Putting Labor Back into the Meat Department: Get a sneak peek at what makes Kari Underly tick!

A preview of an upcoming print interview of BG Charter Member Kari Underly from the Progressive Grocer site:

Putting Labor Back into the Meat Department

By Meg Major

In the realm of retail differentiation strategies, it’s no surprise that the fresh meat department handily ranks among the most important for consumers when thinking about their preferred place to shop.

Indeed, multiple industry studies continue to hammer home the significance of that sentiment, along with the companion importance of a meat department sizzling with information, particularly in the form of knowledgeable, approachable personnel who can help shoppers solve the mysteries surrounding the preparation and serving of specific cuts.

Kari Underly, a third-generation butcher and author of “The Art of Beef Cutting: a Meat Professional’s Guide to Butchering and Merchandising,” is on a mission to help shoppers demystify the process, as she aptly relayed to PG’s Senior Editor Jim Dudlicek, by “putting the labor back into the meat department.”

During a recent visit with Underly — who serves as an on-site meat consultant for Standard Market, a new fresh-focused concept store that opened its first location last month in the Chicago suburb of Westmont — Jim had a ringside seat to see the female butcher in action while also hearing her views on what she considers to be the key attributes of a top-shelf fresh meat department and other “meaty matters” that are fully explored in a feature story that appears in the pages of our forthcoming December issue.

In the interim, I’ll round off the preview of our in-print profile on Underly with a quick rundown of what makes her tick, and what it’s like to be a female meat cutter.

PG: Considering your nontraditional career as a butcher in a vastly male dominated trade, what do feel is most overlooked by your male counterparts?

UNDERLY: Hard work and a commitment to excellence have been the cornerstones of my career as a meat cutter, marketer, entrepreneur and, now, author. However, I think my compassion for people and the animals themselves has had a unique influence on my growth and success within the industry. As an educator, I’m driven to help others like retailers, butchers, chefs and consumers expand their knowledge of and appreciation for the trade. I also have great interest and concern for the welfare of animals and how they are handled, from the farm all the way to the table.

PG: As a third-generation butcher, what is the most cherished or invaluable professional advice and wisdom you’ve received from your elder family members? How does that translate into your present day career as an author and hand-cut meat enthusiast?

UNDERLY: Believe it or not, the most valuable advice my father gave me was: “Don’t become a butcher.” At the time, boxed beef was becoming the norm. He felt butchery was a dying trade and, therefore, not a promising career path for his daughter to pursue. As a young girl, it was disheartening to think that someone like my father, who had built a life around the trade, felt as though his job was being diminished to opening a box and stocking shelves. However, I saw it very differently.  Not only was butchery a way to earn money for college, but over the years, his advice has only inspired me to leverage my career and experience to help keep the craft alive.”

Without a doubt, Kari Underly is one crafty and talented lady.

10 Things NOT to Buy For The Cook On Your List: Matt Jennings gives it to us straight

10 Holiday Gifts You Should Never Buy a Cook

From Bon Apetit Blog:
James Beard Award-nominated chef Matt Jennings lays down the law and lists the kitchen tools he wouldn’t be caught dead using.  
whisks--484.jpgWalk away from the high-concept whisks
There are some kitchen tools every chef needs: a well balanced fish spatula; saucing spoons; a Japanese mandolin; a mini offset spatula; or a dependable, digital scale. But there are plenty we wouldn’t be caught dead with. In fact, most of the shiny tools lining the shelves of that fancy cookware store at the mall make professional chefs (and avid home cooks) cringe with every piece of wrapping paper they pull away. Don’t embarrass yourself–or the cooks you love–this holiday, and avoid these gifts.

A Garlic Press 
Forget single-purpose tools.  Most are bulky, ill designed and irrational. The garlic press fits that bill. A well honed, sharp knife or even a Microplane will always be a better choice for mincing garlic.

High-Concept Whisks 
flat whisk for getting into those saucy corners of pots? Sure. But if you give me a whisk that looks like a squid or an egg, it will end up at the local dump. For most applications, a spare fork will do. But if you’re dying to buy your loved on a whisk, make it a small, wood handled beauty like this.

A Talking Meat Thermometer 
Come on. Let’s get serious.

Plastic-Handled Pots and Pans 
“Useless,” is the only word that comes to mind here. Say you’ve just finished searing off some beef cheeks for that perfect winter braise. Whoops: Better not put that pot in the oven because the handles will melt. No thanks. I’d rather cook everything in nonstick. And that’s kind of like pouring hot candle wax in my eyes.

Egg SeparatorsEgg Poachers, etc
Cooking an egg properly is one of a chef’s defining qualities; all you should need is a pot of salted water and a timer. Throw in an immersion circulator, a heavy-bottomed fry pan, and a few ramekins of various sizes, and my egg entourage is complete.

Onion Goggles

Here we have a kitchen tool that makes you look like a tool. Not only do these bad boys not work, as they trap the sulfuric acid in your peepers, but you’ll be the only kid on the block who can jump from your kitchen to a squash match with ease. To take the tears out of the equation, buy onions super fresh and refrigerate them for a couple of hours before you start slicing.
“Shorty” Silicone Oven Mitts
Puppeteer or cook–which do you want to be? Nothing will ever replace a trusty, dry, folded kitchen towel for handling hot pans. Oven gloves, particularly these cropped slippery silicone numbers, are sure to leave you with lovely wrist burns and render your opposable thumbs useless.

The “Brass Knuckle” Meat Tenderizer 
A must-have on the aging hipster house mom list, this dorky kitchen paperweight won’t tenderize meat any quicker than a heavy kitchen mallet or a cast iron pan. So hang it around your rear view mirror, or better yet–bring it to your next bar brawl. Just keep it out of your kitchen.

Electric Peppermills 
It may work for a few weeks, but when it jams up, you’re in trouble. Wouldn’t you rather develop a relationship with a dependable, well crafted, manual peppermill? A cook’s peppermill is like his or her co-pilot. I’ll be dammed if you’ll find me casting away the adjustable grind of a Peugeot or Vic Firth for a trampy little electric number.

Artsy Lemon Juicers 
It’s a lemon, folks. Roll it on a flat surface to extract the juices internally, slice it in half and bust out the reamer. Sure, the best tool for this job may not have the nicest name, but the citrus reamer is irreplaceable–that is, of course, unless you’re looking for a mantle piece decoration and conversation starter. Me? I’d rather get cooking.

Matt Jennings

Matt Jennings is the chef/owner of Farmstead & La Laiterie At Farmstead, in Providence, Rhode Island.

Read More http://www.bonappetit.com/blogsandforums/blogs/badaily/2011/12/10-holiday-gifts-not-to-get-co.html#ixzz1gTTosOjn

Chefs are butchers, too!

We have many members that are chefs because we think much of the truly excellent sourcing and creative butchery is happening in restaurants these days. The Spoon and Trowel blog explores this line of thinking in a good post about why restaurants are the new middlemen.

Turkey Dealers: When butchers disappeared, did restaurants fill the void?

by Joanna Flamm on November 23, 2011

We’ve all heard what it was like in years gone by: you bought your meat from the local butcher one cut at a time, carefully wrapped in paper by hands as thick as steaks. But as American cooking habits changed (to involve, generally, less cooking) butcher shops have disappeared across the country. The grocery store is our primary meat market these days—why would we want to go two places to get groceries when it’s so much more convenient to get everything at the same store? Most Americans would lump butchers in with cobblers or blacksmiths: jobs you hear about in fairy tales, not something you might want to get into after college.
While small, sustainability-focused butchers have made a comeback in urban centers (Dickson’sThe Meat Hook, and Fleisher’s being NYC examples) another type of business has stepped in to help fill the void: restaurants that specialize in local food.
When we think about how our food chain has changed, this makes perfect sense. The butcher used to be the middleman between the people who grow meat and the people who eat it, because the people eating it were also cooking it. These days, that middleman is much more often a restaurant kitchen. Think about it: who is still taking the time to worry about meat quality? Who knows enough about cooking meat these days to care about how animal diet affects marbling? Restaurants gain prestige by serving quality products (and they can charge more for them), so restaurant chefs have made their own connections with high quality meat producers. Now that we eat a lot more meat prepared in restaurant kitchens than in our own, it seems natural that customers would start inquiring about getting their hands on some of the same meat their favorite restaurants serve. We want what the experts want, and the most visible experts today are chefs.
We see this primarily at holidays, which makes sense: even Americans who don’t cook on a regular basis try to roast a turkey at Thanksgiving (sort of like the people who show up to church just on Christmas and Easter). And restaurants are obliging. Typically offered as part of their holiday catering menus for pre-order, they’ll sell you a free-range, antibiotic- and hormone-free local turkey raised by whatever farm they’ve been sourcing from for their own use.
Applewood in Park Slope, Brooklyn had local, pasture-raised turkeys from Oink & Gobble Farm in Interlaken, NY ready for pre-order earlier this month, and Prime Meats had turkeys from an Amish farm in Lancaster, PA. Seersucker in Carroll Gardens had organic, local birds for sale roasted and ready to eat, as did Bklyn Larder (Franny’s retail offshoot). In Minneapolis, Lucia’s had turkeys available through their To Go shop, and the Birchwood Café sold free-range turkeys from Wild Acres in northern Minnesota. Most of these restaurants also offered prepared sides and desserts, making their restaurant your one stop shop for Thanksgiving cooking.
Ordering your entire Thanksgiving meal from a locavore restaurant is definitely in the “luxury” category: you’d be hard pressed to get any of these birds for under $50, and many run closer to $100 if they’re ready to eat. But restaurants wouldn’t offer to do special orders if it wasn’t profitable, which means that there are people willing to pay for something that isn’t a Butterball from the freezer section at Walmart. The people (at least a small portion of them) are demanding a different kind of relationship with their meat sellers and producers, and where butcher shops were once the obvious choice, now restaurants are filling that role. As demand grows, will we see more restaurateurs opening retail shops that look a bit like the butcher shops of yesteryear? We’ll have to check back next Thanksgiving.

NC Processor Mays Meats goes organic!

Our friends and Affiliate Members of The Butcher’s Guild, shared this story with us about a slaughter and cut-and-wrap facility in North Carolina and their adoption of the organic standards and certifiication process. Good work to all involved, we are proud to know you!

Taylorsville, North Carolina- In a boon to the local and niche meat industry in North Carolina, a Taylorsville meat processing company has been approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to process certified organic meats. For over 30 years, Mays Meats has provided custom and inspected meat processing services to local farmers who produce and sell niche meat products in local marketing channels.

Mays Meats has been a leader in supporting the growth of the local meat industry by providing high quality inspected meat processing services (e.g., slaughter, fabrication and value-added product development). Longtime Mays Meats employee, Misty Dyson, coordinated the effort for USDA National Organic Program certification. “Our customers do a great job raising animals responsibly; having the option for processing under organic certification provides them with a level of third party verification that many consumers find valuable. Mays Meats is happy to provide this service to farmers as part of an overall effort to help them better market their meat products,” Dyson says.

Local beef producer Shelly Eagan, of Cleveland County’s Proffitt Family Farms, worked closely with Mays Meats in navigating the application process for organic certification. “Misty and I started working together on this back in February 2011. I really don’t think we could have done it without working together. Our beef has been certified organic for the 3 years but we couldn’t legally market using an organic label because we had nowhere to have the animals slaughtered under organic certification. We’re thrilled to now have that option. I think there are a lot of folks out there who are actually raising animals ‘organically’ who might consider getting certified now that they can actually make those claims on their labels.”NC Choices Coordinator, Casey McKissick, notes, “It’s exciting to see the positive outcome of farmers and processors working together toward a common goal. It’s these types of partnerships across the supply chain that are moving the local meat industry forward in North Carolina. Mays Meats is the only commercial processor in North Carolina to provide slaughter and cut and wrap services under organic certification. This will create more market opportunities for local livestock producers and product choices for local consumers.”Niche meats are meat products marketed based on attributes such as “organic,” “local,” “pasture-raised,” “grass-fed,” “humanely raised,” and “grown without antibiotics or added hormones.” The local and niche meat industry in North Carolina has enjoyed unprecedented growth in recent years, bringing new economic opportunities for farmers, processors and other industries that support the local food economy.

A recent review of meat and poultry sales through natural foods retailers shows the “natural and organic
sector” growing at a much stronger rate than conventional meat and poultry sales. For example,
between 2008 and 2010, nationwide red meat sales increased 1.7 percent whereas natural and organic
red meat sales increased by 15 percent (Mintel 2010).

According to the NC Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services (NCDA&CS), there has been a steep
increase in the number of farmers in North Carolina who are securing their meat handlers’ registrations—
a requirement for transporting and selling packaged, inspected meat. As of November 2011, 499 farmers held a
meat handler’s registration. That number is nearly four-fold increase since 2007 (NCDA 2011).

For more information on processing services at Mays Meats see www.maysmeats.com or contact
Misty Dyson at 828-632-7081.
To stay informed of the latest in news, issues and educational opportunities related to the local meat industry in NC, join the NC Choices email listserv at www.ncchoices.com/mailinglist.
NC Choices is an initiative of the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS) dedicated to advancing the local, niche meat industry in North Carolina through technical assistance,
educational programming, and networking opportunities.

We can’t stop watching videos of Rob Levitt

Here is a new video about one of our favorite butchers, Rob Levitt, of Butcher & Larder in Chicago, IL. This was produced by Sergio Salgado of P&S.

About Butcher & Larder
The mission of The Butcher & Larder is to be Chicago’s first sustainable, all whole animal butcher shop. We custom cut meat from animals that are responsibly raised on small, Midwestern family farms. In addition, we make a variety of sausages, patés and prepared deli items such as ham, bacon and corned beef for retail sale. We offer butchering and charcuterie classes (sausage making, etc.) at the shop, and plan to periodically hold small, casual family-style dinners.

About P&S Series
P&S (Practice & Space) is a web series that investigates people’s commitments to their craft and is filmed on location in their unique spaces. There is a growing movement of people that dedicate themselves to more sustainable, more difficult and more expensive practices in order to produce a higher quality result. This series examines these stories.

BG is character approved!

The USA Network’s Character Approved blog sought out the top 10 characters of the food world in 2011 and two of them are Butcher’s Guild members! We approve of the approval!

Check out their list and hear about Co-founder Marissa Guggiana and Charter Members Melanie Eisemann, Angela Wilson and Chris Arentz of Avedano’s and their new meat truck!

Vintage Butchering Instructional Video

“In the hands of a good cook, any beef is capable of producing gastronic miracles.” Amen to that!

Horse Meat? yay or neiiiiiiigh? [*sorry*]

Here is an article from BG Charter Member Rob Levitt on his two cents about the recently changed legislation that will allow horse meat back onto plates.

TO RESPOND, please go to BG Conversations, our open forum facebook page to talk about meaty concerns.

This week, Congress very very quietly lifted a five-year-old ban on funding horse-meat inspections, which, essentially, means that within a month slaughterhouses can be pushing horse back to market for human consumption. Illinois actually was the last holdout on the ban — it was legal to buy horse here until 2007.

Obviously, that’s about to change, and Rob Levitt, owner/butcher of locally sourced The Butcher & Larder on Milwaukee, thinks the timing couldn’t possibly be any better for it.

I gave Levitt (if his name sounds familiar, he formerly was with Mado) a call to talk about why he thinks that, how this is actually great for the restaurant scene, and the potential costs involved with stocking this strapping new revenue source.

Was I the one who actually broke the news to you about the horse meat?

Rob Levitt: I just heard something about how they’re going to allow horse meat to be slaughtered for consumption again.

Right. What was your first reaction when you heard about it?

Rob Levitt: Oh, I think it’s great. I know that when they outlawed it a few years ago — because it hasn’t been illegal for that long…

No. Just since 2007.

Rob Levitt: Yeah. But it was a big source of economy, especially in the Midwest. I think Southern or Central Illinois was one of the biggest producers for consumption of horse meat in the world. Not so much for this country, but they were exporting a ton of it. If that helps create jobs and generate revenues for small towns in rural areas, then that’s great.

In a way, this really reminds me of the foie-gras thing here a few years back.

Rob Levitt: It’s not uncommon for the government to sort of look down upon and make laws against things that foie gras or horse that a very, very small percentage of the population eats because it’s easy to wipe that out. It’s an easier battle than going up against Tyson, who feeds the masses. It’s true. Why outlaw foie gras when such a small percentage of the population eats it? Rather than work to make it more humane, which it actually is than it used to be. They just decided to outlaw it and obviously that didn’t work out too well in Chicago because we can eat it again.

But it’s the same thing with horse. Cultures all over the world eat horse meat. It’s really common in places as far away as Japan and Italy. You can get it as close to home as in Canada. There’s a really cool restaurant in Toronto called The Black Hoof that’s known for a raw horse dish they do. It’s like an open-face sandwich, tartare kinda thing. It’s locally raised horse meat, they serve it raw, and people rave about it.

Do you think it’s possible that even when it was illegal people were served horse meat and didn’t even know it?

Rob Levitt: Anything’s possible. We’ve all read stories about the health department finding cats in freezers of restaurants. In fact, it happened up at a place near where my parents live up in Wheeling — health inspectors came in and found cats. This was several years ago. You hear stories like that from time to time. Those are hopefully just really horrible exceptions, but you never know. I doubt it’s very common.

What does horse meat actually taste like?

Rob Levitt: Full disclosure? I’ve never had it.

Would you?

Rob Levitt: Sure. Why not? If you’re gonna eat a cow, why wouldn’t you eat a horse? I would eat it under the same stipulations that I’d like to eat any other piece of meat. I’d want to know how it’s being raised, where it’s being raised — I’m not going to get a frozen horse tenderloin imported from California just to try it. If there’s somebody close to home here in Illinois or close by in the Midwest that’s raising good stuff just like the cows that I buy and the pigs that I buy, then I would certainly try it. From what I understand, though, it’s a lot like venison. The meat’s very, very dark and because horses are such muscular animals and get so much exercise, it’s like those guys in Canada: You either have to mince it and serve it raw or it needs to be slow-cooked, like braised or stewed. If you do that, the muscles break down and get very tender. It’s supposed to have a ton of great flavor. It’s probably very, very healthy. We just don’t see it as something to eat.

You mentioned it used to be a big part of contributing to the global economy. If horse meat could be available in the U.S. within a month, how do you see that rippling out into the local economy?

Rob Levitt: I think this is the perfect time for it, because in 2007 when the economy was still booming, as a whole the American culture wasn’t in the mindset of eating something like horse because we were a wealthy enough country that we would go out and eat things like foie gras. [Laughs.] Now that the dining scene has changed significantly because the economy has crashed, chefs are no longer opening fancy, expensive, fine-dining restaurants. These very talented chefs are opening more casual places that do simpler food. As a result, I think they’re interested in more interesting options. Whereas 10 years ago everyone was serving short ribs and filet mignon, now we’re all looking for different cuts. So you see a lot more people eating things like offal, sweetbreads, shortbreads, kidneys, and I think if something like horse meat is available at a reasonable price, it’s going to be different enough that’ll be a viable option now. Whereas then it probably wouldn’t have jived too well.

Knowing your customer base, would you serve it at your shop?

Rob Levitt: We would have to feel it out a bit. I definitely wouldn’t be opposed to it. I would have to feel it out. We buy all our animals here, and I would guess that a side of horse is a tremendous amount of meat. I would have to make sure I would be able to make it work for my business. But I would definitely give it a shot, if I could find someone who would maybe sell my a quarter-horse to start with. That’s a really odd thing to say. [Laughs.]

That’s why I’m giggling.

Rob Levitt: [Laughs.] I’ve definitely got some customers that I know would get it. And since January I’ve had a couple of phone calls from people looking for horse meat. Like, two.

But still. There’s an interest.

Rob Levitt: But still, that’s two more than I would’ve expected.

If you can just charge them thousands of dollars, then you’d be all set.

Rob Levitt: Right. Offer it up to the highest bidder.

What demographic do you think it appeals to most? More adventurous eaters maybe?

Rob Levitt: I see this appealing to more adventurous eaters for sure. It’s an interesting shift where all the cuts that used to be classically what poor people ate — shoulders, shanks, and all the tough cuts — this is what all the wealthy, foodie-types eat. The people for who going out to eat is a big deal, it’s like their hobby. They’re the ones eating all the odd cuts. What I see at the shop is people who are maybe in a lower tax bracket are seeing what kinds of steaks they can afford and buying maybe sausages. If I were to advertise that I have it, I definitely see a foodie sort of crowd going for it.

It’s interesting, too, because since 2007, when it became illegal, we’ve seen the rise of the celebrity chef and the foodie movement. So in a way the timing might be perfect.

Rob Levitt: I kinda hope so. The main thing that I’m happy about is I remember reading about the economic impact on these small Midwestern towns that would raise these animals and export them, and that was a large part of the income. It was just taken away from them. It’s not like you can do anything else with that farm. I mean, you can, you can turn it into corn and soybean.

But that’s a huge investment.

Rob Levitt: To go from raising horses to raises cows or pigs, that’s a big up front investment to these people who aren’t making a ton of money. To take that away was pretty awful. Hopefully this will put something back into these economies of these small towns.

The Associated Press article about it says that since it was banned it’s lead to “more neglect and abandonment of horses.”

Rob Levitt: Domesticated farm animals depend on us. That’s their nature. If everyone in the world stopped eating beef, then cows would go extinct. You don’t really see any wild cows. [Laughs.] It just doesn’t exist. I know people who are vegetarians who will say, “Well, that’s horrible.” And I know people who are vegetarians who say, “Well, then, let them go extinct. If that’s what it takes, if people stop eating them, then let them go extinct.”

Wait, wait, there are vegetarians who want animals to go extinct? That doesn’t sound right. Does PETA know this guy exists?

Rob Levitt: [Laughs.] Yup. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, in the introduction for his book, The River Cottage Meat Book, explains theoretically, if the whole world stopped eating meat, then cows would go extinct. I was explaining it to a friend of mine and he said, “Fine. If that’s what it takes.” I was a little shocked.

For other butchers or restaurant owners reading this and might be interested in stocking horse meat, do you know the sort of costs people would expect to foot to stock, store, and prep it?

Rob Levitt: I have no idea. I would imagine it’s not too far off from grass-fed beef, but I don’t really know. Because horse has never really been a part of the American diet, but I don’t know that much about the costs and prices of raising cows and pigs either. I know the stuff that I buy is more expensive than the factory stuff, but you get what you pay for. I would imagine it’s not an inexpensive start-up thing, but it’s probably not too far off from raising cows.

Does it have the same contamination issues as beef? Have you heard anything in that regard?

Rob Levitt: I have no idea, but I would imagine that the USDA standards are the USDA standards and they’re going to inspect for the same kinds of things they look for in beef and pigs and other animals. I would imagine that raising livestock for consumption is pretty much a universal thing. The USDA has a certain criteria for what they’re looking for.

David Wolinsky is a freelance writer and a lifelong Chicagoan. In addition to currently serving as an interviewer-writer for Adult Swim, he’s also a columnist for EGM. He was the Chicago city editor for The Onion A.V. Club where he provided in-depth daily coverage of this city’s bustling arts/entertainment scene for half a decade. When not playing video games for work he’s thinking of dashing out to Chicago Diner, Pizano’s, or Yummy Yummy. His first career aspirations were to be a game-show host.

New Butchery & Meat Cookbook Book by BG Member Ryan Farr

In this Video: Ryan Farr of 4505 Meats chopping it up about his new book, Whole Beast Butchery.

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