Art v Science
Watching head butcher Mike Lindsay `break down’ a leg of beef is like watching a contemporary dance. It’s a performance he has done a thousand times before and it shows. He does the job for the most part with just a hook and a relatively small knife talking as he goes about changes in the industry over the years, customer preferences and the need to be delicate here and there so as not to compromise the most expensive cuts. Mike is from the old school where butchers were trained to use the whole animal and not to waste a single scrap. Here the beef is dry-aged on hooks in a hanging cooler for between 21 and 28 days – much longer than beef raised in regular feedlots where the meat is immediately packed into cryo-vac bags and aged in its own juices before hitting supermarket shelves.
To put things into perspective, while some Alberta beef processing plants slaughter one animal every 15 seconds to supply the large supermarket chains, Hopcotts’ slaughter 14 head of cattle per week. Here, butchery is an art not a science and cuts change by the season due to customer demand. Roasts in the winter, steaks and BBQ packs in the summer. “We have complete traceability – we can tell you almost to the steak when and where that steer was born because they’re ear tagged when they’re first born. Even after they go through the slaughter house and are in our hanging cooler, they leave that on which is very rare,” Jenn said.
While the high-end cuts fly out the door, the business still needs to market ground beef, small goods, even dog food to make every pound count. “The way we raise our animals is not the most cost effective because we don’t have the hormones so we have to raise them longer, we also dry-age them so that also takes more time.”
The jerky and other smoked items are made onsite in the Hopcotts’ smokehouse which uses old fashioned alder hickory wood instead of the more commonly used liquid smoke. “We make our own pepperoni, jerky, steak bites, a lot of our deli meats, farmers’ sausage, there’s a huge selection. On top of that, we use minimal sodium, minimal nitrates, all of our roast beef items are actually nitrate free is which is something else which people are becoming more aware of how bad it is for you.”