When the air grows crisp and cool, and we're having fires in the fireplace more evenings than not, I know that it's about time to re-stock the freezer.
Mind you: it's a big freezer. This takes some planning.
Last year, we bought two whole pigs. The process went like this:
- I called a dairy farmer in our village that I had met and done some earlier business with.
- I asked him if he knew anybody that was selling meat wholesale. You know, since he's in the farm community.
- He mentioned that he just happened to be raising two pigs.
- Awesome. Lemme have some of that pig action, my friend.
- I never once fed the pigs, washed the pigs, or cleaned up pig poop.
- The pigs were transported to the slaughter house without my participation, where I first met their clean, fresh carcasses, and started the whole processing, um, well, process.
It was a beautiful arrangement, with the all-in price of about 2 and a half bucks/pound. We did, however, end up with a hell of a lot of pork. Pork chops. Pork ribs. Bacon. Ham. Pancetta. Sausage. Pulled Pork. You name it. That's a lot of pig, even spaced out over the course of a year.
So this year, when it came time to call my farmer buddy, I told him that even though I was going to buy and handle both pigs again, I was only going to keep one (another friend down the road wanted the other one). I was in the market for something different to fill out my freezer. Lamb. Beef. Something.
"Well! I just happened to buy some beef-steers this year, to round out my dairy herd!"
Holy crap. Everybody needs to make friends with a farmer. Sign me up, farmer-buddy.
Once again, I never met any of the animals alive. Don't get me wrong, I'm not terribly squeamish about it at this point. I just didn't see the need to make a special trip to pet my dinner. It would probably have upset some of the parents who were bringing their toddlers by the farm to pet the cute little animals if I happened to mention it while I was there.
Still, I do want to offer a shout out to the amazing family that's running Great Brook dairy farm (my meat dealer, as it were). It's a beautiful place and an amazing resource just a couple of miles down the road. In addition to meat-on-the-hoof, they also make some pretty kick-ass ice cream. Stop by if you get the chance.
Last year, the arrangement of all the necessary logistics was a pretty major headache. I had never done this before and needed to look everything up from scratch, with a lot of asking questions of people involved. Who the hell slaughters whole animals? Turns out: not many are allowed to. You need to be registered by the state. And most of those that are only deal in furry creatures bound for plastic wrap in your neighborhood Shops-A-Lot.
This year, I learned from my previous exercise, and had everything arranged well in advance. Our slaughterhouse is a quaint little place that is named after the family that's owned it for several generations. I couldn't make this place up if I tried.
With more in the queue this year, I called ahead to ask if two pigs and a steer (which ends up in quarters) would fit in the back of my pick up truck. These animals weighed in at between 250-300 pounds apiece (the hogs) and a shocking 1,174 pounds (the steer) while 'on the hoof' (i.e. still oinking and mooing).
Ok, I know that they lose some parts along the way, but I kept trying to picture fitting a bull and two hogs in the back of my truck, and coming up with some pretty scary mental images of the state of my old pick up at the end.
Turns out, I needn't have worried. The sum of the parts is less than the sum of the whole(s). In other words: meat parts stack better than you'd think.
Somehow, in my excitement to see the steer, I managed to completely miss taking pictures of the pigs. Oh well. I give you last year's picture, just so you know what I missed.
Even better, though, look at the beautiful cuts of beef that had been grazing just a day or two before that I did manage to capture as they came out.
And look! Here the Critter holding the steer's heart and tongue! (they're shockingly heavy).
Note: I figure one of my roles as a parent is to ensure that when she's in group therapy, she's got the best stories of the bunch.
Best of all, perhaps, is that this year I had asked our butcher, Mike if I could, you know, maybe participate a little bit more in the processing of our animal? I really wanted to get to know more about where some of my favorite cuts (ribeye, hanger steak, flank steak) sit in relation to other cuts, and how the whole thing was broken down.
Mike's a stud, and readily agreed.
Here's Mike getting things ready.
And then Mike got us all down to business. Laying out the seams, tugging out the suet, finding the good cuts that we could handle without turning into (really expensive) hamburger. Mike showed a tremendous amount of both patience with all my questions, and passion for what he does. Truly, there is artistry in anything done well with skill. And Mike is an artist.
Look! One on my own! (a very rare moment)
Where was the Critter, and how was she handling all of this meaty fun, you ask? Not at all squeamish, I answer. She was operating the camera for those last few shots. But she was just as ready to pitch in.
Soon, Mike had her hands on and a full participant. This was her final test - prepping a flank steak.
Check out that grip. And that smile of real pleasure at being a part of the day.
We hung two quarters in the cooler, where they'll mature and dry age for a further two weeks and then be broken down in a similar fashion. Only aged. And, you know, beefier.
Dry-aged beef is the stuff they have in the special case in the back of Whole Foods that the rookies aren't allowed near. And we've got a half-cow worth of our own!
At the end of the evening, I ended up bringing a few choice cuts home with me. (the rest will be finished up and packed by Mike, the professional, who'll no doubt be a heck of a lot more efficient when he's not trying to explain each step as he goes, and keep me from cutting one of my own appendages off). I was practically dancing as I pulled the bits out to much "ooh-ing" and "ah-ing" from my Bride and the Boy, as if I was presenting a few bits of ruby treasure that I had stumbled upon.
I quickly seared the inside skirt steak and served it with some simple fried potatoes and chanterelle mushrooms reduced in butter, as a sort of, "This is our cow. Let us savor the final introduction in all its loveliness."
Three days ago, this steer was still chewing his cud. Tonight, he was on our plate.
That's fresh, delicious, circle of life, baby.
Respect your meat. Hug your butcher.