Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Beast Within

Excuse my absence in posting, I'll start catching up here. Back in January, when the temperatures finally dropped below freezing, my friends from 2Silos farm called me up saying they had a sheep that was approaching the 1 year mark and it needed to become food.

Of course I jumped at the chance, but let me explain a few things first. I've always loved animals and have been a protector of animals, especially wild animals. I swerve whenever possible, while driving, to avoid a creature, I don't hunt, and I'm a pet owner. I once had to watch a buddy shoot a horse that got hit by a car, and was very saddened by the loss. Now, I've also grown up watching nature shows and knew nothing was wrong with the operation of the food chain. I have watched my cats dispatch birds, chipmunks, and the occasional rabbit. I also grew up knowing the delicious value of wild game, whether bought whole at a market or shared with a family member that did hunt.

So, why did I want to go to a farm, watch an animal be killed and then help butcher it? Well, as Anthony Bordain (and many other chefs) put it, "It's important to know where your food comes from." As a food fan and a consummate carnivore, I felt it was my duty to take the opportunity. And I'm glad I did. What stirred inside of my during the process was the primality of The Lord of The Hunt, Herne, and the Lord of the Forest, Cernnunos. Whether we human like it or not, we're animals and we're high on the food chain. And, while packaged meats are highly accessible, I think we lose the connection to the animal we're eating. How was it raised? Did it die well? These are the things I wanted to experience.

The experience also brought me closer to Cameron, who did the actual act, but was not raised on a farm. Killing is not natural to Cam, though owning a farm has forced against his natural instincts. When owning a farm the animals are not pets, they are food, just like the vegetables in the field (though they require more care). We took awhile preparing our minds for what was to come. We talked about it and reassured each other that it needed to be done, that's why they raised the lamb.

We literally trudged out to the barn through the snow, and confronted the beast. This was no spring lamb. This was a fully mature 200+ lb. sheep, full of wool and not happy we're in his pen. I'm not going into the rest of the details, except that after we hauled it upstairs, it was amazing how fast an animal starts looking like food.

Next we brought it inside to butcher. Working on an animal that large really lets you see where all the muscles are and how the connective tissue and joints work together.

For my efforts Cam and his wife, Denise, gave me a few selections of the sheep including a flank steak, a whole leg, a tenderloin, and a variety of offal which included 2 stomachs, kidneys, heart, liver, and a bunch of suet (for the birds). Had I studied more sheep physiology, I would have wanted the sweetbreads which we accidentally cut in pieces.

I want to thank Cam and Denise for the experience and their unwavering hospitality. Unfortunately, due to not enough available time, I had to freeze most of my haul, but keep an eye out for the dishes I create coming this spring.

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