Wednesday, June 24, 2009

butchery class.

Just a few short months ago, I proposed the idea of "Lady Butcher" to a friend. I had been post-vegetarian for about a year-- struggling to find pleasure in food again and wanting to be being a "good steward" of my money, meat resources, and even my desire to eat healthful and tasty foods. I thought I could go on a meat journey and document my findings, perhaps in the form of a reality television show. Unfortunately, it turns out that even though I live in Los Angeles, a reality television opportunity was not dropped in my lap. Hence, I started a blog. I didn't know what would come of it, but looking back, I am pretty excited for what I've learned and that I have already had the chance to go behind the scenes of a super neat, artisan, lady-owned butcher shop!

Thank you for following my story!

Here are some photographs and highlights. (I didn't take that many pictures because I was pretty focused and aware of sharp objects.)
We had the opportunity to learn about two animals, pig and lamb. First up was the pig. Suckling pig, to be exact. What is a suckling pig, you say? This refers to a very young animal that has never been fed solid food and has not developed its muscles fully, resulting in very tender meats. For us in the butcher class, this also meant that the animal was small enough to arrive at the shop relatively intact, i.e., head and trotters still attached. Basically, full-on shock value.

The class was structured in a way that all of the participants had the opportunity to make several cuts on each animal. I had been feeling a little nervous, so I was very happy that I was not making the first cut of the day.

The first cut was the head.

Next, the trotters.

Then, my turn, removing the kidneys (the only organs left in by the slaughterhouse. Sidenote: slaughterhouses remove and clean out the animals before they arrive at a butcher shop, resulting in a much less gruesome process than I imagined. Butchers actually have to purchase many of those parts back from slaughterhouses if they want to use and/or sell them!), doing some cleaning touch-ups, and making the first cut to divide the beast into sections. We used three tools, a flexible boning knife, a hand saw, and a cleaver with a mallet. There didn't seem to be specific tools for specific tasks, we were instructed to use what felt comfortable and appropriate.

After lunch, my queasiness had dissipated. I thought, gosh, the lamb wouldn't be too difficult as it looked much more like a piece of meat than a furry creature... but I had to go first this time around!

I was the only female in the class and had stayed pretty silent throughout the process, so I wasn't totally prepared for what I was asked to do, but I'm super happy I got to do it! While the lamb was hanging from the hook, I split and tore off the flanks and skirts, cleaned out the inside, and then...

Made that cut. First, I made an incision straight through, then sliced from the spine out on both sides. Next, I was told to wrap my leg and my arms around the lamb and snap the spine where I had made the cut. Wow! That was intense! Then, I supported the weight on my leg and cut behind the spine, caught it when it dropped, and hoisted it up on the table. Whew!

I felt pretty bad ass. I can't come up with a more appropriate word.

When the cuts were being portioned for us to take home, I happily said that I had a meat grinder and, why yes, I do make sausages! And I would take the fun bits for stock-making. Perhaps the other dudes in my class thought they were making out because they got to fight over the pig head, but for the man and I, the ground meat and stocks will be far more useful. I got some nice steaks too (and those were fun to cut down!) and a package labeled "pig shoulder."

Honestly, I think that was the biggest thing that I learned was that it all was very intuitive. The parts of the animal dictated how the cuts were to be made and the butchers worked instinctively. Not to get too philosophical, but this wasn't surprising. I carry no judgement for the decisions people make about their eating habits and choices, but we seem to be carnivorous beasts at heart and this opportunity reinforced that notion for me. So thank you, Avedano's (and to the ladies at Sweet Meats for telling me about them!) for a highly fulfilling experience.


  1. really find your blog in general and this posting, in particular, most interesting and thoughtful. i have been going through my own "coming to grips" with my relationship with food, both philosophically, aesthetically, and as a steward of the earth (trying to be a carnivore in the most responsible and sustainable way as is possible.

  2. Nice work! I was just introduced to your blog today and I am already such a fan....looking forward to reading more.


  3. Cherie, I just took a look at your blog-- so lovely! I love your perspective and your writing. I'll be keeping up with it :)