Maddie From The Block

Don’t be fooled by the blog that I got; I’m still, I’m still Maddie from the BLOCK.

  Butchernoun/bú-chər/
    – One who cuts and sells meat in a shop
    A shop that sells meat

Trimming Pork at Porter Road ButcherOne of the oldest trades in the world—second to prostitution!—butchers have been systematically processing animals and cutting and selling meat since ancient times. Although in the United States actual butcher shops seem to be somewhat antiquated due to the popularity of meat-filled supermarkets, the skill of butchering animals is anything but lost.  And it’s still exactly that: something that takes immense skill.

Then again, when you walk into either PRB shop it might not necessarily look that way: sure, customers are able to peek in at the guys in the cutting room and watch while their nimble fingers work away on hunks of meat both large and small, bits of silver skin peppering the floor, but most likely you’ve got no clue as to what’s going on and therefore can’t really appreciate it. Am I right?

I mean, an average Joe or Jane could likely differentiate between the pig and the cow and maybe even decipher the ribs and from the loin if you so much as slid by with a C in Anatomy 101, but actually experiencing what these guys do first-hand really lends to a deeper understanding of the craft.

And that, my meat-loving friends, exactly what I wanted when I started my stage at PRB West last Monday, March 10th.

  Stagenoun/’stahj/
    – An apprentice at a butcher shop
    – One who learns the skill of butchering by interning at a butcher shop or shadowing a butcher, often times for no or little pay.

Butchery and Sawing of Cows at Porter Road ButcherAs the social media coordinator, AKA the person who is promoting, pushing, photographing, Tweeting, and overall socially-loving on Porter Road’s products, I felt it was important for me to get to know more about…well…everything. So I geared up for a weeklong stage to really get into the meat of what goes on behind the scenes at PRB.

I arrived at the shop at 10:00 on my first day totally looking the part: baseball cap in hand, Shoes-For-Crews on my feet, and a plaid button-down hanging on my torso. I was ready to get down, and dirty, and meaty. And I was also really nervous. I was planning to spend every single day of this week, from ten in the morning to five in the evening, in a seriously chilly room, filled with large slabs of meat, surrounded by a group of knife-wielding men—and occasionally Nora, if she happened to pop her head in to say hello.

Sure, I’m conversational, but would I have enough to talk about with this group of dudes? Yes, I have years of at-home kitchen experience under my belt, but would they criticize my novice meat-trimming skills? Duh, I use a sharp knife probably every single day, but would I somehow end up chopping my finger off, rendering myself unable to return to the butcher block for the rest of the week, embarrassing myself wholeheartedly, and subsequently wasting both my stage and the blog post that was supposed to follow? God bless.

What began as me very timidly attacking a cow leg? arm? or maybe shoulder? soon turned into me semi-skillfully approaching the round and separating it into top round, bottom round, eye of round, knuckle, heel, tri-tip, and sirloin, identifying the spider steak, removing all of the silver skin, and finally slicing the remaining pristine hunks o’ beef into small chunks that would be tossed into the grinder to make fresh ground beef.

It took me the entire day. I stood still in one spot—my industry-approved, non-slip shoes a total waste—using the same butcher block from ten in the morning until five in the evening. Seven hours I trimmed beef. As I walked out the doors on Monday night at 5:17, my neck and shoulders ached, my lower back was stiff, and I needed a drink.

How do these guys do it every day?

Day two proved more exciting, as I had companions in the cutting room, enjoyed the questionable rap music that streamed from James’ iPhone, received helpful advice from a few guys who were watching me with a wary eye, and I was able to try my hand at cutting pig in addition to my former friend, beef.

Stage, Maddie Teren, trimming Pork at Porter Road ButcherNot only did I learn that slicing in an arc—which the yoga teacher in me translated into “half moon cuts”—would remove the silver skins more effectively than the sawing motions I had previously employed, but I also learned how to identify and pull at the seams of the meat in order to section out the various parts; I deciphered the difference between the good, savable fat and the bad, trashable fat; I figured out how truly difficult and tiring it is to saw apart the shank from the round; and most importantly, I learned that someone (who shall remain nameless) has a really small willy.

Isn’t it fascinating what you can learn while you’re cutting meat?

For five out of the six days that I staged, I spent varying amounts of time in the cutting room trimming down hunks of cow and pig, and taking my sweet time so as to avoid wasting any good meat. I was both shocked and elated that, even at my glacial pace, the guys assured me that my work was, “really a huge help.” I was having fun. I felt like I belonged. And I felt like a butcher.

Well at least until Chris came in, turned on the band saw, and sliced off a thick and perfect T-bone steak in the blink of an eye; or until Alex scooted me over a foot so he could swiftly chop off a couple of fresh, bone-in pork chops with a flourish; or until James waltzed in with a whole lamb slung over his shoulder and broke down the entire thing in roughly 5 minutes.

It was in those moments that I felt humble, curious, watchful, and overall in awe.

Pig Head from Porter Road ButcherThe opportunity to take a closer look behind the scenes made me feel like I was in a first-rate science class; I held a couple of lamb kidneys, I examined a pig head, I saw joint fluid ooze from a cow knee, and then I watched in wonder as each animal eventually turn into familiar cuts of meat. It was pretty damn cool.

You see, when you’re standing on the receiving end of the counter, separated from your butcher by a big ole refrigerated case that reaches the level of your chin, it really is hard to see back there! Much less understand what is going on. But if you can get a good view, and if you are able to ask some questions, and if you don’t really care how idiotic you might sound in asking them, you are afforded the chance to see and appreciate skill that each and every one of PRB’s team members has.

Although I’ve still got a thing or two to learn before I can really call myself a butcher (which, in all honesty, I doubt will ever happen—and at this point, I’m fine remaining at the status of a mere meat trimmer) I gained a greater sense of respect for, understanding of, and appreciation for the craft of butchering, but I also realized how much more there is to learn!

Thank God I’m just the girl behind the blog, the voice behind those Instagrams, and the eye behind the lense of the camera. I’ve got way too much catching up to do to really become a butcher—but I am still Maddie from the block. At this point, that title can never be revoked.Maddie From the Block - Staging at Porter Road Butcher