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on August 22, 2011
I recently switched my diet and lifestyle to "paleo" (lots of meats, veggies, good fats; no grains or processed sugars). Paleo highly, highly, highly encourages eating locally raised, grass-fed meats, which I have started easing myself into. However, I have found myself coming across the stumbling block of not knowing what to *do* with all these fancy (and expensive) cuts of meat, as well as not really understanding the differences between them. I started thinking that I needed to take a class or something so someone could sit me down and tell me all the things my parents never taught me (or apparently knew) about meat and how to understand it. Then, out of the blue, a friend of mine recommended this book to me and I figured this was exactly the sort of thing I was looking for

Although I was looking for technical information, I highly enjoyed the discussion and anecdotes about the owners' journey and learning curve. There are little glimpses of their love and dedication to their work (and each other) scattered throughout the book that make it very pleasurable to just read-through. There are also beautiful pictures (photos and pencil illustrations) that really help hammer home the point that working with such good quality meat is as much art as it is necessity.

In terms of the actual information, the book is definitely just an overview. I got the sense that the owners sat down and made a list of all these random tips and tidbits they wanted to convey, and somehow edited them together into a book. These tips and tidbits are useful, don't get me wrong, but except for some large chunks, there wasn't a good sense of organization and flow. While I generally liked the easy, approachable tone of the main author, there were at least two or three points in the book where he used some unexpected sarcasm and lighthearted wording that confused the point he was trying to make (it sounds nitpicky, I know, but I am a science writer by profession so I spend quite a lot of time thinking about how to convey complex concepts as straightforward as possible while remaining accurate). Still, there are good discussions of the different cuts of meat and what they mean, best ways to cook one type of cut over another, some great recipe suggestions, and so on. The authors also won me over personally by discussing a few different breeds of each type of meat animal. I know from experience that people so are disconnected from where their food comes from that the idea that there are different *types* of cow makes people stare blankly. Also, everytime they made the case for keeping the fat in the meat or using fat for other cooking I mentally high-fived them.

Technical content aside, I think the book works well as a discussion of what factory farming actually looks like, from hoof to table, and how it is directly affecting our lives. I mean, you can see lists of statistics or even photos of large-scale farming operations, but for some reason it never quite struck me as hard as it did when the author of this book discussed seeing black, clogged, and diseased endocrine glands in the meat of factory-farmed pigs, and how the pasture-raised pigs don't look like that. This book really drove home the point to me that the way most Americans are getting their food these days is Wrong, so so Wrong. Wrong for the animals, wrong for the farmers and workers, and wrong for us the consumers.

In summary: a good book, good story, great summary of the field, but if you want more specific details or more depth on some of the topics you will probably have to branch out into other sources.

EDIT: I still recommend this book, but for those who read it and want something with more detail, or want to go straight to something with more detail, I recommend The River Cottage Meat Book
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The Butcher's Guide to Well-Raised Meat: How to Buy, Cut, and Cook Great Beef, Lamb, Pork, Poultry, and More is by Joshua and Jessica Applestone (owners of Fleisher's Grass-Fed & Organic Meats) and Alexandra Zissu. Since doggedly making their sustainable butcher's shop work against all odds, the Applestones have helped teach others to make it work for themselves as well. And whether you're looking to get into the butchering business or simply want to know how to prepare, cook, choose, and eat good meat at home, this book does a fantastic job of providing truly useful (and delicious!) information.

Although the information on sourcing well-raised animals might be important primarily to the butchers themselves, I learned an awful lot as a consumer. Hands-on information makes it much easier to understand why it can be important to buy good-quality meats. I really like knowing the practical, factual information on how the various practices of animal raising affect both the quality of the meat and the quality of life for the animal. All of that is included in here, in very concrete terms. Some of the information provided can make it easier for you to recognize good quality meats at the store or butcher's shop, and the Applestones are happy to tell you what questions to ask your butcher as well. There's even an explanation of various terms you'll find on labels, and what they mean--or DON'T mean.

Each type of meat gets its own section--beef, lamb, pork, poultry. In each you'll learn about the issues particular to that animal, the various cuts of meat on an animal and where they're located (and how they can vary from butcher to butcher), why sustainability means that you should learn which cuts will do the same job as more trendy ones and consider buying those instead, recommended cooking methods for pretty much every part of the animal you can imagine (including offal), suggestions for things you might practice if you want to try your hand at butchering, and of course recipes. The authors convinced me to give pork another try, and I'm glad I did--I discovered that while I still prefer beef, well-raised and properly cooked pork has a noticeably better flavor than your average grocery store meat.

There's also plenty of information on their own background, "the art of butchery", and a number of techniques and tools (accompanied by drawings and a few photos, not to mention step-by-step instructions for storing, wrapping, brining, etc.). The text is written from Joshua's perspective, and his personality comes through clearly. This makes the text fun and interesting without detracting from its usefulness.

As always when I review a book with recipes in it, I made several of them. And oh, my. The flavors in here are delightful. The spice mix for the lamb meatballs looked like it would be too heavy on smoked paprika, yet the balance was perfect for the meat. The spice paste for a butterflied lamb leg made the meat taste divine: plenty of flavor, without covering up the natural goodness of the flesh. Without fail, the cooking methods and flavors in here delivered succulent, perfect food every time.

[NOTE: review book provided by publisher]
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on December 29, 2011
I debated with myself between a 5 and a 4 star rating, deciding on 5 because while it's not a perfect book, my dissatisfactions are fairly abstract - voice, structure, intended audience - and this is in itself a very practical book. To understand what I don't here like requires first understanding what this book is - and isn't - and it's probably easiest to explain that by way of what I do like.

Written by Joshua and Jessica Applestone, proprietors of Fleisher's Grass-Fed and Organic Meats (a butcher shop in Kingston, NY), with help from Alexandra Zissu, the book itself is divided into several sections, including a memoir-ish opening, a butchering and agriculture background section. Following is a section each on aspects of raising and butchering lamb, pork, beef, and poultry. Each of these sections has some basic info on the animal including cute pictures and nice descriptions of heritage breeds, what to think about when buying it and how one might go about cutting it up. The book winds down with sections on sourcing meat and listings of resources. Each of these sections had enough information for me, more than a brief introduction but not so exhaustive that I felt overwhelmed.

Reading the book, there are lots of things to like, including an easy-reading style, ample humor, consistent vitriolic condemnation of factory-farming techniques, and good illustrations and photography. Beyond this, the book addresses several themes, including the history and current state of traditional agriculture, the (lost) art and science of butchery, and sustainable agriculture emphasizing meat production but also the place for humans in the food chain, e.g. sustainable jobs. All this is approached from the very practical position of butcher shop owners trying to make a living. For example, there is a discussion of a spectrum of chicken raising techniques from conventional (i.e. factory farm) to organic to completely pasture raised, and the considerations they had in choosing which they would sell in their store, including a steady supply, processing opportunities, distance of the chickens from their shop, and so on.

The information on butchering was wonderful. It was not intended to turn the audience into expert butchers, and in fact expresses strongly the reasonable limitations of home butchering. The instruction on butchering serves to help understand the processes, the multitudinous ways an animal can be carved to suit various tastes and purposes, and of course the value of the traditional butcher. There is also a wealth of information on terms like `organic,' `grass fed,' and `natural,' some of which have defined meanings and some of which are empty marketing slogans with no set meaning whatsoever. In addition there is discussion of how some terms like `organic' can be used deceptively.

That's what the book is. There are several things this book is not. It's not a cookbook, although it has some recipes. It's not a butcher's manual, although it has extensive information on cutting up meat. Despite what it says on the back cover it's really neither a memoir nor a manifesto, but it does tell stories from the authors' lives and endorse a strong viewpoint. It's not groundbreaking news reporting on the state of agriculture. And, it doesn't pretend to be any of these things. Instead it recommends books exploring the problems of modern agricultural practices, as well as books on butchering, cooking, and charcuterie (the making of prepared meat products like sausage - I had to look it up) to pick up where it leaves off.

Inasmuch as these aspects are in the book, they tie to other major themes and topics. So, for instance there is a recipe for cooking a butterflied chicken (essentially put in hot pan, press with heavy weights, flip, fry, finish in oven) that comes after the explanation of how to butterfly a chicken and arguing that chicken is one of the things the novice `butcher' can cut up easily at home. There are recipes on using beef shanks (make chili) and tongue (make tacos) and marrow bones (make a make-shift roasting rack) and other wrongfully neglected cuts of meat, which tie to the theme of sustainable agriculture and using all (most) parts of an animal, which in turn ties to the information on the craft of butchery. There are recipes for a spice rub and a sausage they use in their shop, which ties into the book's practical approach. One nice aspect of the book is how all these different aspects augment and inform each other in these ways. As a final example, the information on terms like `organic' mentioned above leads to a (small) section on questions to ask one's own butcher / farmer / farmer's market seller, and again ties back to the memoir aspect of their personal experiences starting out.

That said, other than the info on butchering - for which it is well worth reading the book - there isn't much new or revolutionary here. If you are well versed in the `new agriculture' movement - e.g. Food, Inc.,King Corn, or the works Mike Pollan (The Omnivore's Dilemma), Mark Bitman (Food Matters), Roger Doiron (at Roger Doiron dot com) and many others - there won't be much new here for you. (If you're not familiar, I suggest you look at these last three authors' TED talks on TED dot com for nice, succinct introductions). And the recipes are for the most part simple and straightforward; good but they probably won't wow you. For example, as a cook who seldom follows recipes exactly, I looked at the much-touted spice rub recipe and thought, `yeah, that's about what I'd expect. not much pepper for that much oregano. huh.' Another Amazon reviewer exclaimed in anguish about the large amount of spices in the sausage recipe, but the authors did point out their preference for highly spices sausage in the text, and again the practical aspect - this is what they are making (and selling lots of) in the shop.

With all this goodness, there is still room for some critique. Where I am in Iowa, I have ready access to good organic, humanely treated, grass fed beef and pork by way of local buying clubs, CSAs, direct purchases from farmers, and at least some local supermarkets (e.g. the New Pioneer Coop in Iowa City). I have no doubt that the butchery described in the book exceeds what I can get around here, and I bet that if Fleisher's was nearby I'd shop there. Maybe my sustainable meat situation is better than other folks' and maybe I've taken more time to educate myself to my options, but I'm not sure the quality meat access situation is as dire as the book presents. At least, I'd like more discussion of the differences between Fleisher's full-service shop and the some-service meat departments dealing in good meats.

Next, although Jessica is given co-author credit, she barely exists as a character in the book, and her voice exists not at all. The book is written in a strong first person that one assumes to be Joshua, but at the same time I wonder how much that is Alexandra Zissu, the ghostwriter. This ties to one of my critiques: that after reading the whole thing, I don't have a very robust picture of who these people are. After an intriguing introduction and backstory the book drops all pretense to memoir in the later chapters which seems somewhat incongruous given the tale-of-hardship narrative early on that (on presumes) is resolved in the years the butcher shop has been profitable. Yes, I've argued to take this book for what it is and it's not a memoir... so why am I complaining? Partly because the memoir section is what drew me in, but then it was dropped. Partly because the book doesn't really have a center; it goes too many places but stays for too short a time and I think the memoir aspect could have held it all together better.

The same lack of follow-up could be said for the butcher shop itself - I never really get a feeling for what it's like there. After much talk of the display cases, for instance, there isn't a picture of them, or the rotisserie chicken either. They talk of sustainable jobs... but how many folks work at the shop. They categorize their customers in very broad strokes, but only tease with details or perspectives from any of them. They hint at their role in the community, but don't define what that is. And so on.

Like I said at the beginning, my concerns are largely of the ephemeral variety. I recommend this book highly so long as the reader knows what it is and what it doesn't pretend to be.

12-29-2011
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on June 7, 2011
I am lucky enough to be able to shop at Josh and Jessica's shop, and after reading this important book I realise that I am privleged. If you care at all about the food you eat and where it comes from this is a must read. Informative, funny and most importantly, honest. We should all care as much about the inside of our body as we do the outside. This will be a classic.
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on August 2, 2011
I highly recommend it this book to anyone who is interested in eating better meat but confused by all the terms and is wary of green washing. It is well written for the average consumer, precise but not too technical. As someone who teaches this subject to college undgrads I find it a pleasure to read and will recommend it to all my students.
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on May 18, 2015
May be a bit too much for casual cooks, but for a fairly serious home chef, this is a fabulous reference. There's some ego and some definite opinionated thoughts in this narrative, but the author knows what he's doing, without question, so none of that is unwarranted. If, like we do, you like or want to buy meat in bulk, and butcher, process, and store your own bulk proteins, this is an invaluable reference source. It's no nonsense, reasonably in depth, clear and concise information, sensibly laid out.
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on August 4, 2011
I am approaching this subject with a bit of a bias because I have been to a pig to pork demo put on by Fleishers so I am not exactly an out of the blue book buyer. I am a chef and have a farm to table place in CT.
This book is packed with useful information for anyone, and the straight forward no nonsense approach is quite welcome. Its funny too. So what does this book have that others dont? First of all, the information is collected by people doing what they write about right now. As in today. The maze of terms that most people are exposed to when buying meat, in my opinion, are designed to either mislead or misrepresent. No not all of them but many. Hormone free chicken is a perfect example. So Josh goes through the "all naturals" "cage frees" and places the reality squarely on the table next to them. Ah...now I see. The more I learn the better my decisions become. Okay the butchering pictures. How many of these books have I seen with lame representations, skipped steps, or just plain photos that dont look like anything familiar. Lots. Page through the breakdown of the beef and you will be convinced you can do the job. They are that good, but dont be fooled. Its much harder than it looks, but it does inspire confidence to learn more about what was a seemingly impossible task partly because of lack of information. Its not just beef. The book covers poultry (The chicken chapter was most enlightening), lamb, pork, etc. So you have the pictures, the terms, the anecdotes, recipes, and first hand experience about the meat industry as it is NOW. Josh and Jess are both very nice people in a difficult business. People are really misinformed about meat, and they face the whole thing head on in this book with no apologies given. I am in the business, my brother is a farmer that raises beef, chicken, and hogs, and when someone in our dining room asks if the beef is grass fed or they complain because I only have 2 pork tenderloins for the week, or why my pork is not organic, I wish I had the 20 minutes it takes to explain. I am thinking about having this book chained to each table (a small chain)as it should be required reading for anyone that enjoys......Well raised meat.
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on January 5, 2013
This Book is a excellent tool to better understand the organic butcher industry and its importance to the public. Most people do not take the time think where does my food come from and how it can effect your health. This book show anyone how to meat and be cost effective. Also, this book talks about the art of Butchery and the importance it has to a community. This is an easy book to read with some pictures and there are recipes too.
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on May 4, 2014
this is the first book I am reading about butchery and meat, and really glad I dld. if you want to know better what you are eating, how to pick better meat, how to cook, how to stock, and use of different fats, this book is a definitely must read.
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on November 28, 2011
In general the book is good but lacks two important subjects. The first is the aging of cryogenic frozen meats when fresh slaughtered meats are not available as are most meats bought in large chain grocery stores. The second is the judging of meat on the hoof for the procurement at its base source. A rewrite with these subjects included would make a much better book.
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