From the farm to the butcher
GREAT BARRINGTON - For residents in Western Massachusetts, the hyper-local food movement is thriving at a new butcher shop called The Meat Market. Two butchers are crafting sausages from pigs raised less than 3 miles away. Using a hand-cranked sausage stuffer, they fill some pork casings with a classic fennel-scented sweet Italian mixture, others with Parmesan and sun-dried tomato.
The plump sausages go into the refrigerated case just a few feet away. Nearby, a pink hunk of pork belly sits on a table, soon to be turned into house-cured bacon and spice-rubbed spare ribs. The rest of the animal hangs in the meat locker in back.
Old-fashioned butcher shops are a fashionable part of Brooklyn’s do-it-yourself food movement, but they’ve become a rarity elsewhere. A shop like this, which opened in August, and deals exclusively with whole animals sourced locally, is unusual, even in a region where locavores are numerous. The owner of The Meat Market, Jeremy Stanton, 39, estimates most of the farms he works are within 40 miles of his shop. In the case of North Plain Farm, the source of the pork in the sausages, you could ride a bike.
Inside the shop, display cases hold fresh meats and smoked and cured meats. Behind the front case, at a wood-topped table, you can watch the butchers do their work. You can also see meat hanging in the locker.
Stanton does business on a personal level. The butcher vets the farms he uses, custom cuts meat for his customers, and offers them preparation tips (he is a professionally trained chef and also a caterer). He wants to build the same relationships with his customers as he does with the farmers.
“I spoke with a farmer the other day who said he slaughtered a lamb to try it, and it wasn’t ready yet so he couldn’t sell me any. That’s the guy I want to work with,’’ says Stanton, who is dressed in a dark fleece, blue jeans, and work boots. “I have to go to these farms - to meet the farmer, to see the pigs. And we want to cut that steak as thick as you want it. We don’t just want a cooler full of steaks.’’
He’s the sort who supports independent farming with ideological vigor. He’ll cite a 200-year-old letter about New England lettuce production, or tell you what sort of pig Thomas Jefferson enjoyed raising (that would be a guinea hog). He once found some rare Ossabaw Island piglets for sale on Craigslist and drove nine of them home from Red Rock, Texas.
The end products resulting from this level of care are not cheap. The display case includes per-pound prices of $11.95 for pork chops, $13.95 for house-made bacon, and $32 for beef tenderloin.
But beyond concerns about animal treatment on industrial farms, proponents of artisan food production say it’s about quality.
“Animals are what they eat. The geochemistry of the soil is unique to our farm, and so the beef or the pork will have a distinct flavor,’’ says Morgan Hartman, whose Black Queen Angus Farm is a supplier for the market. He likens the variations between animals from different breeds or farms to the differences among fine cheeses. “These meats aren’t just a substrate on which you put sauce,’’ he says.
The shop also features house-made charcuterie and prepared foods - an area where Stanton’s training at the Culinary Institute of America comes in handy. He has operated a catering service for eight years, and previously started a small pasta business. Stanton is backed by a soup of investors culled partially from local businesspeople and foodies.
The menu of prepared, smoked, cured, and pickled foods is flexible. If a cut of meat isn’t selling quickly enough, it could turn into bresaola or beef stew. Fresh ribs become smoked ribs. One batch of jerky gone awry was repurposed for dog treats. Customers may add fresh garlic, newly dug potatoes, and green tomatoes - all for sale recently - to thickly cut pork loin chops.
After the two varieties of sausages are stocked, chef de cuisine James Burden works on his variation of an English beef pie. To a mixture of carrots, celery, and onion seasoned with garlic, parsley, and thyme, he adds meat from Hartman’s farm and bolsters the gravy with a dose of stout from nearby Barrington Brewery. The crowning touch is very flaky pie crust made with house-rendered lard, from the pigs of Maiden Flower Farm just down the road.
“We’re not buying Crisco around here,’’ says Burden, as the savory smell of beef pie begins to waft through the air.
The Meat Market,389 Stockbridge Road, Great Barrington, 413-528-2022, www.themeatmarketgb.com.
Jeremy Goodwin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.