Week 3: The Beaverlodge Butcher Shop

To be completely honest - I have NEVER thought about becoming a butcher.  Until now. WATCH: First Day Jitters!

When I was awarded one of the One Week Job grants - I definitely had my home town of Beaverlodge, Alberta in mind for this week specifically. With my cousin getting married this past weekend, and one of my best friends from elementary school getting married next weekend - it made sense for me to try and find work in this part of the country.

To help, my mom had written out a list of possible places for me to work: Daycare Centre, Organic Veggie Farm, Tree Planter - and Butcher Shop.

Butcher Shop??  Really?!  I quickly wrote off the idea, and started looking into some Daycare facilities in the next city over.  But the more I thought about it - the more the butcher shop seemed like a really interesting idea.

For as long as I can remember, my family has raised cattle.  When I was a little girl, my dad would lift me up to look between the boards of the fence so that I could pet the tamer cows and have them lick me.  Until about a year ago when my dad sold the last of the herd, we'd watched the calves being born in the spring time, listened to the moos coming from the field, and helped haul in the steaks and ground beef when one had been sent in for slaughter.

Now, I'm no vegetarian.  I respect those who are, for whatever reason they have chosen to be one - but I've been raised to eat meat.  Our cows and chickens have always been 'free range' and 'organic' by any standards.  I've watched my dad grow the crops that have gone on to feed our cows, and we know exactly what's gone into raising them.

It's for this reason that I felt the Butcher Shop would be a good fit for Week 3.  I've spent years eating steak - now it's time to learn what goes into grinding, cutting, and packaging it.

The Butcher Shop is owned by Bob Geib, a man who has been cutting meat for the last 33 years.  I guess if I'm going to learn about this, I should learn from the best!

I was nervous at first - heading into town...I'd been in the shop before, but had never met the people who'd worked there.  As soon as I stepped inside, however, Laurie - Bob's wife - happily greeted me, gave me an apron, and put me right to work!  I spent the morning helping with buffalo sausages.  Bob would fill them, and I would measure the lengths and make the links.  Now, it's a lot harder than it sounds - twisting the lamb casing properly so that it doesn't break, making the links the right length, and doing it all quick enough to keep up with Bob!  We hung the links on metal racks and then put them in the smoke house to add flavour with some wooden hickory chips.  After about 2 hours in the smoke house, the sausages were boiled in water as hot as 70C, and then cooled off in the freezer.

In the afternoon I spent some quality time in the freezer (a good 10-15 minutes worth) , cutting off the links to prepare for packaging.  I couldn't feel my fingers!  You'd think growing up the Prairies would prepare a person for this kind of deep freeze...

Now - there's a lot of work that goes into preparing all this meat, and the sausages are only a small portion of what Bob and Laurie do.  They prepare everything from cows, moose, deer, and pork for local businesses, farmers, hunters, and the public.  The shop is completely hands-on and home-made, with Bob knowing EXACTLY what goes into each batch of seasoning, how many different cuts need to come out of an animal, and when a customer's order needs to be ready.

One of the most important points Bob made right off the bat - was that people often don't know what they're eating.

We're happy to just pick up meat at the deli, or grab a pack of hot dogs from the grocery store.  So many meat products are crammed with preservatives to make them last longer on store shelves.  Bob, however, only adds a percentage of what some larger shops do; packages of sausages don't sit on the shelves for weeks on end - they're made to eat fresh.  That, along with doing everything by hand, acts as the quality control for the shop - and is definitely a big reason for the shop's 15 years of success.

There's a lot more to learn though - and I'm ready for it!  Bring on the bacon!

See you on my blog soon -

Be there, or be ground beef.