Monday, April 8, 2013

Saugatuck Craft Butchery

 Along the southern coast of Connecticut is the town of Westport. Just a minute off of Rt 95 you can find Saugatuck Craft Butchery there. The shop is located right on the Saugatuck river near the boat launch, in a very picturesque neighborhood that is currently renovating and growing. This is the definition of a small, true craft butchery shop. Every piece of meat is cut from whole carcasses and there is no boxed products to be found. The showcase is filled with fine cuts of local beef, dry aged in house; local lamb and pork, fine poultry, well made sausages, and a small but high quality selection of cheeses. The crew of five is loaded with talent including Ryan Fibiger, owner and head butcher, Paul Nessel, co-owner and butcher, Mark Hepperman, resident chef, Sam Garwin, butcher and Mike Egan, butcher. Mike and Mark are both graduates of the CIA ( I was Mike's meat instructor). Paul was a chef also and Sam is involved in the marketing end of the business but she can also cut. The crew of this shop are united in the idea of treating butchery as a craft and showcasing the entire animal in a way that is appealing and at a very high quality level for the customer.
 I was invited to teach a short class on hog butchery to the crew and some of the area chef/ customers of the store. The attendees all had some butchery skills so it was much more of a discussion of alternative styles as opposed to a lesson on basics. We talked bone structure, seam butchery and techniques for creating cuts for curing. Another issue was storage. How does a restaurant store an entire carcass? We talked about vacuum packaging and its effects on pork. The store's vacuum machine is not working right now and Ryan was actually happy about it. He finds that using the vacuum is sort of a crutch and allows you to over cut and then package everything rather than cutting to what will be sold that day, in other words, forecasting.

 Saugatuck represents the trend of artisan butcher shops that are springing up all over the nation., But theirs is the model of how to do it right. Ryan and Paul worked at Fleisher's of Kingston to help learn the craft and the ideals of that shop are evident here. Just as when students leave our classes at the CIA, they've become their own artisans. This shop has some unique touches and they are developing as they go. With all the chefs on board, you will certainly see more prepared foods in the future.
 They also offer meat cutting classes a few days a month and they have an apprenticeship program for those looking to really learn the craft. Here is their link
  Ryan has a good relationship with a lot of the local chefs and restaurants in the area. He offers that local connection that so many are looking for today. He also has good relationships with area farms and is offering a steady outlet for anyone who is growing local niche market animals.

 When you walk into this store you know right away that it is well run by folks who really care. There was no deceptive tricks, no products sold that they didn't know the origin of the animal, no fillers or artificial stuff in the sausages. The meats aren't cheap but they are really good quality and you can certainly taste the difference. The crew has a lot of cooking knowledge and is more than willing to share ideas with their customers. This shop is also starting a sandwich line which will only expand as they move into their new digs right across the street. They are hoping to start accepting CIA externs in conjunction with the Whelk restaurant that is just across the plaza and I can't wait to send some students down there.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Making the Movie

There are a lot of meat fabrication clips out there on you tube; some are very well done while others are very poor. How can a chef or butcher know which ones are worth a look? I search through a lot of them and occasionally suggest one to my students or coworkers. I've seen some horrible home movies of hog slaughter where amateurs attempt to explain how its done with very little regard for food safety etc. I've also watched industry videos that over simplify the process and sanitize the view, and focus on the equipment that is being sold. Many videos are made by other instructors in culinary schools around the country. These can be informative and might show a different style or technique. Then you have the anti-meat activists that will show some poor practices done typically at slaughter houses that are not managed well. These are meant to horrify and unfortunately will often be referred to as "industry" standards while actually they are the extreme.
 My own students will often post in-class videos which I sometimes assign as pre-class views for other students to get warmed up to the lesson. As butchers, we must realize that what we do each day, is found fascinating by many. What used to be done in farm households is now distant from what we see in most stores. Not many people will cut their own chicken breast let alone a large carcass.
 Here is a set of videos that shows how to breakdown a half hog in great detail by someone doing it in their own house. It has some good detail and well worth watching.  The cutter makes cuts that are not exactly industry style but much more of a custom style of cutting that many small shops are doing today. Some of the techniques are a little out of the norm but part of butchery is developing your own style. Check it out!