Combining farm-to-table with artisan butchery, this new trend is delivering the most freshly carved meats to members’ plates.
Artisan butchery may be trending in restaurants, but club chefs have been featuring artisan cuts on menus for years. Whole-animal butchery, the real root of artisan butchery, also presents a unique teaching opportunity for club chefs, both in breaking down the animal and in finding ways to use and feature every last piece.
In both cases, better butchery, whether done in-house or through a trusted supplier, encourages chefs and members to rethink their relationship with meat.
Becoming the Butcher
James Allen is good at lots of things. As the Culinary Specialist of Crow Valley Golf Club in Davenport, Iowa, he is not only the head baker; he’s also the butcher.
Allen started his career in pastry, but when he returned to the Quad Cities after getting married, he took on a line-cook position with Crow Valley. During that time, he was exposed to whole-animal butchery, which inspired him to enroll in Iowa State University’s Meat Science Program.
After that, he worked at a small lab where he would help to butcher 12 cows and 20 hogs daily, among other animals.
“I’m an information-driven kind of person,” says Allen. “I wanted to be able to humanely take the life of an animal, process it for my needs, and then put it at the center of the plate for my members. That seemed like the most logical way to learn.”
Allen worked at the lab for a year before becoming a HACCP coordinator for a local meat plant. “I had my fill of all the death, and so I then reached back out to Crow Valley to see if they had an opening,” says Allen.
Fortunately, Crow Valley’s Executive Chef, James Steffens, did.
“The club needed someone who could run chef’s table events, while also supporting the team in other areas, like pastry,” says Allen. “It’s the perfect position for someone like me.”
While he doesn’t butcher all cuts for the club, he does the butchering for all chef’s table events, while also overseeing the club’s expansive charcuterie program.
“In our community, there isn’t really a culture of whole-animal butchery, but we have been successful in educating our members by bringing in whole sides of beef, hogs, lamb and goat,” says Allen. “We do huge BBQs in the summer, feature more unique cuts on chef’s tables, and offer house-made charcuterie on our menus, so that we don’t waste anything.”
Thanks to Allen and the club’s culinary team, Crow Valley is now able offer its members unique, high-quality meat products on a number of different menus.
“Because we only have so much inventory, members are eager to try our different products,” says Allen, who stresses the importance of respecting the lives of the animals he serves. “We try to use all parts—from nose to tail—which also helps us to maximize profits.”
Crow Valley will feature a chop on the center of the plate for $28 to $32, depending on the preparation, says Allen, who buys his hogs for $1.50 to $2 a pound.
“We all but cover our cost with those chops and a prosciutto,” he says. “Then I’ll take the bellies and cure them for bacon, which is another huge money-maker. That doesn’t even include the profit we’ll make from sausages or hams.”
The biggest challenge for clubs without a James Allen on staff is typically drawing up an approved HACCP plan.
“Because I worked as an inspector, I know regulatory compliance,” says Allen. “In many cases, I’m the one educating inspectors, who are often shocked when they come to Crow Valley and see raw meat in our aging room that is hanging at 70° and covered in mold.”
To further his mission of providing safe, high-quality products to his members, Allen also earned his sanitation manager’s license.
“It’s important to work together with your inspectors and your membership, and to be as educated as possible about the process of butchery and charcuterie,” he says.
View gallery of Chef Allen’s butcher space and cuts below:
The Butcher and the Chef
At Wanakah Country Club in Hamburg, N.Y., Executive Chef Jeffrey Kolbas works closely with a local butcher, as well as a number of local farms, to source cuts for the club’s a la carte menus.
“There are a lot of farms in this area,” says Kolbas, who has been with the club for seven years. “Our members are very educated about quality meat. They expect high-quality proteins. They also expect consistency.”
By working closely with his local suppliers, Kolbas can deliver on that expectation with products that meet his quality standard, as well as those of his members.
“Our menu is pretty big, and we change it every two months,” says Kolbas. “We always have certain cuts on the menu—a New York Strip, a filet—but depending on the season we might switch it up and bring in a tomahawk chop or baby-back ribs.
“No matter what I bring in, it needs to be the best the butcher has,” he adds. “And by developing a close relationship with that supplier, I’m able to get those products consistently.”
View gallery of the cuts Chef Kolbas gets from his butcher below: