Alison Barker, sitting in front of the Who Dat Cafe in Marigny neighborhood of New Orleans, interviews Jamie Smith of Bluescreek Farm Meats from her home in Columbus, Ohio.
I’ve selected sections of our conversation in this and a subsequent post to help illustrate how Bluescreek is distinct in that they raise, butcher and educate.
Alison Barker (AB): Hi, Jamie! Let’s get this thing started (fiddles with voice recorder, enlarges video function on Skype.)
I’ll let you introduce yourself.
Jamie Smith (JS): I’m Jamie, and I work for my parents’ business–farm and butcher shop in Columbus, Ohio called Bluescreek Farm Meats.
AB: Great to finally talk to you, after many emails.
AB: I noticed you all have focused on a particular breed of beef in the past.
JS: Yes, it’s the Belgian Blue, which is actually called the “Arnold Schwarzenegger of cattle” because it’s double muscled. The cattle doesn’t have double of every muscle–its muscles are, for the most part, twice as large as ordinary cattle.
AB: Wow. I’ve actually just recently watched Conan the Barbarian for the first time, and so I have a lot of images in my head when you say that.
JS: Ha, ha, I haven’t actually seen Conan.
AB: Pretty much all of the iconographic Arnold images we have seem to come from Conan.
JS: Ha, ha. Cool! Yep, it’s that double muscled aspect that plays into the meats low fat state, which is really what my parents were raising just as doctors started telling everyone that fatty meat isn’t good for you. Nationwide, our meat industry started to breed fat out of beef and pork. We have customers all over who order it, freeze it, and use it year-round.
AB: I wonder how the meat industry responds to cooking trends as well as health trends.
JS: Good question. For the heart health concerns around fatty meat, a lot of our older cooking techniques for meat actually had to be altered for cooking time because a lot of fat has been bred out of the hogs we eat. Now, there are culinary trends and health trends to include some fat in your diet, including the fattier Berkshire pork for example. But when Bluescreek Farm Meats started to focus more on this pork to respond to the trend, usually consumers weren’t committed to fattier pork as a lifestyle change, but wanted to dabble in cooking the higher fat pork, and so we’d get requests for single pork chops at a time.
AB: Ohhhh realizing that this is only one part of a whole hog, which for some reason wasn’t clear when drooling over the butcher case in Whole Foods.
JS: It just wasn’t sustainable for us to continue to breed and provide this type of pork.
AB: I’d imagine this reflected a lack of understanding on the part of the consumers–our fads in health and eating are sort of instant-gratification based, aren’t they?
**The Education Piece**
AB: As you know, I first emailed you after I found the list of butchery classes you offer to the public, with no previous food service experience required (which some programs insist upon.) How did you decide to add an education piece to the business?
JS: It was May of 2010. Every year the North Market has a gala—the building is owned by the city, and the market is a nonprofit and we merchants all participate in the gala to raise money for the North Market, complete with a silent auction. We decided to donate an educational experience. We’ve had requests in the past for butcher-for-a-day events, so this was the opportunity to try it out. A gentleman named Bob won it, and just last month, he bought another butcher for a day from us now that we do full educational programs–he’s taken other classes, because he loved it so much. This prompted us to make it a regular program. We got some good feedback on our butcher for a day programs, and then we held some classes that integrated cutting and cooking aspects. Our first class was a lamb cutting/cooking class, and we showed people how certain dishes work with the cuts we taught them to prepare. We were around 15 people, and it went really well. We even had a freshman in college. Most were in the 30-55 age range.That was our learning class. It was fun to do the cooking aspect, but we could really spend the whole time on the cutting aspect. We give cooking advice every day, but it’s the cutting and the meat preparation that people need education on. We’ve tweaked the methodology so that we are using our time on cutting.
AB: Have you seen ways that past students have changed their buying habits with meat?
JS: Yes! An example: one woman took several of our classes and our butcher for a day experience. In the beginning she was buying the mainstream cuts like ribeye and loin chops. Now she’s buying lamb breasts—
AB: I’ve never heard the two words lamb and breast side by side before.
JS: Exactly! That’s the sort of cut we help teach people about that they wouldn’t otherwise know. She came in the other day telling us about doing stuffed boneless lamb breasts, and she was in a hurry. My dad told her he would prepare boneless for her if she would return, pick up some bone-in, and take them home and document that she still knew how to do the cut.
AB: Did she do it?
JS: Laughing. Yes! She took a bunch of pictures showing us that she knew the cuts step by step, and brought them in to us. David (co-founder) said, ‘this demonstrates that we are teaching people how to do this–and they’re remembering it.’
JS: Yes. It’s really an art, and a skill that enhances every day life. Everyone has to eat, and making choices to know how to prepare your meat comes with the need to learn the art of cutting. We’ve gotten to know a lot of our regular customers more intimately through our classes–And if they weren’t regular customers before they take the class, they are after.
AB: Do you feel like this expansion has been good for your business in general?
JS: Yes. Like I said, it’s opening the doors to customers we wouldn’t otherwise have.
We’ve had several people from a ways away—Tennessee, Cincinatti, Indianapolis. Many people tell us they’ve
looked all over for meat cutting classes, and we’re the closest business that offers ANYTHING.
AB: So my email out of the blue wasn’t really that strange.
JS: Nope, not really.
AB: It seems like by focusing on the individual customers, you’re actually increasing your reach, which is a funny paradox–like by being hyperlocal, and investing in the time-consuming consumer education piece, you’re actually becoming more nationwide or global in your intention and reach.
JS: Yes, definitely that’s true. We use social media and post the restaurants on twitter who come in to purchase the meat for their weekly or regular specials–this has prompted our customers who don’t eat out a lot to patronize those establishments.
End of part one.