Friday, September 24, 2010

Blade Steaks

This photo illustrates one of the reasons why it is so hard for a small farmer to make money selling meat in the USA.

A customer that buys pigs from me and fattens them sent me this photo of some meat he got back from his processor. They were labeled "blade steaks".

Look at the photo carefully. Click on it to get a bigger version. They way the steaks are cut, they really do highlight the shoulder blade! Imagine getting one of those in a restaurant. Wouldn't that look great as an entrée, right in the center of the plate?

Blade steaks normally look different than this, because there's neck meat attached to the shoulder blade. That's been taken off, making these blade steaks laughably bad. The way this has been cut, it is pretty much worthless. It would be better if it came as boneless trim - at least that wouldn't require removing the bone before chopping, grinding or braising this stuff.

It is a shame too - the meat itself is dark red and has nice intramuscular fat. This meat will taste really good.

My customer and I laughed about how awful this was done. When he picked up his meat, they didn't tell him what they'd done. When he saw what they'd done, he felt very sore.

This pictured meat, minus the blade, makes up what the Spanish call a paleta. Cut that way, it is a very valuable cut. I've been eating some cured paleta (aka "cured shoulder") from Johnston County Hams. It's been a treat.

The farmer is in a jam. He's left with scraps. There's no way the processor will pay for the damage he's done. There's few USDA-inspected processing options where the farmer lives, so he'll probably get his meat cut there again. He can't afford to burn his bridges with the plant that did this.

It is ridiculously common for small meat plants to make mistakes like this. Obviously, in a big plant, things are planned out very carefully, because mistakes add up, and cost the big plant - which is normally part of a vertically-integrated food company - a lot of money. In a small plant, the loss goes to the farmer getting his meat cut.

I've talked to several people raising Mangalitsa pigs across the USA. Pretty much all of them have run into problems like this. When someone says, "we've got a really great butcher here who's been cutting meat for years," I think, "and he probably will disappoint you, like the other great butchers I've heard about."

This really hurts anyone raising valuable animals. Obviously, with cheap animals, suboptimal processing doesn't hurt as much. Of course, anyone raising Mangalitsa pigs is raising the most expensive pigs in the USA - "blade steaks" like these can drive you out of business.

This photo illustrates why for the last few months, I've been saying positive things about Swiss Meat and Sausage Company - they really are America's extreme lard-type hog experts. They do a very good job cutting pigs with Austrian seam butchery techniques. Rather than winding up with scraps, I get cuts that I can sell at a good price. It took a lot to get to this point, but now there's one plant in the USA that cuts Mangalitsa pigs properly.

If you'd like to learn how to cut pigs up, taking a class from these guys would be one way to do it, or taking a class at Swiss Meat, like Josh Galliano and Kevin Nashan, two successful St. Louis chefs.

1 comment:

KBO said...

Thank you for posting about this. A few months ago, some friends and I went in on a Berkshire, and the processor totally bombed on their end in egregious fashion. We think we'll now base our sourcing choice on farmers who deal with reputable, competent processors.

I'm now going to curse the 3/4" chops in my freezer...