The trade of butchering and animal processing is just about as old as it gets, but that doesn’t mean the industry’s become stale. In Centre County, carnivorous foodies can find shining examples of the future of butchery while enjoying the oh-so-tasty fruits of their labor.
Countryside Land & Cattle opened a butcher counter just about a month ago within the Maine Bay & Berry location in Lemont, serving up cuts of cattle raised on a Stormstown farm. Owners Victor and Gina Woskob say they move through all the product they put out, with their delicious burgers — which gained fame at Grange Fair several years ago — leading sales.
Victor Woskob grew up on a beef farm, raising Black Angus beef. After a short departure from the trade and central Pennsylvania, he returned, purchasing his current farm and starting out with a small herd mostly for fun. His business grew from there, he said, with selling whole and half beefs, before progressing to the cuts he sells now to meet the demand for small portions. After all, not every family has the funds or the freezer space to purchase an entire head of beef.
Opening a fresh-cut butcher shop is something he said he’s wanted to do for a while. He also said that he saw a need for such a provider in town, as well as Centre County’s affinity for fresh, local, farm-to-table food. He offers customers the ability to talk to the farmer who raised the beef while picking out their steak for dinner.
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“I love when I get those questions (about the different cuts of beef),” Victor said. “It’s the greatest feeling when people come back, they’ve never had the cut before and they say, ‘thank you, that was the best I ever had.’ ”
‘Bringing the bacon’
The personal aspect of the trade and customer interaction is a favorite part of the job for many in this line of work.
“When I’m coming, people are always happy because I’m bringing the bacon. I find it very rewarding when people are enjoying the product,” said Garfield Mathis at Hogs Galore.
He and his family have been raising hogs since 1979, opening the Hogs Galore location in Philipsburg in 2006 as a meat processing plant to provide high-quality pork to the local area.
“We process mostly pork,” Mathis said. “We make hams, bacon, sausage, smoked meats, including bologna, kielbasa, andouille, chorizo ... pretty much anything you can make from pork, we make here.”
A big selling point for the Hogs Galore brand is the wide variety of customization offered to both average consumers and local restaurants. If there’s a specialty or unique sausage that someone can’t find, chances are, Hogs Galore can make it.
The present, future of meat processing
Another way Mathis and his team stand apart from the crowd is through their high emphasis on food safety, as well as transparency, so consumers can feel assured they’re getting a high-quality product. Mathis said they “control the process from start to finish, and make a product people will really be into, know where it comes from and know how it started.”
Transparency is a vital part of the business for Jay Young at Rising Meat Company, as well.
“You bring in an animal, and you get all of that meat back and only that meat back. If you bring in a beef, you don’t get someone else’s tail or grind. It’s a constant suspicion (but) it’s not a complete fallacy. Slaughter shops have been in every respect ripe for corruption, whether you’re paying off inspectors or taking meat from your customers. You take 10 or 20 pounds here or there and you sell it and make a profit. That sort of thing does exist as an issue. We try to go the other way and be as transparent as we can be,” he said.
While Young bucks what he sees as an issue of corruption, he’s also pushing for a shift in mindset surrounding meat processing and butchering.
“The second-most important thing people need is food. So I find it very fulfilling (to be in my line of work). ... In terms of fulfillment, the slaughter industry can and should be very fulfilling to people,” he said.
In Young’s experience, not as many young people are interested in the trade.
“I think most parents today counsel their kids to get an education, go to school so they can fall back on their education. I think that has undervalued the labor that’s involved in professions that actually make our world run,” he said.
Young does acknowledge that there’s been a trend in many urban centers around the country to establish “cool” butcher shops, but thinks there’s still room to celebrate the real, gritty trade of meat processing, which takes a large amount of skill and expertise.
Victor Woskob agrees the trade is hard work, but foresees a bright future of young people interested in the industry.
“The younger generation is doing it, but they’re doing it in a different way,” he said, pointing to the thriving Meats Laboratory and associated programs at Penn State.
Regardless of where the future of meat processing and butchery is headed, though, there’s one thing that’s certain — the present is a story of success for those in the county who call the trade their own.