Sirloin steak, as we know it, being trimmed down for retail sale.
Readers of this blog know that I'm a fan of meat. Give me a nice ribeye steak, some grilled veggies, hot white rice and a big cigar and I'm happy as can be.
Lately, I've been getting into locally grown beef that's grass fed and free range. Unlike commercial beef that's raised on large ranches where the steers are confined in pens and fed a corn-based feed, these animals are allowed to roam around, eat grass and are herded in small numbers. It's what they call "Grass Finished" beef - meaning that the animals are left to eat grass throughout their existence until the last couple of weeks when they're fed a corn-based feed that fattens them up a little before slaughter. I realize that, to the non-cattlemen, the name sounds opposite to the reality, but that's how they categorize it.
This "old is new" kind of approach to beef gives great flavor, texture and quality to the meat. It's absolutely delicious. I can't get enough of it. Give me more.
In the interest of understanding where our food comes from (other than the refrigerated case at the grocery store), Spike, Mariano and myself headed up to Mount Airy, Maryland to visit the Meat Locker where the beef and pork that we consume is slaughtered and processed.
Pork doesn't get any fresher than this.
It's an unassuming building in the very sleepy town of Mount Airy. You could pass it by and never know what was going on inside. There's a school across the street it's so innocuous. And considering the carnage that goes on inside, it's a strange juxtaposition that I can't help but to think of something as odd as Jeffrey Dahmer.
Not that there's anything sinister going on inside. The place is clean. Spotless even. The USDA has an inspector in the building at all times observing the processing at every step and checking for any problems or contaminants.
Sides of beef waiting 21 days.
The animals come from select farms in the region who grow quality steer and pigs. They're loaded into holding pens at the side of the building which lead into the Kill Room.
The Kill Room. Concrete. Tile. Utility. There's nothing glamorous about the Kill Room or working in it. It's gruesome work. Pigs throats are cut and steers are shot in the head with a .22 caliber pistol. The animals are hung to drain their blood, then hit with hot water to remove the body hairs.
Many people find it hard to believe that our food comes from these animals. They'd much rather know their food as that plastic-wrapped cut they're used to. Watching how our food comes to be is slightly unnerving, but it instills respect. Respect for the animals that have been slaughtered so that we can survive. Respect for the meat so that it's cared for and cooked properly.
Spike checks out the quality of the pork.
Walking into the Kill Room reminded me of being in the Philippines. The aroma was fresh - like that of the open-air markets. Men in jeans and boots did their deeds of slaughtering pigs and preparing them for storage then butchering. The USDA inspector taking their heads and inspecting their glands for any signs of problems or trichinosis. Brutal efficiency.
A pig head after the USDA has inspected it for contaminants.
When looking at a 150+ pound pig, one has to wonder just how they take this animal and break it down? Once the hair has been removed from the carcass and the entrails removed, it must be split with a stainless steel chain saw.
The Kill Room - splitting the carcass.
Once cut down, beef is kept in refrigerated storage for 21 days to "age" the meat. Pork can be used right away. The sides are rolled into large, refrigerated rooms and then are later brought into the cutting rooms where they are broken down into the pork chops, sirloin and skirt steaks we all know and love.
The End gives us a new beginning.