How did Proper Meats get started?
It came out of a conversation that I had with a friend in Southern Arizona who raises lamb and beef. He expressed interest and a desire to have everything that he produced go into a local food system rather than being sold off into a commodity market. That was the original spark of the idea. There’s a large amount of meat that’s raised in this state and largely, it gets exported into the commodity market and then we turn around and import the meat back into the state, rather than having it go direct from the local ranch to a restaurant or to the market.
How do you educate customers about the benefits of buying local meats?
We have some point of sale materials from the ranches and we educate our staff so they can educate our customers. Largely, especially in Flagstaff, the people who are coming into the shop are coming in for a reason. They’re looking for an all grass-fed, grass-finished, locally raised product and they understand the cost that’s associated with that. We certainly have the people who walk in and say, why would I pay $20 for a steak when I can get it for $4.99 (at the grocery store)? And we invite them to go get their $4.99 steak and that’s fine. We can’t feed everybody and not everybody has the desire to eat this way. We do also carry a line of naturally raised grain fed beef because not everybody likes the taste of 100 percent pasture raised meat. It is a little gamier.
Are you a butcher by trade?
I have a culinary degree, but I’m not a practicing chef. None of us were butchers by trade. The idea (for Proper Meats) sparked at the same time we started to see the revival of craft butcher shops in California and Austin and San Francisco and other places. We started doing research and joined the Butcher’s Guild, an organization out of California put together by two women to give support, information and training to people that are interested in reviving this craft. We all knew our way around breaking down proteins from primal (cuts) and this was just one step up from that. There was certainly a learning curve.
What is the most misunderstood aspect of what you do?
I think people’s perception of it is the corporate agricultural model that they saw in “Fast Food Nation,” that it’s basically sweatshop labor and you’re standing on a line slaughtering cows all day. Doing it on this level is definitely not that. It’s really not gruesome work and not much different than working in the kitchen. We do everything in the shop from retail cuts and marrow bones to stocks. We make all our own sausages, deli meats and dog food. Everything is done out of a little 1,500 sq. foot space. It’s ridiculous. It’s become quite a dance.
What’s the next hot butchering trend going to be?
Charcuterie. A lot of the butcher shops I’ve talked to are either already on board or in the process of getting their variance from the health department so they can start to ferment and dry cure meats and develop charcuterie programs. We’re still working on it. It’s a long process and it’s a specialized part of the shop and the regulations around it are still tough. That’s a challenge. I think it’s a great trend and I love to see it.
What’s your favorite cut of meat to work with?
Tough call. I love the curing and smoking process that we do in the shop, so probably pork bellies and briskets. Making the pastrami is probably one of my favorite processes as far as working with the meat.