Lost Skills: Whole Animal Butchering
When was the last time you went down to the neighborhood butcher shop and picked up some steaks or pork chops, or even offal, for dinner? Chances are, most Americans have never visited a stand-alone business selling meat products, nor do they think about the time, the work and the treatment that goes into said products. Butchers themselves seem to be a dying breed, their handiwork replaced by mass-produced meats wrapped in plastic sitting on styrofoam to be found at grocery stores.
With the recent trends to know more about the source of food, however, more customers want to learn how to use less-common cuts, how to take full advantage of the entire animal, even what that animal ate and how it was raised. Along with that comes a demand for artisanal butchery and skilled meat masters demonstrating their bone saw and hatchet artistry.
Northeast Florida boasts a handful of independent butcher shops, where customers can get personal service from knowledgeable meat vendors. One trained butcher, Vadim Akimenko, wants to take that a step further and provide locally raised meats to everyone. Based on attendance at a presentation on snout-to-tail cooking, there may just be the customer base he needs to kick his enterprise into high gear.
Local BBQ restaurant The Bearded Pig welcomed Akimenko to Jacksonville recently for a one-of-a-kind demonstration on whole animal butchering and homemade charcuterie. He was introduced to these skills at the Culinary Institute of America and his passion about educating consumers about locally raised meats was evident from the start of the event.
An eye for detail and the desire to put out the highest quality product possible led Akimenko to Savenor’s Market in the Beacon Hill neighborhood of Boston, where he learned the importance of real relationships with the customers. He started Akimenko Meats which allowed him to connect the farmers and their products to a customer base that sought to get closer to the source of their food.
The evening event at Sadler Point Marine Center included a butchering demonstration using a locally raised Berkshire pig provided by Pastured Life. Attendees were surprised to learn that while every part of the pig is usable for some form of food (including the head, for head cheese), if a pig weighs 250 pounds, you end up with a carcasee that weighs 187 pounds, and there will be approximately 121 pounds of meat in prime cuts. You can increase the amount of usable product yielded from the carcass if you use more fat, more bone and organs.
Stating that he learned to work with his hands by helping his dad work on cars, Akimenko demonstrated his mastery of butchering techniques, using a band saw and razor sharp knives, among other tools. “Meat cutting is the easiest job in the world. Just follow the seams and cut between them,” he said, while providing information on cuts for ham, bacon, sausages, salami and everything in between. He described the grassy smell of fresh meat and pointed out the muscular marbling as a sign of a healthy diet and a life with plenty of exercise.
Akimenko will be moving to Jacksonville to open a whole animal butcher shop, and brings with him a long list of experience as a charcutier, including work at No. 9 Park, the Journeyman Group and The Salty Pig in Boston. He is eager to return to his home and share the knowledge he has gathered with the food community of Jacksonville and to share his knowledge with his customers.
Keep an eye out for Akimenko Meats in Jacksonville. Learn more about the sponsor of this event at The Bearded Pig BBQ.