us in the industry, no longer look to that label as the gold stamp. Many of us have lost confidence in it and the label now risks losing even more relevance as large agribusiness was recently allowed to introduce GMO alfalfa to our food system. When the ethics of the very bodies deciding what is healthy and what is not are in question, the entire system is off balance and consumers are left wondering where to put their faith, where to turn for real answers, seeking transparency. I see butchers as that intermediary between farmer and consumer. Not as a wall between the two, but as a conduit, connecting them. When there is a butcher in every neighborhood, a vibrant farmer’s market, meat CSA’s, and other alternatives to the nameless meat that only gives us labels to rely on, that is when we will see a true change in our meat system. It is these relationships that make transparency the foundation. We have to start seeking the balance between our advances and our undoing.

The room was packed with people who are proud to work hard to bring healthy food to the market, often barely making ends meet because they are unable to recoup the real costs of their products. Those who co-opt this movement and the unregulated language used to describe our practices not only hurt all of us by eroding the terms we’ve been left with, “local” “sustainable” “artisan”, but they add insult by poisoning the well of trust we all have to build with our customers. This lipservice not only harms those putting in the hard work and risk it takes to actually live up to those claims, but creates an elitism that is a disservice to the very movement itself.

The conversation was a great example of the completely disparate voices coming to the table to solve the problems we face. The point wasn’t to come to any sort of conclusion, but rather to open lines of communication. I sincerely hope to engage in more discussions like these. The oath of Butcher’s Guild helps us to form a sort of moral code that can remind us how to conduct ourselves and our businesses with pride. By upholding integrity in relationships with local farmers and consumers, highlighting whole animal butchery, continuing to improve and learn in this industry and in turn passing that experience to the community, we can encourage a healthier food system. Sitting on that panel as a representative of Butcher’s Guild was a humbling honor.

Our second day ended with a mixer we hosted at the Speedway Club, overlooking the rack we had been zooming around the day before. Just before hitting the road for the night, a person we had been chatting with all weekend came up to chat with the us BG folks. The four of us were gathered ‘round as he introduced himself as “ The Best G-D Meatcutter in the WORLD”. With whiskey eyes, he stared dead on for about a minute, waiting for one of us to challenge him. Instead, we invited him to help us cut meat the next day!

Full on exhaustion had definitely set in by Sunday but we continued with the butchery class for chefs, taught by BG charter member Craig Deihl. I took a break from teaching on Sunday to do a little liveblogging from the conference, got a chance to mill around and engage in more personal conversations and checked out a really interesting outdoor demo on stress-free cattle handling. Unfortunately, “The Best G-D Meatcutter in the World” was unable to come help us. I am hoping to run into him on my future travels.

We all gathered for goodbyes and photos after Craig’s class was over and Tia, Marissa and I headed back to our hotel. Our brains and bodies worn out from 3 days of non-stop meat action, we were as celebratory as our collective energy would allow -- 7 hours of Law & Order over local microbrews , just the clink, clink of glasses we needed. I dropped Tia and Marissa off at the airport Monday morning and had until Tuesday night before I caught my flight back. I just got back to Portland after more than 2 months of travel. Wow, is my head spinning!

It was beyond fun and more than an honor to accompany Butcher’s Guild founders on this trip to North Carolina! The Guild is here to stay and this very first public event was only the beginning. The fine folks we met that weekend are like us, interested in working on a new food system. As we form this web of people not with like minds, but similar goals, we creating just such as system.

I’m expecting more photos soon! Thanks to NC Choices for hosting Butcher’s Guild! Everyone involved in this conference worked tirelessly over the last few months, and a beautiful community educational experience was the result. The Butcher’s Guild looks forward not only to attending and sponsoring more events like the Carolina Meat Conference, but we also have schemes to get all you meat heads in one place for unmatched and unabashedly meaty Butcher’s Guild events!

On another exciting note...

The Butcher’s Guild is also proud to announce the GRAND OPENING of Lindy & Grundy in LA. Owned and run by Butcher’s Guild charter members Amelia Posada and Erika Nakamura, we wish them all the best as they bring local, pastured meats to the people of Los Angeles!! We hope to get their member intros up, but as you can imagine, they are busy ladies!

If you are in the area, check them out here!