Is butchering livestock a dying art?
Gourmet butcher, Cole Ward, is preserving the personal connection between
the man, the meat, and the animal.
The students raise, prepare, and cook everything from garden variety
vegetables to maple syrup, meats, and cheeses.
Last week I joined
about 25 students at Sterling College to watch Cole Ward deconstruct a pig.
Sterling College, for those who don’t know, is a tiny college in Craftsbury
Common with a focus on hands-on education: farming, alternative energy, outdoor
leadership, woodworking, stuff like that. It turns kids into the strapping,
multi-talented twenty-somethings you feel certain you would have been at that
age, if only you hadn’t majored in, say…literature.
And Cole Ward, for
those who don’t know, is The Gourmet Butcher. The barrel-chested 57-year-old
plies his trade at the Sweet Clover Market in Essex, but more and more he
teaches the fine art of butchering. That’s what he was doing at Sterling, which
has a new Farm-to-Table program. Students raise their own food, harvest it,
prep it, and cook it. Not just cherry tomatoes, either. At Sterling, they’re
working with maple syrup, yogurt, cheese, tofu, and, yes, livestock. The pig
that Cole Ward deconstructed was raised on the Sterling campus, and will be
devoured there in a variety of delectable ways.
slice into the seams between muscles and produce beautiful cuts made me realize
how important his expertise was, and how close we are to losing it. There are
better and worse ways to butcher, and Ward teaches the right way. No power
tools, just hack saws, cleavers, and knives. But power saws are standard
practice now, and Ward’s is a dying art. On the bright side, there’s a revival
of interest in butchering, as we’ve all started paying more attention to where our
meat comes from. And Ward has welcomed the attention. "I thought I was done
teaching this," he admitted. But wanting to learn how to do it yourself and
wanting to enter the business are two different things. "Nobody apprentices
anymore," Ward said.
Where will the
next Cole Ward come from? I wouldn’t be surprised if it was one of these
Sterling students earnestly flexing their cleavers. Because, like any skill,
butchering is cool and beautiful when you see it done right. There have been
one or two occasions when my ability to deconstruct Ulysses has come in handy, but just imagine the party invites if I
could create hand-cut bacon.