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Primal Cuts: Cooking with America's Best Butchers

Primal Cuts: Cooking with America's Best Butchers

by Marissa Guggiana, Alice Wong (Editor), Katrina Fried (Editor)

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Butchery was nearly a dead art, until a recent renaissance turned progressive meat cutters into culinary cult idols. Inspired by a locally driven, nose-to-tail approach to butchery, this new wave of meat mavens is redefining the way we buy and cook our beef, pork, fowl, and game. The momentum of this revived butcher-love has created a carnivorous frenzy, pulling a


Butchery was nearly a dead art, until a recent renaissance turned progressive meat cutters into culinary cult idols. Inspired by a locally driven, nose-to-tail approach to butchery, this new wave of meat mavens is redefining the way we buy and cook our beef, pork, fowl, and game. The momentum of this revived butcher-love has created a carnivorous frenzy, pulling a new generation of home cooks straight into the kitchen—Primal Cuts: Cooking with America’s Best Butchers is their modern meat bible.

Marissa Guggiana, food activist, writer, and fourth generation meat purveyor, traveled the country to discover 50 of our most gifted butchers and share their favorite dishes, personal stories, and cooking techniques. From the Michelin star chef to the small farmer who raises free-range animals—butchers are the guide for this unique visual cookbook, packed with tons of their most prized recipes and good old-fashioned know-how. Readers will learn how to cook conventional and unconventional meat cuts, how to talk to their local butcher, and even how to source and buy their own whole animals for their home freezer. Much more than just a cookbook, Primal Cuts is a revealing look into the lives, philosophy, and work of true food artisans, all bound by a common respect for the food they produce and an absolute love for what they do.

• 50 Profiles and Portraits of America’s Best Butchers
• 100 Meat Recipes for the Home Cook
• Practical Advice on Techniques and Tools
• Hundreds of Diagrams, Illustrations, and Photos
• Home Butchering How-To
• Tons of Trade Secrets

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Primal Cuts is a celebration of the art of the butcher…While the book covers many common cuts and options, it also explores — and gives recipes for — some lesser-known cuts and under-used animals. You'll learn the primal cuts for lamb, goat and venison in addition to understanding the different "personalities" of steaks (what distinguishes a filet from a strip steak, a rib-eye from flank). The recipes are both informative, and fun."
-Los Angeles Times

"This oversize paean to the many joys of dismembering whole beasts features nose-to-tail recipes from many of the country’s new butcher-block rock stars."
- Time Out New York

"Marissa Guggiana’s Primal Cuts is proof that our obsession with butchery and whole-beast cooking hasn’t yet reached a saturation point. Filled with interviews from butchers and chefs, recipes, and charts (on topics like sharing a cow)—Guggiana’s book is a modern meat manual that celebrates the craft of old-world butchery and sustainably-raised meat without resorting to overwrought praise and glorification."
- 7x7 Magazine

Primal Cuts is a book that celebrates butchers...full of straightforward, meat-focused dishes, each accompanied by a story about a member of the new, unexpected generation of American butchers — young, focused on quality and unwilling to compromise.”
- Richmond Magazine

"Marissa's ode to pork, lamb, beef, goat, duck and chicken is a can't-look-away book filled with well-worn recipes, illustrations and unfliching images of raw meat and white-coated butchers. A primal look at the food that fuels us, and a story of where that food comes from in all its carnivorous glory."
- BiteClubEats.com

"[Marissa Guggiana] has delivered the definitive guide to the country's carvers... At 287 pages and roughly as weighty as a rack of lamb, housed in a butcher-paper jacket, the book is full of butcher profiles, recipes, tips, philosophies and information along with hundreds of incredible photos."
- North Bay Bohemian

"Primal Cuts: Cooking with America's Best Butchers offers a focus on locally sourced meats with a survey of techniques and recipes from butchers across America, in effect creating a modern 'bible' packed with the latest meat insights.  Each step is illustrated in a visual cookbook that describes 100 recipes and covers everything from hot dogs to roasted goose and braised rabbit. The butchers themselves receive high profile in this unique presentation, highly recommended for any culinary collection."
- California Bookwatch

“A great book for people who want to know where their meat comes from.”
- Temple Grandin, author of Animals Make Us Human

“Anyone who laments the disappearance of the craft of butchery as a casualty of the industrial meat system will take heart in the very hopeful message of this book—that a new generation of butchers are restoring time-honored traditions in all corners of the country”.
- Paul Bertolli, chef, author of Cooking by Hand

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Read an Excerpt

Meat of Good Faith by Marissa Guggiana
Foreword by Dario Cecchini
Introduction by Andrew Zimmern

Meat of Good Faith by Marissa Guggiana

Standing before a dusty pile of pig testicles on a hot April morning, I realized that my life had come to a place from which it will never return.
After a boozy and beautiful Easter Sunday in Richmond, Virginia, with Tanya Cauthen of Belmont Butchery, I had hightailed to Polyface Farms in Swoope to meet Joel Salatin. When I arrived, I headed to a tent, where two people were quietly inventorying chest freezers filled with Cryovac bags of meat.
Something about the giant farmhouse—tilting into the earth with age—the solemnity of the employees, and the earnestness of my respect for Joel Salatin gives my memory of the afternoon a certain Dust Bowl glamour.

“Is Mr. Salatin here?”
“He expecting you? He’s up there.”
"Up where?”
“You’ll see.”
If that isn’t just how every fairytale begins. “Follow that path, young lady, the one with the destination just out of sight.” Sure enough, once I took a few steps I heard the visceral, gut-wrenching sound of a pig screaming. When I came around the corner, I watched this hero of mine, bent over, with a helper (so dirty from his physical work that he had mud on his teeth), castrating a young pig. Once Joel noticed me, he came right over, dropped a steaming set of testes at my feet, gave me the biggest shit-eating grin east of the Mississippi, and put out a hand. And I shook that hand without the slightest flinch.
There’s a flea-bitten old saw that says you should never meet a hero. If you think that seeing Joel emasculate a pig proves that to be true, well then, you just don’t know me at all. I was utterly charmed that after a flight from New York that morning, he had gotten right back into the grubby, squealing labor of being a farmer. Salatin is one of the great thinkers and mouthpieces of the good food movement, and the integrity of his opinions comes from the deep well of his hard work.
Joel Salatin, like every single butcher in this book is a mirror for me. Eating is a daily prayer, an act of care that passes from the earth into our every cell. Those that spend their lives in devotion to righteous food are my people. Every butcher in Primal Cuts is different, which is why I selected them, but we all share a mission to make food that is meaningful and that respects the earth and nourishes its inhabitants.
I run a meat plant in Sonoma County, California. The job of my company, Sonoma Direct, is to butcher whole animals from ranches in our community. Some of these animals, we sell to restaurants and grocery stores; others, we simply “cut and wrap” for farmers who sell their own meat. My work, as commander of this bandsaw brigade, gives me a front-row seat to the food system. From discussing weather and watersheds with producers to hanging out in the kitchens of my customers while the stock fortifies, I see the whole parade. I have the privilege, or thankless mandate, depending on the day, of being a collaborator with everyone.
I want so much to share with you the great creativity and commitment of these butchers as much as I want to share their delicious recipes. I hope you get even a fraction of the inspiration that I did from their stories and knowledge. I have taken a bellows to the definition of a butcher. These are not all men who work behind a counter in a shop, cutting meat all day. Some of them are. A new meat system is cropping up outside the centralized infrastructure and the butchers in Primal Cuts have found all sorts of deeply particular and inspired solutions to bring great meat to you. There are butchers in this book whom you might only find at a farmer’s market, or on their farm, or in the kitchen of a café. It is my hope that this expanded view of the role of the butcher will urge you to keep your eyes peeled for those hidden meat mavens in your own community.
The recipes in this book are of one spirit but not of one kitchen. Some are simple home-cooking favorites from meat cutters and others are the work of Michelin star chefs. I have taken care to give you recipes from every primal of beef, lamb, goat, venison, and chicken, and to offer varied cooking techniques for every season and mood. Whatever is in your fridge or takes your fancy, I think you will find a recipe in these pages.
I spent my day with Joel walking his property under the spring sun. It was the day after Easter and no one was missing the metaphor. Every blade of grass was in ascension. Polyface Farm pastures were starkly greener and more abundant than their neighbors, the property lines defying another old saw. We sat at Joel’s kitchen table and he shared his story, as so many other butchers had and would on my trip around the country to make this book.
“Have a glass of water. We have good water here.”
He had been a journalist and had come back to the farm. He writes, still, books of protest and testimony and blueprints of a world in his image.
Writing about meat is, for me, about as sweet as it gets. I have been a writer since I’ve been anything, really, and I’ve never met a subject that talked back to me nearly so much as meat. I love meat. I love it in that uncomplicated, bacon-in-a-pan-on-Sunday-morning kind of way. But much more, I love the way weaving through an animal’s life takes us through so many homes and habits and ecosystems. I love the traditions and the ceremony. I love the metaphors and the moral dignity it requires to eat meat in good faith, with a full heart.


Foreword by Dario Cecchini
Some time ago, maybe ten years, a butcher of about eighty and on the verge of retirement came to find me in my shop. He shook my hand and thanked me, telling me that my pride and passion in butchery had restored the dignity of the craft in the eyes of the people, and, therefore, in himself. Though I never saw him again and wish him the best for years to come, I will never forget what he told me: “I once was filled with the doubt that I had wasted my life, but now, thanks to you, I now know my doubts were wrong.”
Here is the essence of our craft as butchers: a task crude and compassionate, strong yet delicate, always respectful toward the killed animal, with the ethical imperative of always using the meat in the best manner possible, knowing that, since the beginning of time, these animals were given to mankind as a gift from God.
The true butcher, like the artists of the Tuscan Renaissance, walks the never-ending path in search of bettering his own art and reaching his fullest potential.
A true butcher looks to use the whole animal and hopes, as one would hope for themselves, that the animal had a comfortable life full of good food, necessary space to live and a respectful death.
The true butcher knows that his work is a piece of art, the most delicate craft of all that we eat and all that nurtures us.
A true butcher knows that his objective is not the pursuit of expansion or profit, but rather to become the master of his own art.
These were the inspirations of the artists of the Renaissance and these, surely, are the same inspirations of the American butchers who, with confidence and pride, have paved the way for a rebirth in this noble and ancient craft. In the end, the question will always be simple: To beef or not to beef . . .

Introduction by Andrew Zimmern
The book you hold in your hands is one of the keys to de-coding, understanding, and preserving culture on our planet as we know it. Sounds like a big idea and a lot of responsibility. Don’t let that stop you. Just because Marissa’s book is important doesn’t make it any less fun than taking a break at the family barbecue, tying up your cousin to the nearest ant hill, and basting him with honey. This tome is a collection of superb stories about the men and women who make the meat world go round, with recipes and buckets of undiluted butcher worship thrown in for good measure. It’s a paean to the meat cutting art. Its primacy is immediate, and because the return toward a renaissance of snout-to-tail eating is upon us, this book is supremely relevant. On the more amusing side of the equation, Primal Cuts accurately depicts the life and lessons of the meat world and profiles some of the more amusing vagabonds and legends in the business.
Primal Cuts does what other books of this type don’t, it connects its subject to you and your daily life. For thousands of years, everyone ate from necessity. Fancy food, restaurants, food movements, and the like were nonexistent. Many dishes from those times still remain, from black pudding to head cheese to dinaguan (a Southeast Asian stew of innards thickened with blood), from haggis to slátur to kalua wild pig and even asado con cuero. But in the main, those dishes have never been popular here in America. For the last seventy-five years, we have moved away from traditional eating and cooking in America. We have sped up our food chain, and cheapened and mechanized it to the point where we have endangered the health of our children. And along the way, we have placed the onus of feeding the most people for the least money on the shoulders of the factory farms and commodity producers, who are slowly but surely sucking away every last drop of our culinary heritage. Can you feel a “but” coming?
 Good news: this book represents the rebirth of a time when we were connected to our food sources. For the last fifteen years a handful of committed purveyors, chefs, restaurateurs, butcher shops, farmers, and meat cutters have helped push us back toward a time when we ate all parts of the animal. We were healthier, and I think happier, and we had more in common with our forefathers, which is important to be aware of as we navigate through our nightmarishly disposable culture. Primal Cuts represents in a meaningful tangible way that eating a variety of proteins is better for our world because it eases pressure off the mainstream supply chain and onto a more sustainable way of eating. Told you it was an important book.
The men and women chronicled in these pages, the recipes and tips, and most importantly the food, are all easily recognizable by our grandparents. That’s a barometer for a real-food life that Michael Pollan so famously raves about, and Primal Cuts gives you access to that world. And let’s face it, I think it’s also a lot of fun to be inspired to feed and care for a plump little piglet and know how to dispatch it and utilize every part of the animal—and I mean every part—to feed your family. That kind of connection to the food pathways in our world has been shrinking and disappearing. Primal Cuts is emblematic of a tradition saved.
I worry about this kind of stuff. I spend my life on the road and chronicling more than my share of dying breeds makes me skittish about our future food life. Primal Cuts gives me hope. When I read about Brooklyn’s Tom Mylan, a knife-slinging, young, barley-pop loving butcher who can hack up a pig and put it back together like a jig saw puzzle, I get a huge whopping food-on. San Francisco’s Ryan Farr shows you what is possible for introduction the classic American tube steak. Guys like Dan Barber, Joel Salatin, and Josh Applestone are stars in the food world, but Marissa also brings to life farmers who are unknown outside of their own terroir, like Jim Reichardt, the duck guru of Sonoma. There is a new wave of young meat-a-holic twenty-something youngsters who are opening butcher shops, offering classes, and teaching their peers all about meat. Enterprising entrepreneurs are renting smokers and meat grinders and throwing block parties. All over our country, the malaise of years past has given way to a new energy and every day I meet more and more Americans who are really into learning about where their food comes from. Most importantly they are supporting local butchers, farm markets, and regional suppliers, and diving head first into the nose-to-tail movement. Pig’s heads and trotters, beef hearts, and lamb kidneys are becoming popular again. Chefs have been eagerly embracing the nearly lost arts of charcuterie and salumi, but notably, home cooks are becoming more interested in making their own bacon these days than finding a recipe that utilizes the store-bought variety.
I was in Philadelphia recently, walking down the street thinking of the butchers I have come to know and love around the world. I had just pounded down a tongue sandwich bathed in red “gravy” and spiked with fried chiles at George’s on 9th Street. That may have had something to do with it. I was daydreaming about the camel butchers I befriended in the souk in Syria, the Czerw brothers in Port Richmond, my pal Mike Lorentz in Cannon Falls Minnesota or Sandy Crombie, the haggis king of Edinborough. I stumbled into DiBrunno’s and the manager there stuffed me silly with La Quercia lardo and guanciale . . . I was in heaven. Ames, Iowa, is giving Parma, Italy, a run for its money, believe me. And then, as I was leaving, he gave me a slice of Southwark Restaurant’s pig’s head testa, a white-and-pink ovaline shaving of cured meat and fat that Sous-chef Nick Macri creates, butchering pig heads from scratch. He kicks back some of the product to the guys at the salumeria. I couldn’t help but think how far we’ve come as a food culture. This book, the one in your hands right now, proves it.

Meet the Author

Marissa Guggiana is the president of Sonoma Direct, a purveyor of sustainably raised meats, the co-founder of Secret Eating Society and a leader in Slow Food, for which she was the charcuterie curator at the inaugural Slow Food Nation event in San Francisco. A contributor to Saveur.com, since 2008 Marissa has been the co-editor of Meatpaper, a quarterly magazine exploring the art, ideas, and culture of everything meat-related.

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