Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The return of local meat to Western Washington

Every once in awhile, I get the opportunity to take chef education road trips. There was the one to Quillisascut which was formative, to say the least. There was the yacht trip that I cheffed on where we followed the Inside Passage to Alaska. There were international trips, to Thailand, Central America, Argentina, France, and Italy.

Then there are the trips where I don't even leave my house; when chef friends come over, we cook together and I suck every last bit of knowledge out of their brains and make it my own.


This week's trip found me with Chico (a private chef), some buddies from TASTE at the Seattle Art Museum, and Seattle Tall Poppy*, among others, down at Heritage Meats, south of Olympia, with the charismatic Tracy Smaciarz (rhymes with, oh hell, I have NO friggin idea). Just call him my new hero. He's the Western Washington butcher equivalent of a rock star and he hangs with the queen of pork, aka Cheryl the pig lady, who's like Norma Rae and Alice Water's love child, if parthenogenesis were possible.

Why have they earned such high praise? Well, kids, pull up a chair, and I'll tell you. I'll bet you're of the Twitter generation (or will soon become a member) so I'll keep this brief - to under 140 characters, specifically. Here I go:
Farmland shrinking. Animals slaughtered inhumanely. Scared. Terrible conditions. No local butchers. Now, Tracy gets USDA cert! Cheryl pig lady rocks, leads push to get mobile slaughter unit! Meat stays local! Restaurants can get local meat, cut the way they want, grown the way they want! (Oh shit, I'm 171 characters over my limit.)
Anyway, the longer story, worth reading, can be found here in this fabulous article that gives most of the back story. Then, when you are done with that, you can read this tribute to Tracy here by the good meat ambassador Carrie Oliver of the Artisan Beef Institute. If you're as interested in the local meat movement (that sounds really gross) as I am, then look for an article I'm writing in Edible Seattle Magazine this fall. In a few weeks, I'm going to be conducting a blind beef tasting with 4 local chefs. I'll be using rib-eyes from 5 Washington ranches, some 100% grass fed, some grain finished. I'm thinking about slipping in a Safeway feedlot steak to see where it gets ranked.

The basic point is that, as far as I see it, most of us who care about the environment can see that eating less meat is probably (no, definitely) better for the earth. If I'm going to limit my steak habit, I better pick wisely and carefully - cause ain't no one gonna take away my steak.

Soap box. Me stepping off it.

And......back to the field trip.

Here's Tracy telling us about one of the many machines that help him and his staff do their job. This one is particularly cranky and if you look at the bottom of the pic you can see how they feel about it.

I got the chance to operate a commercial meat grinder and because
I'm a total food nerd, I was giddy to get the opportunity.

After our tour of Heritage Meats we took
a drive down to Janet and Tom Schultz' farm where they raise lamb and cattle.

Thanks to the hard work of these folks, soon we'll have signs that say
Western Washington Lamb from Western Washington Land.

Still life in Tom's barn.

For the record, Tom's wife Janet was somewhat horrified that
we were all hanging out in Tom's cluttered barn, but I found it rather fascinating.

Edible Seattle has this great feature in their magazine called "Ice Box" where they write up the contents of some local chef's refrigerator. It's sort of titillating in the "will we find processed cheese spread and olive loaf?" vein. Michelle Clair, manager of Taste, quipped that we had stumbled upon the farmer/rancher equivalent when we traipsed through Tom's barn. Here he is, posing handsomely, along with a jar of pickled green beans he removed from his rolling rack of random bits and pieces. Like your kitchen's junk drawer on steroids, Tom's junk rack had the most bizarre assortment of oddities I've seen in awhile. Never did ask him, but you got the sense he knew where everything was, so in a moment he could produce the golf ball, the anti-worming meds, the canned vegetables or the (hysterical to me for some reason) tin of Crown Prince smoked oysters.

Put it this way: If the shit hits the fan and swine flu or global warming or whoknowswhat descends upon us, you'll find me huddled in his barn, sucking on Glenmorangie Whiskey and eating smoked oysters, one by one, and he'll be the one laughing then.

There they are, the smoked oysters right near the microwave popcorn and above the work gloves, of course.

Ok, I admit it, I moved the striping paint just a wee bit closer to the whisky for this shot but trust me, it wasn't very far from it. I suppose if Linnaeus had bothered to categorize this kind of stuff, striping paint and whiskey would probably be in the same family.

Lamb: the other, fluffier white meat. Except it's red. And really cute. Damn.

Many thanks to Tracy, Cheryl, Mike and everyone at Heritage Meats, as well as Janet and Tom for opening up their places and showing us city-folk how it's all done.

*as you have probably gathered by now - most cool experiences begin soon after I pick up the phone and STP is on the other line. There is a reason why I have nicknamed her the grand poo-bah of the food world.


LC said...

Becky, you teach me new things and make me laugh at the same time. What a great quality! BTW, I think I met Tracy...is he the mobile butcher guy? Our meat scene is looking up.

Mike said...

Hi Becky, I don't have much to say on the subject of local meat except that I'm all for it. Mostly I wanted to tell you that my word verification is "boode", which reminds me of a limerick:
There was a young lady from Bude,
Who went for a swim in the lake.
A man in a punt
Stuck a pole in her ear,
And said, "You can't swim here, it's private."

Carrie Oliver said...

Becky, thanks for the shout out and glad to have a hero or two in common with you! You can let Lang know that of course he met Tracy, he was on my expert panel at the artisan steak tastings earlier this year :)

By the way, I was really pleased to learn today that California (Santa Barbara area) is about to get its first mobile unit up and running. It took them nearly 7 years to get there and they're still waiting for a USDA inspector to be appointed. Let's make sure the 3 in Washington State are as successful as possible so that other communities can more easily justify the investment and move to launch.

Here's the article on the Paso Robles unit.



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