Last August, just after returning from my butchery internship in Southwest France, I was sharing a plate of heirloom tomatoes with Lisa Donoughe of Watershed Communications. We were planning the very first Livestock event, an evening of live butchery demonstrations and live readings by writers concerned with the complicated meanings and emotions that surround the notion of killing your own dinner. I’d been telling her about my very loose idea to start a traveling butchery school and meat CSA. At the time, it was a barely formed fantasy in my head.
“Come up with a name,” Lisa said. “And make some postcards, and we’ll let you market it at the Livestock event.”
Right, I thought. Who advertises their business before they’ve even really figured out how to run it? It seemed crazy. But later that night I jotted down a very rough business plan and came up with a name: The Portland Meat Collective.
I called Jason Blackheart, an old design department colleague from my days as an editor at Portland Monthly magazine, and asked if he’d work his artistic magic on my insanely rough business idea in exchange for meat—which I would, um, someday be able to get for him, I was sure. He took a chance on me—with no capital or startup funds to speak of—as did the talented photographer, Lincoln Barbour. And within a few weeks I had a handsome postcard, a bold and brilliant logo, and a general brand idea.
The Livestock event was a great success—both nights sold out, in fact—and I was able to somehow articulate for the audience what the PMC would be launching in the new year. In the days that followed the event, I received hundreds of emails from people wanting to sign up for classes, wanting to source meat through the PMC. I was onto something without even knowing it.
It wasn’t until February that the PMC offered it’s first class: a basic pig butchery course.
It’s an understatement to say that I could not have done that class without the unwavering and insanely enthusiastic help of Adam Sappington, chef and owner of Country Cat Dinnerhouse and Bar and Tray Satterfield, at the time a butcher at Pastaworks. I think it’s because they’re both Southern: Every time I’d say something was too complicated or too difficult to do, they’d wave their hands at me and exclaim “It’ll be easy!”
For the first class, at Zenger Farm—an organization that has been extremely supportive by allowing me to hold many of my first classes there, including our first chicken slaughter class, which was not for the faint of heart—Adam demonstrated how to break down a whole pig in front of eight students. After an hour, we split the group into two. Tray led one group through an entire side of pork on top of a very shaky table while Adam led the other.
Their confidence amazed me, first of all. But secondly, everything they were doing was completely foreign to me….
Maybe I hadn’t learned anything in France, I thought. What was Adam doing sawing through the 3rd and 4th ribs. I thought it was the 5th and 6th ribs I was supposed to cut through? Thus began part two of my ongoing journey into the incredibly diverse world of butchery, one in which, with every new teacher that graces PMC students with their knowledge and skills, I realize how learning butchery can also entail a lesson in history, race, class, geography, and culture, a lesson about moments of abundance as well as scarcity, and a lesson in taste and style and skill.
Adam has taught classes with the PMC ever since. And Tray has too. She’s also been willing to help me scrub cutting boards and sharpen knives, source meat, pick up pigs with her car, find other great PMC teachers, recruit students, offered advice on how to make classes more efficient, and, generally been an impressively enthusiastic PMC supporter from the very beginning, despite how hard things got.
I have been lucky enough to have been helped out by a number of other equally kind, generous, and enthusiastic people, and at the risk of being completely long winded, I want to thank them here.
In addition to the dedicated women of Zenger Farm, a few others have offered their spaces to the PMC for our classes. We’ve been lucky enough to teach in Robert Reynolds’ Chef Studio many times and Robert has always dispensed incredibly helpful advice to me about turning my ideas into reality. And Ken Rubin and David McIntyre at the Art Institute Culinary School have been extremely generous by letting the PMC use their beautiful kitchen on a regular basis, which has required many of their staff to spend time with the PMC on their days off. And Yianni Doulis, your barn rocks. ‘Nuff said.
David Padberg, of Park Kitchen fame, has been supportive from the beginning, not only letting the PMC use their private dining room, but teaching classes and drawing one of the most comprehensive pig butchery diagrams I’ve encountered thus far.
Ben Meyer, you can teach a Pig Head class, or anything else really, for the PMC anytime!
No one can carve a prosciutto leg better than Gabriel Claycamp, and the fact that every student who takes his Basic Pig Butchery for Home Charcuterie now has pancetta and lomo hanging in their closets on a regular basis makes me smile.
When Tray Satterfield told me I should meet the “Johnny Cash of the Northwest Meat Industry,” she wasn’t kidding. Bob Dickson—who has taught classes for the PMC and taken time out of his incredibly busy days as the director of Dayton Natural Meats to tell me what I’m doing wrong and what I’m doing right and how exactly I might brine an entire leg of pork by pumping brine into the ephemeral artery—has been a Coach Taylor of meat (for any Friday Night Lights freaks out there) for me.
Levi Cole may not know it but somehow he is the whole reason I went to France to study butchery in the first place. Watching Levi kill a pig and roast it for his birthday so many years back switched something in me forever. My craving for the raw, the gritty, the real, the difficult, and the dirty underside of food had until then been merely an abstract form haunting the back of my head until the moment I witnessed Levi kill a pig. After that, all abstraction came into hard and clear focus, and just about anything seemed possible. Not only has Levi donated his time and even some money to the PMC cause, he’s helped to create a certain kind of PMC culture. I love watching Levi teach our students how to kill their own chickens and rabbits, with his unique combination of calm logic (a result of years spent as a critical care nurse), culinary passion, wry sense of humor, and a kind of antiquated homesteading confidence I rarely see these days, he helps the students work through what can often be a tremendous struggle over morality and ethics and repulsion. Plus, Levi’s the only person I know who wants to party when a sausage grinder arrives in the mail.
I want to give a big thanks to the mighty PMC volunteers who dedicated their Saturdays to helping us figure out what the heck we were doing, and trimming and packaging all that meat and having a good time while doing it: Harry, Tom, Michal, Charlie, Erika, Sarah, Bubba, Emily, Nathaniel, Stacey, Jana, Emma, and all the AI students who show up at the last minute to help and learn. We couldn’t do it without you.
There are of course, many people who helped me and supported me in much more complicated and abstract ways. So, thanks to Jill Davis, for instance, my feisty, opinionated, incredibly passionate, and super intelligent former magazine colleague and great friend who taught me to unleash my “awesome power” and then helped me to reign it back in when it got too overwhelming at times. Jill is someone who understands injustice and doesn’t tell me to calm down when it pisses me off. Plus she’s going to be a great filmmaker someday and I like that her first documentary is about the PMC and killing chickens—it’s called Good Bird and if you ever get a chance to see it you should.
Thanks to the young woman at the Woodburn Livestock Auction who recognized the look on my face that said I had no idea what I was doing and took me under her wing to help me bid on and buy 10 roosters from a fast-talking auctioneer—and then helped me get all those roosters into cages, no small feat.
And to Robin Romm, my long-time friend, who somehow always gets it no matter how crazy what I’m saying is.
Thanks to Slow Food Portland for sending me to the Terra Madre conference this year. I still haven’t figured out how to put into words what I learned there, but it was so important.
I definitely want to thank Tom Colligan—Roaster of Meats—for teaching me how to cook and eat meat again back when I was a young, ex-vegetarian who hated pork chops—and for teaching me plenty of other things too.
And Eugenie Frerichs for being so wildly enthusiastic about my hair-brained idea to go to France to learn butchery, and for taking such beautiful pictures of my experiences there.
And Chris for enduring a rough time and a complicated “pork drunk love” that maybe didn’t turn out as planned, but which nonetheless launched me in its own indirect way into doing what I’m doing now.
Sonya Barker for accepting me and supporting me always no matter how mucky in the head I sometimes get. And Matt Ellis for providing me with free legal council.
Thanks to the folks at Pastaworks for letting a food writer like me cook food for people at Evoe and for letting me try my hand behind the meat counter. It was an extremely important experience for me.
Thanks to Scott Dybvad for his “treat your meat tooth” brilliance. And Hava Terry for always making me laugh, even though she doesn’t like to eat meat.
Andrew, thanks for putting up with my non-stop work weeks, and long hours, and nervous energy, and for-naught-evenings-of-worry, and my many mistakes and moments of doubt, and for teaching me about profit and spreadsheets and how to have a good business head screwed on tight. And how to have a good time. Thanks for making that rooster in Hawaii shut up too. He was way too loud.
A huge thanks to Kate Hill in Gascony, for letting me live with her last summer, plying me with floc and homemade meals, and setting up my incredibly valuable butchery internship with the Chapolards.
And of course a huge thanks to the Chapolards for being such loving and patient teachers, and for forgiving me when I accidentally cut up their pork leg one day as though it were stew meat. And for telling me over and over again how important it was that I DO something with everything I learned when I got back to the states. And, quite simply, for helping me to understand the true meaning of the edge of a knife.
Dad, thanks for teaching me early on about fish guts and the scent of deer, and the sound of a shotgun, and the whoosh of an arrow, and the importance of being humble and respectful in the face of hard things like killing and eating animals, and for showing me how to get my hands dirty.
Zach, thanks for teaching me how to run a business, and how to keep track of my finances, and for finding time for Cast Iron Coding to building my website (oh yeah I still have to find time to write the content!) and for generally being there during a rough couple of years.
And Mom. For raising me to remain confident even in the face of utter doubt. Plus, what mom agrees to give her daughter a meat smoker for her birthday even if she doesn’t really like meat? My kind of mom.
And lastly to the hundreds of students who signed up for over 30 PMC classes between February and December and taught me much about learning and teaching and the importance of reviving the art of butchery.