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First-time butchery workshop draws sold-out crowd

Last week at Hudson Heritage Farms, near Elmo, more than 30 people attended a workshop on farm butchery. The one-day workshop was hosted by Hudson Heritage Farms with support from the Virginia Cooperative Extension Service.  

Halifax County’s extension agent, Chris Brown, and Denise Hudson of Hudson Heritage Farms began planning the workshop several months ago. 

This is the first time such an event has been held in the local area, and the class was sold out in less than one week after it was advertised to the public. 

Workshop attendees were a diverse group made up of chefs, meat brokers, farmers, hunters and the general public. Attendees were from North Carolina and Virginia with some coming from as far away as Northern Virginia and the Virginia Tidewater area.

A true butcher is one who can slaughter animals, dress the flesh and explain the different cuts and their potential for use in various menus. 

Highly skilled butchers are difficult to find as in most places they have been replaced with minimally trained meat workers. These meat mechanics, as they are sometimes called, can adequately cut up the boxed  meat provided by large producers, however often they don’t know the difference between sirloin and top round, much less how to properly cook it.

As Americans are focusing more and more on where their food sources come from and how their food is being processed, custom butcher shops are once again becoming popular. 

In a 2012 survey by the National Restaurant Association, locally sourced meat is the number one trend for main dishes in finer restaurants. Local butcher shops prefer locally produced products raised by family farmers under free-range grass-fed conditions because they wish to provide their customers with quality, chemical free meat. 

Local butcher shops, like local farmers markets, are another way the consumer can be better aware of just how their food is being handled.

The butchery workshop at Hudson Heritage Farms was taught by Justin Meddis and his wife, Katie, both professionally trained chefs. Justin is not only a chef, but a master butcher as well, while his wife is a professional baker. 

As Justin broke down a side of beef, he was able to explain in detail the names of each cut and how they could best be used in a restaurant or home kitchen.

He demonstrated how to utilize the entire carcass for value-added products rather than just grinding anything other than the typical cuts of meat sold in a supermarket into hamburger. 

Justin and Katie will soon be opening their own custom butchery shop in Durham, called Rosie’s Meats.

Though the workshop was actually only one day, the preparation for the event took several months of planning and coordination. The locally-produced pasture raised meat used in the workshop was provided by Ned and Ned Jr. of Strange Farms. They home slaughtered a steer on their farm on a cold snowy day, then the meat was hung in a meat locker belonging to James Edmunds of Edmunds Farms for 12 days to age. 

Thanks to the financial support provided by Spaulding Equipment Company, Farm Credit and Farm Bureau, the cost to attend the workshop was nominal. Lunch for everyone in attendance consisted of pasture-raised beef and pasture-raised goat provided by Misty Meadows Farms and Hudson Heritage Farms respectively.  

Based on the positive feedback provided by the workshop attendees and the long waitlist of those wanting to attend, but turned away, it is highly likely there will be similar workshops conducted in the future at Hudson Heritage Farms.