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Farmers Do Not Raise Tenderloins

April 7, 2011

“Everything we do, we do to help the farmer.”

Could be an executive director speaking.  You know, of a non-profit whose mission is to help farmers.  The sort of person you would have heard speaking at FamilyFarmed Expo recently.

Could be the USDA; they’ve adopted the Know Your Food, Know Your Farmer slogan.

Could be a locavore talking, advocating for farmers market shopping.

(Someone like, say, me:  The Value of a Farmer)

But most recently, I heard it from Rob Levitt, butcher.

With eight guests in his shop, the Butcher & Larder, all paying to watch a lamb butchering demo, Rob explained what is most crucially different about his philosophy.  Yes, he’s in business and therefore needs to make money, but he is not going to do so buying t-bones and tenderloins from farmers.  Rob will only buy the whole animal.  This means Rob is taking on the business decision to SELL every part of that animal.  Farmers must love him.  After all, that’s what they raise – whole animals.  They do not raise tenderloins.

It gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling to know the world is moving toward better eating and an understanding that we need to respect and use all the parts of the animal.   And on a Sunday afternoon with the shop closed up, Rob welcomed seven home cooks and one restaurant cook who paid money to better understand the whole animal.  They paid.  They voted in favor of healthier foods and more respectful eating.  They are to be applauded!

This particular spring lamb came from Pinn-Oak Ridge Farms in Wisconsin.

use weight and gravity whenever possible

guests had cameras and video rolling constantly!

tiny t-bones!

fully broken down

This is my second Rob Levitt butchering demo (catch the other at Butchering Bessie).  What did I learn?  Well, I noticed a lamb is clearly easier.  It is smaller and yields fewer choices and decisions.  The butchering seemed easier and it’s clear there is less meat, so if you happened to be doing a whole animal at home, you’d have a smaller processing and packaging challenge.  I also thought it was odd, and disappointing, that lamb fat doesn’t seem to have much use.  Rob of course tries to use all he can from an animal, but apparently lamb fat is not rendered like pork leaf lard would be.  If you happen to have a delicious use for lamb fat, do tell Rob.  He wants to know!

Maybe you’re not into watching a whole butchering demo.  That’s ok.  We don’t all have time and money for that.  But we do have this responsibility to respect the whole animal and Rob’s shop is a wonderful place for the home cook to start.  All the staff at B & L are amazing tutors.  Ask any of them what to do with cut X or cut Y and they will give you lots of wonderful cooking advice.  They are butchers and cooks, so they know what they’re talking about and can give you approachable ideas.  For my part, I left that night with Rob’s unusual shoulder cut he was calling a blade steak (center/left in the photo above).  I couldn’t pull off grilling, but lathered them with harissa and coriander and pan-fried in lard.  Oh, they were delicious!

Here is my challenge to you.  Walk into the Butcher & Larder.  Trust Rob and say: “What do you have that is underutilized?  How can I help you and the farmer use the whole animal?”  Take his cut and advice home and give it a try!  Dare ya!  Double-dog dare ya!


Butcher & Larder

Rob and his right-hand man, Chris Turner, are both featured in my crazy series Chefs And Their Spoons.  Check it out!

13 Comments leave one →
  1. April 7, 2011 10:17 am

    Excellent post! Looks like an interesting shop! Where is it located? Gives me some ideas… =)

  2. April 7, 2011 3:51 pm

    I love your challenge. I’ve read a story about his use for pork collar and thought it was a great suggestion. Then there was the whole Pork Belly Steak idea! As a consumer, it’s been fairly difficult to get unique cuts of meat . . . until now. Big fan of the shop. I need to go more.

  3. Kenny permalink
    April 7, 2011 8:08 pm

    Rob’s former colleague – Andrew Zimmerman – came up with some good uses for lamb fat, reported about in the Chicago Reader:

    • April 8, 2011 11:36 am

      I love Andrew dearly, and think he is one of the most talented chefs in the city. We both share a disdain for lamb fat and while his Reader challenge was pulled off wonderfully I am fairly certain any praise for lamb fat was a diplomatic attempt to look good in print. If anyone can make it delicious, Andrew can, but I’m sure it was torture…

      Harry- I’d love to continue this conversation with you some time. It is difficult to balance the commodity and direct market, and I have heard both sides of the whole animal conversation. Let’s talk soon!

  4. April 7, 2011 11:18 pm

    This farmer raises and sells tenderloins! Nice post Grant. Best wishes to Rob and his butcher shop. After having some awesome meals at Mado, one can only expect excellence from his new endeavor.

    The topic of whole animal sales is a bit perplexing to me. On the one hand if enough people offered me as a farmer an attractive price for my animals whole in quantities that eliminated my need to direct market my product it would be tempting. I could just focus on raising those animals right? No delivery man? (farmers have to deliver as most customers are unwilling to make the long journey out to the farm) No slaughterhouse? (butchers don’t slaughter, nor do restaurants, or individuals, at least not legally. If you wish to sell across state lines please make that a USDA slaughterhouse, which requires a USDA inspector at all times of slaughter hanging over your head!!!) No website? No hours on the phone lining up sales? No farmers markets? (How do customers find out about you?) Wrong on all counts! It would still be tough to be the kind of farmer you can appreciate.

    The real decision is selling into the commodity markets, versus, direct marketing.

    I tried commodity markets only for twelve years, and I have direct marketed for five years.

    Selling all my animals in the commodity markets, I worked all the time with little if any help except my wife and children.

    With direct marketing I work all the time with lots of help from four full-time and about seven part-time employees.

    Whole animal sales offer farmers one attribute. It eliminates the difficulty of balancing inventory.
    Ironically, in this economy the problem is in selling the expensive cuts like tenderloins.

    Most restaurants are not going to buy whole animals. Most individual consumers are not going to buy whole animals. At farmer’s markets you will not sell many whole animals. If as a farmer you have the latitude to limit your sales to a minority of possibilities, may the force be with you. For moi the temptation was too great to parcel out those cuts and venture into the balancing act of what’s for dinner. Lately we shepherds have been living high on the tenderloins!

    • April 8, 2011 11:50 am


      First off let me thank you for commenting. I suppose I get redundant on this blog site about how wonderful it is that consumers and farmers are open and sharing information, but let me say it again! I think it’s great that you share a different point of view…and I, like Rob, would very much like to explore it with you a little more. I have a great deal of respect for you and your viewpoints…after all, you’re the farmer, you live it – what do I know?!

      You say “most restaurants are not going to buy whole animals”. I won’t argue that with you, since you used the word “most”, but I would like to stress that there is a strong and growing interest from restaurant chefs to do so. There are chefs doing it and more becoming aware of the value of it, both to them financially and to the farmer, presumably. It does take a different mindset in terms of menu planning, but for many, that is the wonderful challenge of using the whole animal and presenting it to diners in convincing and tasty ways.

      I’d love to come to Mint Creek next week (or meet you at B+L) to talk more and develop a follow-up blog post on this topic!

  5. Tatiana permalink
    April 8, 2011 10:27 am

    My weekly two bus trek to B&L has become a tradition. I am now addicted to cooking obscure cuts and delicious sausages for my friends. Wonderful post. Thank you for sharing.

  6. April 8, 2011 10:44 pm

    Hope I did not wear out my welcome with that long comment, sorry. It was past midnight and I was a bit foggy in my script. Love to chat more with you all in person about such fine topics preferably around a campfire toasting organ meats. Liquid refreshments would help the dialectic. Speaking of dialectic, things have a way of coming around again to a new and higher understanding through dialog and contradiction. Our newfound interest in whole animal butchering and use dates back to the primordial. In more primitive times we killed an animal, butchered it, and ate it as a tribe. Who received what cut? It all was consumed before spoiling. Embracing wholeness takes on new meaning.

    As to the lamb fat, my perspective on this is a bit different. Lambs finished on perennial poly-culture pastures that are nutrient dense have a thin not thick layer of fat. The fat is yellowish reflecting the high levels of beta-carotene, omega three fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acid. They are outside grazing and not in a feedlot, and preferably not fed grain. They are getting exercise and sunshine. This is obviously harder to accomplish during winter in the northern climates. We are just starting to get our new crop of lambs born this winter outside grazing under these conditions. This warm weather and rain upon us will cause an explosion in pasture growth that will cause the quality of eating experience to soar. Much of the popular sheep genetics that have been developed in the US over the last fifty years have been engineered around grain feeding systems. When you turn those animals out on grass and take away their grain they die. Unfortunately the fat from those grain-finished animals is not very healthy or palatable.

  7. Jenny permalink
    April 15, 2011 4:26 pm

    We LOVE WisconsinLamb trademarked from Pinn-Oak Ridge Farms, LLC in Delavan, Wisconsin. Great that you were able to use their product in your demonstration. I totally agree that it is great to use the entire animal. Will always buy from Steve & Darlene Pinnow directly from their farm.

  8. Kim Bartko permalink
    April 26, 2011 10:54 am

    Lamb fat is often used in Turkish, Uzbek, Moroccan, and other cuisines where sheep herding is part of the traditional culture. But their animals are pastured and are primarily a breed known as fat-tail sheep which are rarely raised in North America. This breed accumulates nearly all of its body fat in the tail and rump. This fat is solid, white, with a mild flavor and creamy texture and is considered essential for grilled kebobs and other ground lamb preparations in the cooking of these cultures. Slices of the fat are also layered between pieces of skewered meats to keep them moist, and the rendered fat is smeared on flatbread dough before cooking, similar to ghee on Indian naan. A small amount is rumored to be the secret ingredient in baklava as well as in an Uzbek cookie similar to Mexican polverones.

    Rob might want to check out Paula Wolfert’s “Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco,” which has a few recipes for lamb offal and lamb fat. To give you an idea of the texture and richness tail fat contributes to Turkish kebabs, Wolfert, in her another of her books “Mediterranean Clay Pot Cooking,” suggests substituting creme fraiche for hard-to-find lamb tail fat. Steve Raichlan’s “Planet Barbecue” also contains recipes that use lamb tail fat.

    Perhaps Harry might find raising a few fat-tail sheep to be a rewarding experiment. The meat and its tail fat are highly prized among Chicago’s Arab and North African communities and Chicago chefs interested in whole animals would have a whole new spectrum of flavors and cuisines to explore.

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