Women on the Land: Butcher Basics

The Woman on the Land Butcher Basics Workshop last week was incredibly fun and informative.  Groundswell Center hosted the workshop as the first part of our Women on the Land Workshop Series. It was held at the one and only Piggery butcher shop and farm store, in Ithaca, and taught by the amazing co-owner Heather Sandford.  20 women of all ages, with sleeves rolled up, showed up ready to process chickens and butcher half a pig.  All the animals were raised locally on pasture; the chickens at Autumns Harvest Farm and the pig at the Piggery’s farm.  Many participants had never been to the Piggery, which is an experience all in itself.  The friendly and generous employees offered all of us cured meats to taste while we waited for the workshop to get started.  My personal favorite has always been the roast beef, but the Piggery now has a new capicola that is spicy and oh, so tasty.  

The workshop was held in the back room of the butcher shop. Upon arriving, there were 11 chickens laid out on stainless steel tables and half a pig hanging from a hook. Heather shared some background information about the Piggery, their business goals, ethics and processing systems.  If you’re not familiar, I hope you’ll get to know them. The Piggery is a local farm and butcher shop that also sells some of their products nationally.  Their business model – the sustainable farm to butcher shop and small farm store, plus their community involvement and eduction efforts – play a critical role in the regional food system for many small to medium scale farmers.  

We spent the first part of the workshop working in pairs to learn how to breakdown a whole chicken correctly.  While many of us had done this before, we all learned new tips and tricks to make cleaner cuts and use all parts of the bird.  The second half of the workshop was spent learning about the different cuts on a pig, and how to process them. Although we used different hand saws and knives to do the processing, the Piggery usually processes using electric equipment for the sake of speed and refinement.  As somebody who buys a fair amount of meat from local farms and has dabbled in DIY butchering, it was quite informative to learn more about the different cuts on a pig and where my favorite cuts actually come from.  Heather also discussed how the Piggery uses every single part of the animal…from the fat pieces to the bones, each part is nutritious, delicious and is sold as is or processed into a value added product.  For example, bones are used to make a bone broth, an extremely nutrient dense stock-like liquid that’s good for joint and gut issues.  

We hope you’ll stop by the Piggery next time you’re in the market for some meat – or even root vegetables, maple syrup, cheese, milk, bread and more… they’ve got a packed little store of some of the best products from the region (Yep! even in the winter!).  

Stay tuned to the Groundswell web site for more Women on the Land Workshops! We look forward to hosting another Butcher Basics Workshop with Heather in the future!