Friday, November 9, 2007

First-time Custom Slaughter And Other Questions

I will attempt to answer the concerns of a few commenters at once: so how does one go about requesting custom slaughter with a breeder?

I see three solutions to finding someone who will raise an animal for you so you can do custom slaughter:
  1. You can ask the "custom butchers" in the phone book which farmers they work with. But watch out - they may just try to sell you some cheap USDA meat from a commodity farm. Or they may try to sell their own animals to you, which may or may not meet your standards. You have to be very careful about what meat that guy starts with.
  2. You can ask farmers (perhaps those selling at the farmers market) if they'll raise an animal for you.
  3. You buy an animal from me, and I'll get CNJ Custom Meats in Clayton to do the processing. I know Curt does a very good job - I just got half of a heavy Berkshire turned entirely into bacon (jowl, belly, back, shoulder, fatback, etc) - it is very good!
ellen: Though I don't understand the Austrian process, either. What can an inspector tell just by looking at the carcass? Finally - what planet do you live on where freezers are cheap to buy and run? Obviously, electricity is a lot cheaper where you live than it is in the DC area.

When the inspector examines the carcass, he's looking for signs of disease. E.g. tubercules, abscesses and worms. I admit, if the inspector doesn't see the animal before he dies, you could have someone sell a sick or dead animal, and it could pass inspection. We probably avoid that with our USDA system, but at a huge cost in meat quality.

Second, freezers are cheap to buy. E.g. a freezer to hold the meat from a 400 lb hog costs under $300 and about $24 to run (according to the label on the freezer) per year. Being able to buy a whole pig or half a cow saves you a lot of money over retail, to say nothing of your ability to get the highest quality.

molly: A lot of interesting information. It's hard to trust a custom slaughter sometimes. My uncle had a situation where they seemed to have traded some of his good meat out for some other meat after it went to the shop for wrapping and freezing (?). Is that common of the "make a buck" custom slaughters?

You really have to shop around for the right butcher. As with contractors, plumbers, mechanics, etc. Find a good one and stick with him. There are definitely sleazy or sloppy custom butchers. You should ask around. The good ones should have lots of regular customers.

One general problem is that some custom butchers serve low-income folks who just want the cheapest meat they can possibly buy. If you care about quality, you probably shouldn't hire that butcher.

This guy is an Austrian custom butcher - and he's one of the best. Although you'll probably never need his services, you might enjoy his site.

molly: How would one best pick a local farm or custom slaughterer BEFORE committing to purchase the meat or services?

There are a number of things you can look for though: does the butcher hang his meat? Can he tell you what feed leads to good meat quality (for your particular animal)? Does the farmer know what to feed the animal? Does the farmer produce his own feed (e.g. grind and mix the feed), or does he just feed the animals whatever Purina sells him?

In general, if you stick to buying local, you'll only have a few choices - so you gather your information and go from there. Farm visits are a good idea.

There's one problem I have with the "buy local" approach: if you live somewhere were people don't have much skill at making what you want to buy, it may not be worth buying. E.g. if I try to buy local cheese, I'm disappointed - because people around here don't seem to know how to make really great cheese.


Habeas said...

I just found your blog through Michael Ruhlman's, and I must say that it's a really fascinating subject, and you're writing very eloquently about. I really look forward to keeping up with this blog and learning more. I'll add you to my blogroll promptly!

Molly said...

Thanks for answering my questions! :)

I am not in the market right now, but would like to learn more about it for making a purchase next year. I think it makes much more sense to buy an entire animal or go-in on a purchase with family/friends.

I am going to start looking around at local farms, etc. We have a lot of local options. I will just have to learn who is a "who's who" in our area.

Again, love the blog. Lots of interesting information on both recent posts. You are in my GoogleReader :)

tai haku said...

cool blog - looking forward to reading more. My home county in England used to have a wooly pig all of its own (the Lincolnshire Curly Coat) which died out. All the best for the future both for the oompany and the blog.

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