As the times dictate, meat is scarce; it's all over the news. Finding good local meat right now makes one feel like a pirate searching for pieces of eight and buried treasure.
J&R Natural Meat and Sausage's butcher shop has been holding the line as basically our only livestock processor of meats in SLO County, including Templeton Hills Beef. Excluding strictly butcher shops (that's a whole other animal), and all you crafty homesteader Barbara Kingsolver types, the only other butchering facilities in the county are the Arroyo Grande Meat Company and the J and G Lau Family Meat Processing Center at Cal Poly.
- Photo By Beth Giuffre
- OLD SCHOOL Saunter on up to the meat counter at the J&R Natural Meat and Sausage butcher shop in Paso Robles and rewind to the old-school '50s butcher.
Recently, I noticed a sign at the glass door of J&R Meats' Paso Robles butcher shop, located just off the 101 near the Mid-State Fairgrounds: Due to high demand of meat processing, there will be no butchering of wild game.
According to Carmen Kroeker, J&R business manager, the reason our local ranchers and hunters haven't been able to get their meat processed is that the statewide demand for local meat is up.
"We've seen an increase of local farmers and ranchers who have a higher demand from their customers, so they're bringing more livestock to process here—a lot of grass-fed beef—a lot of local pork, lamb," Kroeker said, adding that their two retail butcher shops in Paso and Templeton have seen an increase in demand. "It's been good that we're seeing our customers and that we're able to help them out, since grocery stores are seeing a shortage.
"It's also turning more and more people on to local meat and grass-fed meat as the alternative," she said. "It's the silver lining."
- Photo Courtesy Of J&r Natural Meat And Sausage
- TREASURE CHEST Launched last November, J&R Natural Meat and Sausage's Nourish Meat Club has taken off. The meat club offers a variety of local, humanely raised grass-fed beef cuts, pasteurized pork, and free-range chicken with your choice of add-ons.
J&R's harvest schedule has been booked from June all the way into October, she said. "It's a new frontier for all of us—a really high demand all of a sudden. ... So right now we're mostly taking USDA customers who sell at farmers' markets or who sell at stores. We're taking customers who are selling to other customers."
But if you think the butchers are busy now, just wait until the first weeks in August. The California Mid-State Fair held a virtual livestock auction July 22 to 25. Between Aug. 2 and 10, the livestock will be headed toward J&R for butchering.
"A lot of the 4-H and FFA students did not participate this year," Kroeker said, as the coronavirus threw a wrench into the iconic Paso tradition of the live auction.
"It was challenging for all parties involved," Kroeker said, noting that one of the fair's main buyers was unable to purchase livestock this year. "There are quite a few less, but we are still receiving livestock from the Mid-State Fair."
- Photo By Beth Giuffre
- BRINGIN' HOME THE BACON Finally, I got myself a good-looking grass-fed beef box from J&R Meat and Sausage. I added on applewood smoked bacon and pork ribs.
The latest news at J&R is the Nourish Meat Club, with monthly, quarterly, and bimonthly meat selections of grass-fed beef, pasteurized pork, and free-range chicken. And you can add items on as well—like grass-fed beef hot dogs or fresh sage and ginger bulk sausage.
Kroeker said they launched the Nourish mixed meat box program last November, just a few months before lockdowns for COVID-19.
"It's purely coincidence that there's this shortage going on," she said. "It really started taking off in March and April. People didn't want to go to the store, and there was a delivery option for locals."
The Nourish program offers free delivery anywhere in California. J&R just launched a new website for Nourish, and I find it's faster to pick up your subscription in the Templeton or Paso store—curbside is available.
At the J&R butcher shop, you can find a variety of meats and meat boxes, specializing in grass-fed beef and lamb, pasture-raised pork, free-range poultry, and hand-crafted sausages and bacon. You can also find more exotic meats for different tastes, including fresh rotisserie meats at the Templeton store. They make it their goal to have a fresh local supply of naturally grown beef, pork, lamb, buffalo, and chicken on a regular basis, and both locations have a selection of spices, sauces, cheeses, and other essential products.
They're busy, but locals know you want the real deal—talk to owner/partner Jim Fogle or Jerry Christiansen, retail and wholesale manager. Laird Foshay is owner/partner as well, and another person you need to know at J&R.
Not everyone in the cutting room at J&R is called a butcher, and they have about 25 employees at the main processing center. They're working five at a table, for long hours these days—usually 60 hours a week.
With long hours and high demand, Kroeker said they touch base once a week for a good team meeting to keep the morale up.
"We're a small business, kind of like a little family here, so we all feel it when it's stressful," she said. "We all try to remember the positive about it." Δ
Flavor writer Beth Giuffre is bringing home the best applewood smoked bacon in the county. Send BLT ingredients to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The July 9 Flavor article "Maintaining momentum," didn't state full details regarding the founding of the SLO Veg CSA. After working at San Luis Diagnostic Center, Rachael Hill took a job working at SLO Veg in 2009. In 2016, Hill became the owner of SLO Veg after buying founder Dan Melton's shares of the company.