Interview with the Central Texas Meat Collective

SFC is proud to partner with the Central Texas Meat Collective to provide hands-on butchery classes in The Happy Kitchen. You can join CTX Meat Collective founders, Julia and Leah, for Whole Hog butchery classes on November 5th and 6th.

What is CTXMeatCollective?

The Central Texas Meat Collective is a business that brings together farmers, chefs, butchers, and students all in the name of transparent meat education. The goal of the Meat Collective is to teach people how to buy whole or half animals from local farms, and how to butcher, cook, and cure every part of those animals. With this goal in mind, we will provide classes in order to help community members gain a more comprehensive understanding of sustainable meat consumption and production and to become active participants in that economy.

In our classes, the students do most of the work, under the tutelage of a professional butcher, and they go home with their fair share of that meat. The hope is that after a student takes a Meat Collective class, they will begin to buy animals and meat directly from those local farms, creating an alternate economy of meat that cuts out all the middle men and benefits both the farmer and the buyer, as well as the environment and our local economies.

How did you get into working with meat/animals?

J: I grew up on a bit of a funny farm, so since I was a kid I always had a fierce love for animals. Many years down the road, that love translated into sourcing whole animals from local farms and butchering them. It took traveling to two different coasts and working years as a line cook, but the relationship between food and community is one that inspires me daily.

L: I've always had a deep appreciation for the nose-to-tail movement, and wanted to feel closer to the animal husbandry aspect of it. So, two years ago, my husband and I bought property and got to work. We started small with only a handful of pigs, but enjoyed them so much, that we instantly became hooked. They're fun to work with and can be extremely useful animals to have on the farm, since they gladly recycle any produce leftovers and can help root up weeds in the pasture while fertilizing the soil at the same time. After processing our first round, we were floored at how different the meat from pasture-raised, heritage breed hogs is from commercial pork.

Why do you think it's important to the information presented in this class?

J: Central Texas home to many incredible farms, local producers and restaurants who depend on the community to be successful. It feels so important to me to create accessible and educational spaces for people to learn about their local agriculture so that they can be supportive and involved.

L: This day in age, there are so many choices when it comes to purchasing food, and it's more important than ever to vote with your dollar. Furthermore, when you get into heirloom and heritage products, there is an enhanced quality and flavor that can't be ignored. Heritage breed pigs is a perfect example of this - we need to share this experience and celebrate it with folks!

How can students benefit from this class?

J: The main thing that I want students to walk away from this class with is knowing the value of their local farmer and what they're producing. And the most fun thing about this class is obviously the hands on butchering the students will be allowed to do or observe. Through this session students will gain knowledge on how to purchase a whole animal, and all the cuts that make up that share of animal. We will also provide tips on cooking and storing.

L: As a farmer, I see firsthand how intimidating it can be (from the consumer perspective) to initiate a conversation about buying a whole animal. I have many customers who are, at first, shy about purchasing a whole or half animal - and rightfully so! Going through a cut sheet can be overwhelming and it's hard to grasp exactly how much freezer space you need to accommodate bulk quantities of meat. I think students can benefit from learning the advantages to buying meat in bulk, the options that exist for different cuts of meat, and some of the unique challenges of raising meat in Central Texas.

What is one thing you wish people knew about meat?

J: I think that buying meat can be bit intimidating due to the price. I even get sticker shock myself sometimes… So, I think it’s important to eat less meat, but of a higher quality, in order to support local meat more often. Also FAT IS AWESOME. It’s good for you, too!

L: I wish to help people understand the "make up" of a whole pig. For example, a whole pig only has about 15 pounds of bacon- leaving around 175 pounds of other cuts. So, approaching your local farmer and asking to buy 50 pounds of bacon is not only unsustainable but often not possible, and there are several other cuts that are just as exciting to cook with. Let's start that conversation about how versatile different cuts can be! Also, as Julia said, the fat from pasture-raised heritage hogs is phenomenal AND packed with healthy Omega 3's - and there is plenty of it!

What's your favorite cut of pork?

J: There are so many! From lesser known cuts like the ‘secreto’ to a pork chop, it’s hard to pick just one. However, if I had to go with something it would be pork shoulder. It’s an economical purchase that has incredible flavor and yield.

L: It's so hard to pick! Ground pork is probably my favorite thing to cook with - and luckily it can be made from practically any cut of the hog, depending on customer preference. You can make sausage, meatballs, stir fry, or fill dumplings with it - it's the most versatile thing to have on hand and cooks very quickly. I have a hard time rationing it when I have it in my freezer!