“So a sometime-vegetarian and a vegan open a butcher shop…” It sounds like the beginning of a bad joke—but it’s the true story of how my wife, Jessica, and I opened Fleisher’s Grass-Fed & Organic Meats in New York’s Hudson Valley. When we started, I’d been a vegan for 16 years and Jessica was a vegetarian (albeit, one with an occasional hankering for bacon).
I actually come from a long line of butchers. My grandfather and great-grandfather ran a butcher shop in Brooklyn, but I didn’t go into the family business until after college and 15 years as a chef. When I met Jessica, she was considering a return to meat but only if she could get it from ethically raised animals—not the shrink-wrapped stuff in the supermarket. Online, she found sustainable grass-fed meat but it was shipped frozen from the Midwest. We even explored the idea of buying a whole animal from a local farmer, but it seemed pretty extreme to buy a whole steer just so she could have a nice steak.
The more frustrated she got with her quest, the more she fantasized about opening a butcher shop selling locally and humanely raised meat where the butcher knew where the meat came from, how to cook it and pair wine with it.
Once we decided to open Fleisher’s, we sought training from old-time butchers. They happily taught us the tricks of the trade but feared that we would fail, that “it just wasn’t the way of the world anymore.”
We knew we were onto something, but we still had a lot to learn. We’d read Michael Pollan’s books and seen Food Inc. (which we recommend wholeheartedly), so we knew that hormones and antibiotics in animals are passed onto humans and could be contributing to health problems ranging from antibiotic-resistant bacteria to cancer.
I also visited local farms and learned that a good cattle farmer is really a grass farmer—making sure that the animals rotate from pasture to pasture to get the right nutrients. I always tell people from out of town to make sure that their local butcher knows his farmers and has been to their farms.
Jessica was concerned that I was cutting but not tasting our meat. Six months later, bacon, the carnivore’s gateway, brought me back to the fold. Bacon is the holy grail of meat and our nitrate-free, hot-smoked bacon is to die for. I’d been a vegan because I know the horrors of the factory-farmed meat industry. Once I knew where my meat was coming from and how the animals were treated, I felt comfortable eating it again. We have a number of vegetarian customers whose one indulgence is bacon. And as Jessica was one herself, we’re not here to judge but no matter how you slice it, bacon is not a vegetable.
Pairing Wine and Meat
“Sparkling wine is our go-to wine with all of our meat. Whether it’s Champagne, Prosecco or a nice Spanish Cava, sparkling wine has a crispness that cuts through fat and protein. Lots of people think of it only for appetizers or dessert. Jess and I drink it with everything.
I love pork, the sexiest meat, with its succulent fat and crispy skin. We enjoy it with a fruity Argentine Malbec. Jessica really loves lamb because it stands up to bold spices and flavors. Lamb curry is great with a brut Cava or a dry Viognier.”
Joshua and Jessica Applestone are the owners of Fleisher’s Grass-Fed & Organic Meats in New York (fleishers.com) and authors (with Alexandra Zissu) of The Butcher’s Guide to Well-Raised Meat (Random House, 2011). Follow them on Twitter @fleishers.
Try this great recipe from Joshua Applestone:
Quick Lamb Meatballs
For the lamb meatballs:
1 pound ground lamb (shoulder)
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped (optional)
2 teaspoons harissa (see note)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Yogurt sauce (recipe follows)
Note: Harissa, a North African spice paste, varies from region to region, so there is no definitive recipe, but a mixture of 1 teaspoon ground cumin, 12 teaspoons ground chili and 1 teaspoon smoked paprika is a good substitute.
For the yogurt sauce:
1 cup plain yogurt
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro or mint, chopped (optional)
1 teaspoon harissa
A dash of lemon juice
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
To make lamb meatballs: Preheat oven to 350º degrees. In a large bowl, combine the lamb, garlic, cilantro (if using), harissa, salt and pepper. Roll about 1 tablespoon worth of lamb meat in your hands to form the meatballs and place on a baking sheet. Repeat until all of the meat is used.
Set a large ovenproof pan over medium meat. When the pan is hot, add the meatballs and sear on all sides, about 3–5 minutes. Transfer to the oven and cook the meatballs for 4–6 minutes, until golden-brown. Transfer to a serving dish and drizzle the yogurt sauce over the top. Serves 4.
To make the sauce: In a medium bowl, combine the yogurt, cilantro or mint (if using), harissa, and lemon juice, and season with salt and pepper. Whisk until the yogurt is thin and ingredients are well combined. Keep in the refrigerator for up to 7 days. Makes 1 cup.