Welcome to Alton, UT where the best beef is made.
I spent a very very cold, but thoroughly enjoyable weekend in Alton, UT. The excuse for going there was to get an education where beef comes from, but I also found a perfect model for how I want to build my family in The Honeysuckle Garden.
First the beef. (if you don't want to know where hamburger and steaks come from, skip to part 2 where I talk about a town full of people who live a perfectly simple life built on God, family, hard work, and self reliance)
Thankfully I didn't participate in the steps of slaughter and dressing, so when I showed up there were 4 cows hanging in halves in a room that was about 30 F surround by about 30 people ready to work. Almost everyone there was related and despite the task ahead the spirit was more like a family reunion than anything else. Each 300 - 400 pound side of beef was expertly cut in half, carried to the table and then further cut into manageable chunks with a bandsaw and some terrifying cross between a chainsaw and an electric turkey carver.
What exited the other side of the bandsaw were rough cuts of meat: 1 or 2 inch thick T-bones depending on what everyone wanted, 20 pound briskets, 5 pound roasts, or random scraps for hamburger. After that the cuts were passed to the 20 or so family members waiting with freshly sharpened knives to carve. They smiled and chatted while working side by side to trim the fat, remove the bones and prepare the cuts for either grinding or packaging.
I learned that if you want to have good steak the cow can't be older than 2 years or else the meat gets tough, so we had to keep track of whether the cuts were coming from the "steak cow" or the "hamburger cow". Also, since we were putting away OVER A TON of beef, it was critical that the meat would last for a full year in the freezer. It turns out that reducing the fat content in the hamburger slows down aging (at least according to the old timers here), so we were making a 95% to 98% lean ground beef.
The final step was cleanly and neatly wrapping the beef into family friendly packages and dividing it out among the helpers.
(Actually the real final step was more than a full hour of scrubbing that place from top to bottom which alleviated any possible concerns about sanitary food processing)
I know this process was very different from how my grocery store meat gets to me. I saw calves with hundreds of acres to roam with their mothers free from artificial feeds and pharmaceuticals. I participated in meat packing that was a joyful event for the "workers", where the ONLY ingredient was beef. This was a far cry from the factory farms and industrial meat processing facilities, and it makes me feel good about the delicious meat I eat.
At the end of a very long day we had thousands of pounds steaks, roasts, stew meat, briskets, flank, filets, and hamburger. Everyone had worked as much as they could with people coming and going as needed. No one gave a though about "their share" of either the work or the meat. They all just pitched in, worked happily until the job was done, shared the fruits of labor, and then enjoyed a truly fantastic meal with the freshest beef you've ever tasted.
That is what I want for my family. Sharing, hard work, happiness, good food, and the strong family bonds that come from living a simple life.
I'll write more about the town, family, and quality of life in Alton on the next post.
In the past I've been a knife snob, and taken pride in using expensive Japanese whetstones and spending hours getting my knife as sharp as a razor, but I've been converted after a meat processing weekend where I used the electric sharpener in the amazon affiliate link above about 20 times. There's also a cheaper version on amazon that doesn't have the adjustable angles, but I really like the ease and precision of using this sharpener.