Meat Cutting Classes

Master Butcher Cole Ward at Sweet Clover’s Market

My wife Holly, older son Will and I have been taking commercial meat cutting classes with a local butcher, Cole Ward at Sweet Clover Market in Essex, Vermont starting last June.

Cole Ward Trimming Roast

I have cut pork, lamb and poultry for years for our own family’s needs but commercial meat cutting was a whole new ball of wax. For the first class we simply watched Cole work and listened to him describe it all. Cole has been cutting meat for 44 years and is a master at the art of turning a hanging carcass into inviting case ready cuts, sausage, hot dogs and pure white lard. Watching him work was a treat.

Cutting Classes at Cole’s

For our next class we did the pig with his extensive help. By the second half of the pig we were doing all the cutting. At the first August class we were doing the pigs from end-to-end from Cole’s order cut sheets freeing him up to help customers out front. We had graduated from fumbling novices to apprentice meat cutters.

Will Unwrapping Pig Half

Since Cole makes so much sausage this has been a great chance for us to learn the cuts we sell. Then after practicing de-boning a ham, slicing sirloin cutlets, making medallions or the like we could simply dice and slice it all for sausage and hot dogs. All our mistakes in cutting during the early days disappeared in the grinder.

Now, after nine months, we take a hanging pigs to case ready cuts in about 40 minutes a side. The space is cramped, just a 2’x4′ table for the three of us and we only have four knives, so we’re a little slow – our focus is on doing it right and not getting cut. Every time we visit Cole we get a little bit better, learn a bit more and solidify our skills. It’s been a wonderful experience working with a master butcher and getting the inside scoop on meat. The whole process has been lots of fun, too. Cole is a great teacher who cares about the art of butchering, presentation and cooking. He also loves to laugh and our classes are filled with friendly banter. Since we raise and sell pigs, pork has been our sole focus – an easier task than learning to butcher all possible species.


Passing on the art and skills of butchering is a big interesting for Cole, something he dedicates himself to with a passion. Last fall Cole did several workshop for NOFA where they slaughtered and cut whole pigs. This past month he did a class for NECI. Now he is going to do a series of classes in March and April which will be open to the general public. This is a unique opportunity in a world where most meat now comes from factory farms and mega processors. These days it is hard to find a butcher who is willing to share his skills in a field where many are very secretive. Passing on this knowledge is especially important in this time when small butcher shops are quickly vanishing, leaving family farmers in a bind where they are unable to get pork to the fork.

Vermont has been losing butchers and meat processing facilities over the past decades. Governor Douglas has announced he wants to eliminate the Vermont Department of Meat Inspection which will further push this decline in local processing capacity. Cole is concerned that the art of butchering will be lost. With it will go consumers’ ability to get locally raised meat and farmers’ ability to get food to the fork. Cole wants to pass on his knowledge and has asked me to let people know that he is going to do a series of classes. If you want to butcher your own pig, setup meat cutting or just want to know more about the process this is an opportunity not to be missed.

Update 2009-08 Cole has moved to Green Top Market in Morrisville, Vermont where he has opened a new butcher shop and is offering classes in the expanded space.

Update 2009-10 Cole is starting up a new series of classes which are listed in this post.

By the way, I want to thank Heather Belcher, the owner of Sweet Clover Market, for giving us the opportunity learn from Cole in Sweet Clover’s kitchen.

Learn Meat Cutting and Sausage Making
Master Butcher Cole Ward

Where: Sweet Clover Market, Essex Shopping Center
Contact: Cole Ward (802) 881-1468 cell, 872-8288 market
When: Tuesdays in March & April
Time: 5 pm to 8 pm
Cost: $75/class or $390 for all six classes (saves $60)
Register by Monday, March 9th for the first class – space limited

March 10th – Whole Pig
Learn to break a whole pig into primal cuts and then to perfect retail cuts. You will benefit from this whether you process a pig at home or send your pigs off to the processing facility.

March 17th – Sausage
Cole Ward makes the best sausages and now is your chance to learn from the master himself in this three hour sausage making class. You will prepare Bangers, Maple Breakfast sausage, Italian and Chorizo red wine and brandy sausages. Includes recipes and tasting of the sausages.

March 24th – Whole Pig Refresher
Get your hands into the pig!

March 31st – Beef Hind-Quarter
Learn to divide a hind quarter into primal cuts and then the best retail cuts.

April 7th – Beef Fore-Quarter
Learn to divide a fore quarter into primal cuts and then the best retail cuts.

April 14th – Whole Lamb
Learn ow to French a rack of lamb, cut lamb chops, bone out a leg of lamb and what to grind for ground lamb. You will get recipes for apricot lamb sausage and mint lamb sausage.

Update 2011-03-01: Master butcher Cole Ward has released a set of DVDs containing four hours of cutting instructions for beef, lamb and pork. Check it out!

Outdoors: 22°F/4°F Sunny
Farm House: 40°F/37°F HWHe Off, ElMtr 62750, Weaned Winnie & Mouse Piglets
Tiny Cottage: 60°F/50°F No fire last night or for today until evening – experiment

About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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7 Responses to Meat Cutting Classes

  1. Evelyn says:

    Oh man…. I would SO love to go to these classes!!! We don’t have our processing facility yet, but I know I’m going to really mess up lots of meat! I’m worried about cutting myself as well… so I’ll be getting a metal mesh glove!

  2. If these classes were held over a weekend or two I’d fly there to take them. Learning how to cut meat has been on the top of my to learn list.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I wish I lived closer…… This is a golden opportunity. Im going to see if I can find a butcher around here to do thissor tof thing.

  4. oshea12566 says:

    “You talkin’ to me? Are you talkin to me??”

  5. Leanthony Laster says:

    I work for publix. I,v just started in the meat department as a meat rapper. The next steps would be meat cutter apprintice after that meat cutter. At publix they cut beef, pork, lamb, veil, and grind beef, pork. After I finally make meat cutter I wish to become an assistant meat maneger, then meat smaneger . However I don’t wish to stop there I then wish to move up in the coperate branch and be over the diffrent meat department for publix. Can you tell me what degrees or certificate I may need to go for that will help me reach were I wish to be.

    • I don’t know of any certification or degrees. My understanding is it tends to be a very hands on apprenticeship sort of thing. We apprenticed for 18 months with a local butcher. You might be able to find classes at a local college or through your state department of agriculture.

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