They say necessity is the mother of invention. Back in January of 2009, talented editor and food writer, Camas Davis lost her job at Portland Monthly magazine. Her quest to find a new relationship with food led her to southwestern France. Through Kate Hill's cooking school, Kitchen at Camont, Camas met Dominique Chapolard and his family, who run an old-fashioned pig farm. They grow their own grain to feed their own pigs, and they slaughter and process their own pork, and sell it directly to their customers at farmers markets. Camas was blown away at this direct relationship between buyer and seller. Where had that gone in the American landscape? And why?
Camas came back to the States determined to find the answers. Her answer came in the form of the Portland Meat Collective. Determined to restore the long-lost, local supply chain, she started at the beginning, with education. By connecting the community consumers with local farmers, she conducts hands-on butchery classes that teach people everything they ever wanted to know about the meat that they eat. A local chef or industry expert conducts the class with Camas as students learn about butchering whole pigs or rabbits, primal cuts of beef, or finishing traditional products like sausages and terrines.
Why are people so interested in knowing more about meat? Are Americans really that sentimental and nostalgic? Are we really that hungry for the raw and the real? The answer seems to be "Absolutely!" When I joined Camas for a whole hog butchery class, the attendees had travelled to Portland from as far away as Denver and Vancouver, British Columbia. Motivated by environmental awareness, health concerns, and simple curiosity about what they eat, people wanted more information. Camas' students range from young professionals and enthusiasts to bold housewives and community activists. It was a pleasure to be surrounded by people who believe passionately that knowledge is power, and there are a growing number of people who want more power in their eating habits.
I made a diagram for the students that would illustrate what we were going to be doing. Of course, there is step by step instruction during the class, but when you are standing over 120 pounds of flesh and skin and bone for the first time, you could be forgiven for not remembering a thing or two. My method of butchery is a combination of French, American and Italian seam butchery. We separated the major muscle groups and I explained the difference in the muscle fibers to the students so they would know the difference between cooking a tenderloin or a tongue, an eye of round or a shoulder.
I know the Portland Meat Collective could only find an audience in a few cities in North America, but I am proud that Portland is one of them. Camas has been very keen to find the breach in the supply chain, and gutsy enough to try and patch it through education and training at many levels. I recommend you support her efforts and find the class that is right for you.