By Pat Dillon
Wisconsin has long enjoyed a proud tradition of throwing brats and wieners on a grill packaged by nationally-known, Wisconsin-based meat processors. We even race them at our Brewers games. But artisan butchery is back in vogue, part of the fast-growing slow-food movement that’s bringing old world traditions to our tables. Here are a few spots where your meat is raised locally and butchered by hand. In some cases, you can take a class on how to do it yourself.
Mathias at Underground Butcher on Madison’s Eastside gets half a locally raised steer weekly and then painstakingly separates muscle from tendon, or “by the seams” as he describes it. This old-school butchering process is the newest trend in using the whole animal by harvesting the smallest, and in some cases most tender, “muscles” that large processors miss. The Underground Butcher is just one part of the Underground Food Collective that also includes Forequarter restaurant, and a processing facility where 6-12 hogs are delivered a week for handmade salami and cured meats--also where they hold classes on how to break down a hog, lamb or goat, and make sausage, bacon, rillette and pate’.
At Bavette La Boucherie in Milwaukee’s Third Ward, owner Karen Bell custom cuts whole animals that were responsibly raised on Wisconsin farms and humanely slaughtered. Bell’s shop has counter space and cafe tables where customers watch her “artisanally” butcher beef, pork and lamb while noshing or sipping fine wine sourced by her sister Jessica Bell, owner of My Wine School. Bell admits her meat is pricey but that the quality and flavor is well worth it. Bell offers a happy hour, wine tasting classes, and demos on how to break down a whole hog.
Some say Ken and Sherrie Ruegsegger’s ground poultry makes a great gift. This farming-retailing family raise grass fed, free range, soy-free angus beef, pork, chicken and turkey on their New Glarus farm. To tackle butchering the big pieces, the Ruegsegger’s have used Hoesly’s Meats in New Glarus for 35 years, one of a few remaining family owned butchers. But Ruegseggers butcher their own poultry to create the purest ground meat available. Then they sell it all out of their store, Paoli Local Foods in Paoli. Locavores travel there on bikes and in cars to claim their stake of Ruegsegger’s farm to table fresh meat. They also sell it at Dane, Milwaukee and Racine County farmers’ markets and online.