learning about meat

Last night we attended a lecture/demonstration regarding meat butchering. We started with 1/2 a pig (the right side) and learned how all the cutting happens from there and about the different cuts and uses.

We learned some new details about the meat processing industry. There are two main functions of meat processing, slaughter (killing and cutting the animal into 1/2 or 1/4) and “fabrication” (creating the actual cuts of meat that the consumer purchases and cooks). Due to assembly-line meat processing and standardization of cuts, there are very people who know how to fabricate from a whole animal and understand all of the options and how best to use every part of the animal.

A great example is that 5 years ago when Jamey started buying 1/2 pigs from independent slaughterhouses, they just cut off and composted the head and feet of the animal (because they were dirty and the slaughterhouse didn’t want to wash them because they felt they were low value. Much as Jamey asked, he could not get feet for his customers and he could not get the jowls. The jowls are used to make guanciale, which is used like bacon or pancetta, but has more flavor. Given the growing interest in local and sustainable food, custom cut meat is easier to get now. But the lack of independent slaughterhouses is still a huge problem. There is only one in Massachusetts and one in New Hampshire. And there is no school in the US to train people in meat cutting.

Another example is that in Italy, they use the eye round, not the tenderloin, for carpaccio.

The event was sponsored by Garden of Eden Restaurant and Lionette’s Market. The meat they sell and serve is butchered (by Adam) in their kitchen from a 1/2 cow and whole pig each week. He cuts the meat differently based on the season and special events. In the winter generally, the bottom round and other tougher cuts are offered for braising. Jamey sees braising meat as the proper accompaniment to winter vegetables like parsnips and rutabegas. (We actually prefer to roast these vegetables and we braise the meat all on its own.) In the summer (and during football events), the market gets more demand for sausage, so they cut those braising meats for sausage.

Because pork can be preserved so many ways, it is much more versatile than beef and provides a greater range of flavors. Because pork has more flavor, it is sometimes mixed with less flavorful meat. For example, veal sausage often has pork fatback (back fat) included. Pork fatback is what is used to make regular lard. It’s also used to make lardons. Lardons are cured slices of fatback. Last night, Jamey’s brother deep fried them and tossed them with parsley and garlic. Wow! Lard is really popular again. Jamey said he was so embarrassed that his market, one of the few that proudly makes and sells lard in Boston, actually ran out of lard at Thanksgiving. (See previous post on lard )

Preserved meats can be brined, cured, and/or smoked. Many preserved meats have a combination of these techniques:
Salami: Sausage that is cured (one NY company in the US does air-cured meats and had to spend $750K proving to the federal government the power of salt to protect us from bacteria). All other air-cured meat in the US, including imports, has been irradiated or treated in some other way.
Bacon and guanciale are brined and then smoked.
Pancetta is just brined from 11+ weeks.

The teacher was Adam Tiberio (http://www.TheMeatRoom.com or adam_tiberio [at] hotmail dot com). He was an English literature major (Summa Cum Laude) and found himself working in the meat department at Whole Foods. He took an interest in meat cutting and started studying. Now he works at one of the only USDA certified custom cutting operations in New England (Lemay & Sons, Goffstown NH). He’s very young and hopefully one of a new generation of artisanal butchers.

Adam is available for lectures at universities regarding culinary applications of different cuts, sausage and curing, boning and trimming techniques, and fabrication. He also works with chefs who want to cut down animals themselves.