One key bit of knowledge needful if you want to eat more locally grown meat is how to use the unfamiliar cuts, and how to take apart a side of beef, or a half a pig, or a lamb. If you don’t know the basics of butchery, you won’t know that the flank steak comes from a cow’s belly, which means it’s way less tender than a ribeye if you don’t cook and carve it properly. I really think that this basic knowledge is a sort of “missing link” for dedicated local eaters who want to make best use of what they’re buying.
Vermonter Cole Ward has been butchering for more than 30 years, teaching everyone from home cooks to chefs, from ranchers to farmers, how to cut and prepare their own meat. Now Ward has released a DVD called The Gourmet Butcher which will teach you everything you need to know.
The 4-hour DVD starts with a carcass and breaks it down into primal cuts (the major muscle groups), then turns those primal cuts into retail cuts and offers suggestions to transform them into table-ready dishes. Ward’s easy-going commentary and explanations are helpful and instructive. The production values are excellent, so you can really see what he’s doing. For most home cooks, the biggest challenge may be finding a work surface large enough to handle a hog half.
You’ll need some specialty equipment if you want to master home meat cutting. Razor-sharp knives, the skill to keep them keen and a hand meat saw are the minimum. You’ll also need freezer paper and perhaps a grinder (although you can make ground meat in a food processor in small batches).
But Ward makes the task of home butchering look reasonably simple, and the DVD provides the encouragement you’ll need to give it a try.
By the way, Ward will be a presenter at the Mother Earth News FAIR in Seven Springs, Pa., Sept. 23-24. In addition to a butchering demo, he’ll answer questions, talk about the cost vs. benefits of local meat, and give insider tips on what to know and beware of in supermarket meat departments. I’ll be there, too, and I look forward to meeting him.
Photo courtesy The Gourmet Butcher