First Cut Under Inspection

Vermont State Inspector

Today we had our first day of meat processing in our new butcher shop under Vermont state inspection! This means that we can now start doing our own butchering.

Walter Cutting Fresh Pork Belly

We’re soft starting, just doing one of this weeks pigs. The rest were cut down at the butcher we’ve been working with since 2009. Next week we’ll do one or two pigs and gradually increase. This way we can get down the patterns and make sure we’re doing everything right before we take on too much.

Will Deboning and Cutting

While I do have the HACCP[1, 2, 3] and labels done to make sausage this week I decided we would start simple and just do the cuts and basic ground pork. Baby-steps.

A Lovely Loin

Now that we’re cutting we can start doing the CSA Pre-Buys and Kickstarter packages for all those wonderful people who helped to fund the butcher shop. The butcher shop was a family project for the design and construction but very much a community project for the funding. Many hundreds of people supported our project with their pre-purchases as well as many small and large loans from individuals.

Tough Bags

Last night I had vacuum packaged these knives, screwdriver, pencils and wrenches. Silly me! But wait, there is a method to my madness. We have a problem. Bone-out cuts are easy to package with the standard 3 mil vacuum bags but the bone-in cuts have too high a failure rate because the sharp edges of the bone punch through the thin plastic pouches. A traditional solution is what is called a bone shield but these don’t look very good, are difficult to place, especially on ribs, and even then they sometimes fail. So I’ve been trying thicker bags at 4 mil, 5 mil and 6 mil. The 5 mil bags, shown above, seem to hit the sweet spot of solving the problem and being cost effective. The only problem is I have not found a source for the bags in the sizes I need with the pre-printed safe handling instructions. It is possible to get that custom printed but it’s expensive and requires large orders to justify the cost of the printing.

So you might say, “use paper!” However, it isn’t that simple. Did you know that butcher’s paper is actually a composite of plastic and paper? So this makes it bad to burn, unrecyclable and fodder for the landfills. The vacuum bags also are simply less material so less waste than the butcher’s “paper” composited with plastic. Additionally, paper shortens the storage life and lowers the quality of the meat. Not only that, but at least one insurance company won’t provide coverage if you use paper wrapping – strange but true given the prevalence of the opaque white butcher’s paper. Ironically it is not even cheaper although it does not require the startup cost of the vacuum packing machine so it has that point in its favor. Lastly, and perhaps a key factor, is that since about 88% of our meat is sold at retail (think stores) we need the professional pretty display that the vacuum pouches allow so that consumers can see the quality of the product they’re buying. In the end, vacuum packaged plastic pouches win out for environmental reasons, sanitation, food safety, insurance and marketing reasons. In the end it is the consumer who decides and they want to see what they’re buying.

Our first day of cutting under inspection was a resounding success. All of these years of planning, construction, preparation, training and work have paid off. We now have our own on-farm inspected butcher shop at Sugar Mountain Farm!

Outdoors: 52°F/42°F Mostly Sunny
Tiny Cottage: 65°F/60°F

Daily Spark: The often overlooked key to good luck is persistence.

That isn’t actually a photo of the inspector but rather the hat and coat she wore. Other interesting things in that photo are our HACCP Plan front and center,[1, 2, 3] our stainless steel road desk made by our son Will and the SoLow flash freezer[1, 2] that quickly sucks the heat out of meat to a crazy -121°F! Yes, that’s one freaking hundred and twenty one degrees below zero as in colder than dry ice.

About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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28 Responses to First Cut Under Inspection

  1. Eric Kemper says:

    Congratulations Walter and family!

    We all had faith you could pull it off.

  2. Nina Dunn says:

    SO happy for you and your family! :) Persistence pays! Have been following you for quite some time. Wish I was still in lovely New England (born and raised) and could just take a weekend drive ‘over the line’ to buy your awesome pork products! Congratulations Walt, Holly, Will, Ben, and Hope! Here’s to your continued success!!!

  3. Farmerbob1 says:

    Walter, perhaps you could just get a roll of 5 mil clear sheet, wrap the bone-in cuts in that, and then insert the wrapped meat in the 3 mil package?

    You might even be able to get by with 3 mil sheet as a protective wrap, for a total of 6 mil in 2 layers. This prevents you from having to buy multiple thicknesses of bags. I imagine 3 mil bags plus an extra roll of 3 or 5 mil plastic is a lot cheaper than 5 mil specialty-printed bags.

    • What you are describing is the bone shields and they look awful in the packaging. They hide the meat from presentation. For now Holly is simply stickering the safe handling instructions on the back of the bag. I may put them onto the main labels for the bone-in cuts that need them. One of the nice things about having our own label printer is we can do that sort of thing easily.

      • Farmerbob1 says:

        A 3-5 mil clear sheet might slightly impact the visibility of the product, but would it cause that much of a visibility issue? I could understand if it were some sort of colored sheet of plastic, but that wasn’t what I was intending to offer as a suggestion.

        • Aye, unfortunately even just a clear piece of cut bag is pretty ugly and it is also difficult to position and keep positioned when the vacuum packer works. These are called bone shields and they don’t work as well as one might hope. Fortunately the 5mil bags work far better – the challenge is finding a source with the safe handling instructions preprinted on them. I can get that custom printed but that requires a large investment in bags, up to several years worth depending on the size.

  4. 2A Supporter says:

    One of the most satisfying events of your process. Congratulations.

  5. Edmund Brown says:

    That is cold. Does it get dry ice frost on the inside the way normal freezers do? Or do you have to defrost it regularly because of water ice frost?

    • I don’t know if there is CO2 ice as well as H2O ice on the interior. It does get a little bit of frosting. So far we have not defrosted it as the amount is so tiny – probably because we don’t open and close it much and it is a chest freezer type.

  6. Jon Franklin says:

    Hey Walter. Dairy farmer – and long-time reader – here. Are you happy with your vapor-proof light fixtures in the butch shop? I haven’t been able to find any for my creamery that are both well made and affordable. Thanks!

  7. Drew French says:

    Fantastic! Congratulations Walter and Family – you are doing amazing things for pastured pork!

  8. irene says:

    congratulations, perseverance and hard work always pay off!

  9. Peter says:

    Nice. So is a “feaking” degree the metric equivalent of a “freaking” degree? ;-)

  10. David Lloyd Sutton says:

    Congratulations again, of course. It is so very encouraging to see such complete success in a family enterprise in these times of widespread defeatism. Thanks for sharing!

    We’re in the low eighties here in Davis, the bit of rain and lightning apparently being just a tease from heaven.

    “Its” is, contrarily, the possessive, probably because it is used so often folks got tired of stretching their pinkies for the apostrophe. “It’s” is the contraction of “it is”. I took years to get get those consistently, and finally did only by being in a writers’ group full of English professionals who beat them into me. Also, I think you meant “traditional” rather than tradition :).

    The Inspector’s desk looks kinda plain . . . still planning on the embedded elaboration?

    Rereading Charcuterie, by Ruhlman and Polcyn. I reviewed it a couple of years back, just for its presentation, clarity, and illustration. Now I’m spending my breakfast time reading it word by word. Tried their brining method on boneless pork chops, and have been astounded by the improved moistness after cooking. I do three hours brining, then rinse and pat dry (using cloth towels rather than the paper towels they recommend) followed by an hour to twenty-four hours dry-refrigerated to allow the salt to migrate inward. Results are wonderful. Mentioning this because you might well offer pre-brined cuts as an additional line. Very small additional cost in time and materials, and something uniquely forgiving of careless cooks!!

    • That is an excellent book – one I too plan on rereading this coming year as we bring brine and smoking online. And thank you for catching those errors. I always appreciate the sharp proofing eyes of readers!

  11. Tamar Haspel says:

    Mazel Tov, Walter! It’s a red-letter day, and I offer my heartiest congratulations.

  12. Louis Reale says:

    Congratulations! All of your hard work and patience has paid off and brought your vision to a reality!

  13. karl says:

    Wow, that was a long time coming. Congratulations

  14. Scott says:

    This ongoing story is fantastic. Happy to see a local farmer finding success. I supported the Kickstarter way back when and have since moved (to Vermont). Is there a way to update my address?

  15. Nance says:

    Great and fun times! Good job! to you and yours!

  16. Comments from the ether:

    Stephen Hall Steve Normanton FYI new option for processing

    Gina Cannon Yay!

    Sabrina Ruth Alexander Congrats!

    Janelle Ellsworth CONGRATULATIONS!!!!

    Angie Accardi congratulations!

    Laura Gleichenhaus Congratulations and thank you for sharing. This is very inspiring.

    Otterburn Mangalitza Congratulations Walter Jeffries smashing news

    Matthew Browning Well done! Congrats Walter!

    Stacy Lee Congratulations! !

    Kate Glastetter Awesome??

    Steven LeGrand I’ve been waiting a long time for this…. haha. It’s
    Kathryn Koven awesome, how long in the making?

    Susan S Spaulding Congratulations. Job well done

    Joshua Black Congratulations, Walter Jeffries!

    Wendy Babcock Congratulations smile emoticon

    Aural Tebra What a long time it has been! Congrats!

    Steve Ault congratulations Walter Jeffries, I know its been a long road. Good Luck.

    Golden Oak Farm Way to Go, Jeffries!!!

    Cole Ward Joe, You would be so impressed by what these wonderful folks have done! It is truly amazing!!

    Cole Ward Leon, These are truly remarkable people. Their home schooled children Will, Ben and Hope are beyond genius in My opinion. This is one of the most beautiful pieces of construction I have ever seen. The only cutting room and custom facility that makes You feel
    Barbara Meyer Zu Altenschildesche Awesome Walter!

    Cindy Nawiesniak Wow!

    Theresa Schieffelbein Congratulations Walter!!

    Helen Cabot Congratulations! Well deserved!

    Laurence Mate Get cuttin!

    Connie Kornman Congratulations!

    Gustavo Cintra Congratulations !

    Beth Bonner Burnett Well Done!!

    Stacie Maureen FABULOUS!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Chad Best great

    Emilio Risoni Way to go walter, gonna be a valuable asset to your farming operation

    Rik Kakareko Congratulations and huge respect!

    Duane Ozeretny Congratulations.

    Casi Farrell Orr Congrats!!

    Austin Matthias Congrats!!

    Shelly Rich Hodson Woo hoo! Congrats!

    Rachelle Clark Awesome! Congrats! !!

    Jeremy Loucks Awesome!!! ’bout time grin emoticon

    Daniel Moraes de Carvalho Congrats Walter Jeffries!!! Time to make the knives sing!!

    Pollyanna Chavez Congratulations!!

    Roger May always good to see a new butcher come in to play good job now move to texas lol

    Jennifer Rushing Congratulations!

    Earl R Smith Hard work always pays off.

    Tiffany Perry Rich Congrats.. Now you really get to jump through the hoops.

    Stephanie Finegan Woot, Woot.. congrats to you all… major accomplishment

    Deborah Baker Congratulations Walter.

    Roger May hey seen about u guys in a farm mag down here in tx great job u guys

    Mark A. Payne WhHoo!

    Marc Mousseau Congratulations!

    Chris Short Congrats

    Nissa Robbins Gadbois Excellent! Congratulations!

    Harv Emert It’s been a long time coming. Great!

    Carie Starr Congratulations!

    Barbara Meyer Zu Altenschildesche Super congratulations!

    Debbie Abel Congratulations!

    Melissa Clemens Casler awesome!!! Congrats!

    Glenn Martin Yay! Congratulations!

    Lynn Mitchell Andries All you and your family’s hard work pays off! Congrats!

    Alice Lindsay Venter Yayyy congrats! !

    Lisa Pownall Huge congrats to you and the family on this important stage in your pig farming life, Walter! I know how hard you guys all worked to get to this point.

    Payson Fields That’s hard won – congratulations Walter

    Adam DeGraff Congrats to you and your family Walter! It has been quite a journey.

    Michael Vertrees Congrats!!

    Susanne Mitchell Fantastic! Congratulations, Walt! You’ve made it!

    Dale Behnke Great Job !

    Switchboard Farm’s CONGRATS !!!!

    Dianne Ader That is wonderful!!!

    Maria South Awesome, congratulations!!! You all must be so proud.god bless you against those that try and keep us all down

    Renee Pasko Congratulations!

    Robert Murray Congratulations

    Curt Pheifer Congrats! People your way are lucky to have you!

    Tricia Seiter Congratulations Walter that is such an awesome rewards for all your hard work!

    Melissa Chaney Very nice! Congrats.

    Laurie Munroe Congratulations! I hope you’re having a big party to celebrate.

    Jessica Sutton Woohoo! Congrats!! A job well done!

    Kathy Bison Lindner So wonderful. Congratulations again!

    Greg Gunthorp Congratulations!

    Casey Copeland Gray Congratulations!!! It’s been a long time coming and thank you for taking us along on the ride with you. I wish you absolute success!

    Rebecca Krassnoski Congrats!

    Brian Turnwald Congrats!

    Carol Ann McCollister Binkley awesome, wish we were closer would come check it out. you have helped my daughter and I get started. thanks so much. good luck

    Glenn Warren Wonderful achievement, congratulations

    Leah Gibson Congrats!!

    Ramananda Singh congrats.. a lot of hard work n meticulous planning goes into this.. great..

    Eileen Grant Szeto CONGRATULATIONS!!!

    Sara Frey Barnett Awesome !

    Erik Wingren Congrats!

    Clay Carmichael Congrats, Walter! I know y’all have been working hard! I’d like to come see the operation one day.

    Kevin O’Brien Love that these guys are just down the street from our place in VT.

  17. Ali Moussalli says:

    I saw a 2012 NPR story mentioning you were expecting to spend $150,000 on the “first part of the building” – can I ask what that means, and if it stayed true through to your opening? Congratulations, of course. I manage a farm in NJ, and we are wondering what the ball park figure is for a project like yours, if you don’t mind.

    • I made some expansions to the design which raised the basic structure materials cost from my earlier estimate to about $210K. Add equipment, tools, etc to that. The first part of the building is the structural shell plus finishing off phase I for doing meat cutting and sausage making in about 1/4 of the floor area. This includes the overhead of the front hall, inspectors office and bathroom as well as septic system and outdoor parking area.

  18. Ali Moussalli says:

    Ok thanks so much. For that money you aren’t including the coolers or the curing area?

    • The cost of construction does not include equipment like the chest freezers, SoLow flash freezer, Fricon super cooler. We have not yet installed any walk-in cooler refrigeration nor do we have a curing area yet – that’s in our next phase planned for 2016. The rooms for that are built (see FCB) as part of the structural building but not yet finished off.

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