The Yin and Yang of Butchery
I’ll be honest – day 8 of my experience at The Fatted Calf was not a great one. It had nothing to do with the place itself or even the work. I was actually excited to start the day because I knew I’d be working with Taylor for a good part of the time there and I was looking forward to that. Unfortunately, I let my head and ego get in the way of enjoying the experience.
Part of my personal challenge with this experience is that I expect to be able to do things once or twice and then be able to complete them as good as anybody. Not so in the world of butchery. Or in many other worlds for that matter. But I ended up letting my inability to quickly master all the things I’ve learned in the last 8 days get in the way of enjoying the learning process. It also didn’t help that I knocked a half a quart of quatre epices in the sink during my first hour of the day. This was followed by being slightly annoyed with chopping quart upon quart of fresh herbs (which needed to be done, I just didn’t want to do it) and then by repeatedly grinding salt into my wounded hands as I ended up tying a ton of porchetta and roasts. If i’d been doing this for awhile I’d have callouses in all the right places. But I’m a tenderfoot and my hands have taken a beating these past several days. So, I just have blisters from tying all manner of pork and lamb with salty string.
All of these things added up to me being a very dull boy by the end of the day. I was plainly fucking things up here and there as I was having a hard time focusing on things because I was angry at myself for being incompetent. And it didn’t help that the owner was standing across from me. To his credit, he was very encouraging and helpful. Not getting annoyed (outwardly at least) and giving me positive feedback. So, I resolved to turn my attitude around on day 9. Hell, it’s only meat and free labor. We’re not curing cancer here.
What I Accomplished The Last Two Days
Day 8 began like every other day – jerky. Enough said.
After my morning constitution, I moved on to picking and finely chopping herbs. Forever. I put away a quart of Italian parsley, a quart of rosemary, and a half a quart of thyme. Have you ever picked a half a quart of thyme and finely chopped it? I challenge you to do so. For a kicker – I ground 3 cups of fresh garlic into a paste using a mortar and pestle. When I was finished with these tasks I was ready for a forearm transplant and a shot of bourbon.
Then came pork delivery – three thousand pounds of it which we moved from the truck and organized in the walk in.
Next up – boning out 4 pork shoulder and making porchetta with the aforementioned ingredients plus toasted, ground fennel seed which smelled lovely and had a beautiful greenish tone.
After this, I made 19 pancetta-wrapped pork tenderloin which were basted in a dijon/white wine blend and sprinkled with salt and pepper before wrapping. These are lovely and pictured below:
To wrap up the day, I trimmed, stuffed and tied 24 country pork roasts and then vac sealed them all. At this point, I was ready to go.
My day 9 list varied a bit from day 8 and with a better attitude I was able to do the following:
Trimming 250 pounds of bottom round for slicing and smoking – which will later become jerky
Boning out lamb legs and breaking for grind. Followed by boning lamb shoulders and cubing for stew meat. And finally breaking down ‘vintage’ lamb that would become ground. Regrettably I wasn’t able to help with the butchery of the three whole lamb that came in but I was given the task of wrapping the broken down parts in plastic
We then pulled a ton of ham from brine for tying which I was fortunately excused from as I was busy trimming out the beef round.
Then came duck – what’s a day without duck at The Fatted Calf? I don’t know. But I boned out a few and broke another down for parts. I’m feeling more comfortable with this process now which is great progress over last week.
The Power of Positive Thinking
I’d resolved to not have a bad day 9 when I woke up this morning. And I didn’t want to waste my experience here on having a lousy attitude and letting my ego get in the way. Expectations for me here are pretty low – I’m free labor and, while enthusiastic and reasonably competent – I have limited commercial experience. So all the pressure being put on me to do well was by me and me alone. During day 8, Taylor told me that I shouldn’t feel frustrated and, if I did; I wasn’t enjoying myself or having any fun. Plus I’d be more apt to make mistakes. He was right.
It wasn’t as if today was any different than yesterday from a complexity perspective. Part of yesterday was being both mentally and physically weary. Think about the last time you learned to work in a place that was foreign to you with new tasks, systems, processes, people, etc. It’s incredibly hard for an old dog like me. And learning the bone structures of different animals and various cuts of meat from a butchery perspective is no joke. Neither is learning the myriad of ways to prepare them in charcuterie.
I have learned a shit ton of stuff in 9 days. I’m trying to remember this and to be proud of what I’ve accomplished. If anything, I’ve gained resolve and remembered to not quit, to hold my head up, and to realize that I’m not a pro at this – I’m still learning. And finally, I recognize that I need to leave my ego at the door when I’m learning something new from people who are teaching me. The people I’m working with know more about their trade than I do and I need to respect that. At this stage of my life it’s not easy to become the low man on the proverbial totem pole. It’s humbling but it’s worth it in so many ways.
For Day 7 – click here
For the full recap click here