Whether you're hunting or fishing, dressing or butchering, there's something beautiful and raw about knowing your dinner while it's alive. But we can't always make the time to connect with our food in its natural habitat. That's where purveyors like Dickson's Farmstand Meats in New York come in: They help everyday city-dwellers get in touch with their meat—sometimes, quite literally. When I was asked to visit Dickson Farmstand's butchering classes at Chelsea Market, I didn't think twice. Here's what I learned while I was there.
A happy animal is a healthy animal: We can avoid all of the political rigmarole by simply looking at (and tasting!) the meat itself. Animals that get more exercise develop delicious intramuscular fat that cramped animals simply don't have the chance to. You know that beautiful marbling you want in your ribeye? That's the stuff of magic, and the more your cow moves around, the more of it you'll get to eat.
Grass-fed and grass-finished are two very different things: While grass-fed means that the animal got some amount of time on the pasture, the majority of the beef and pork under this label are fattened at the end of their lives with commodity-grain blends in a crowded feedlot. Grass-fed, grass-finished means that the animal was grazing its entire life. It's worth noting that there are some small, responsible farms who raise their stock on grass and finish them on grain to increase fattiness and marbling—all the more reason to talk to your butcher to get the details about your particular cut.
Photo: Tasting Table
Keeping it local is more than just a buzz phrase: When farmers and breeders are able to raise pigs and cattle that aren't being shipped across the country, they can focus more on the health and sustainability of the animals and the farm as a whole. A place like Dickson's isn't trying to compete with Tyson or Perdue, because the small farm model—one based on quality over quantity—isn't scalable (and that's not a bad thing).
Fear not the land beyond the chop: Over the past year, pork prices have risen steadily due to the spread of a virus called PEDv. While butchers and chefs are having their creative hands forced, now's a great time to explore new, more affordable cuts of pork. A slow-braised pork shoulder is a year-round staple in our kitchen.
Keep it simple, stupid: When you start with a great cut of meat, you don't need to do much to really let it shine. Bonus: Your guests will never know how easy that feast was to prepare.
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