Red Hog Butcher Podcast Transcript:
In this week’s episode of Perspectives, brought to you by Louisville’s luxury real estate brokerage, Lenihan Sotheby’s International Realty, I’m speaking with Jay Denham and Duncan Paynter with Red Hog Butcher, with a train going by at the corner of Frankfort and Franck. Hey, guys. Thanks for having me to your restaurant today, nice to meet you both.
Duncan: Nice to meet you.
Greg: Thank you. So, let’s start at the very beginning, because the restaurant hasn’t been open that long, right? So how long have you been here?
Jay: September 22nd is when we opened.
Greg: Okay, and why? I kind of know the story, but I’m just going to start slowly. What was the need, what was the … Why did you all decide to open the restaurant? Or who opened the restaurant, I guess we could go there too.
Duncan: It actually all starts with Bob Hancock and Kit Garrett, the owners of Blue Dog. I guess it goes back to their farm, Bob and Kit raise heritage-breed hogs in Oldham County, it all kind of spun from there, I guess.
Jay: Yeah, it was kind of a culmination of Bob’s dreams of raising the animals and controlling the production of the meat products completely. From the beginning, from farrowing the pigs all the way through the production of the actual product, and having the control over that to therefore control the quality and the verification of where it’s coming from, the genetics, the breeds, the feeds, all of that plays an integral part in the finished product. And there was really no place like that here in Kentucky.
Greg: So did that start … If they started at Blue Dog Bakery, was that a natural extension? Or is it just sort of another interest that Bob had? Or are they just totally different? Other than quality and locality?
Jay: Yeah, it’s kind of both, really. He had the same feeling when he opened Blue Dog, with the bread. He wanted the quality, and there was no place that he found around that he really liked the bread, and the meat kind of falls in that same category of the meat quality he’s looking for and everything…
Duncan: Yeah, Bob was making salamis and hams at Blue Dog for his restaurant menu and didn’t have the quality of pork that he wanted. So he decided to raise it himself.
Greg: Now, were you both at Blue Dog Bread?
Jay: No. I was raising pigs myself and curing meats and running other restaurants when we first met.
Greg: So what does it mean when … You both have mentioned quality of pork, and I’m a total believer in quality, knowing where your animals came from, and the standards, and you know, the farming and pastured and all that. But for people who are listening, or reading the blog post who don’t know what you’re talking about, what does that mean that you’re concerned about the quality of either the finished product or the life of the animal, what that means in the finished product?
Duncan: Well, the life of the animal has a direct correlation to the quality of the pork. Slaughter is a really big part of it, you can have the most beautiful pigs in the world, or beef in the world, and the quality can get messed up at the last second when it’s slaughtered. But I guess it all comes down to ethics, and flavor and texture, in the end.
Jay: Yeah, if you look at culinary in any aspect whatsoever, you start with ingredients, and you start with the best ingredients you have. When it comes to butchering and value-added production, and stuff like that, the ingredients are the meat itself. So you have to start with the best quality meat and the best quality meat starts with genetics, and then leads to feed, and then to the slaughter. There’s so many different aspects that you have to pay … very minute details to making sure that everything gets taken care of, so that, like he said, the pH that can change in the slaughter, where the animal’s stressed out, which changes everything that you can do to it in the production. And then …
Greg: So are you saying if you have two animals that are raised identically and one is taken to a … as calm, and as peaceful a slaughter as possible, and the other one’s taken to a chaotic, hectic slaughter, that the end result … the end product would be different?
Jay: Completely. I mean …
Greg: In taste or in health?
Duncan: In taste, in texture, you can test it scientifically with pH levels.
Jay: In the way it binds, and the way it … There’s so many different ways that that can change it dramatically. As well as going back to feed. You can feed the exact same genetically-produced animals with two different feeds. They’re going to taste completely different, the fat is going to be completely different …
Greg: So like a natural feed that a pig should be eating, and then a synthetic …
Jay: The variety. Generally it’s a variety of food, the amount of protein they’re eating, what they’re finished on, another whole slew of things. And then you go back to the genetics, the genetics are the exact same way. You want to study your genetics, you want to have certain genetics for your sow base, putting different boars with those, where your offspring can produce completely different pigs as well. So it goes all the way back to many different things.
In the last ten years I think a lot of Americans have been tuned in to the genetic side of it. There’s a lot of even large producers that are starting to bring in different genetically-produced pigs into large production. So that’s actually being paid more attention to on a big scale now. But I think personally the feed is more important than the genetics. It all makes a huge difference.
Greg: So can you all point out a couple differences between what you’re doing … Before we even get to the case out front or to the restaurant. But actually on the farm, with the animals, can you explain a few differences between what someone might see if they visited your farm, and what large-scale … I don’t even know, the large scale … But, you know, you go to your dollar grocery store and there’s a ham there. What’s the difference between their ham and your ham? Or bacon, right? Everybody loves bacon.
Duncan: I mean room, I guess, is the first thing … That the animals have room to be animals. They’re not cooped up. They’re allowed to forage, they’re allowed to dig in roots and eat things that are naturally around them in addition to their normal feed …
Greg: Which is how a pig normally feeds, right?
Duncan: Yeah, I mean, they root in the ground, they eat nuts, they eat all kind of radishes and turnips and things like that. They love to dig up the ground and eat things that grow below the ground.
Jay: Yeah, livestock is just as dependent as vegetables are. It’s what is around them that provides them the nutrients they need to grow. So the health of livestock is just as important as if you were growing vegetables in a too-acidic soil or something. It’s gonna show up in the finished product.
Greg: So what would a large-scale farming operation look like different from what you just talked about?
Duncan: A lot of it’s indoors, very cramped, allowing the animals to move allows them to build more muscle structure and in turn more intermuscular fat, as opposed to something that’s just standing stagnant, packing on fat, isn’t going to be nearly as flavorful or it might be more tender, more fatty, but it’s not going to have any more flavor.
Greg: If someone comes in … Or, when they come in, can most people tell the difference between your product and, say, a mass-produced ham? Or are you finding that it’s the same … The organic kale crowd that you’re attracting? Or is it just an education process where people have to learn what they’re…?
Duncan: We always have butchers behind the case, so we can educate guests. You can just look at, say, a pork chop in our case and it doesn’t look like what you find in the grocery store. I mean, it’s a different color, it’s a different shape. We take more time and care to cut it, too…
Greg: And you all handle it from beginning to end, right?
Duncan: Mm-hmm (affirmative), everything but the slaughter.
Jay: Yeah, it’s slaughtered in USDA facilities and then we go get it. You can also see just in the case … Even from genetics to genetics, especially in the pork. Like Bob’s pigs, we can have a much darker muscle tone to some of the other farmers that come in. I mean, you can tell the difference in most of the meat in there but to an untrained eye they might not see it immediately so we’ll help point that out. It also comes together more importantly in the flavor than in the looks.
Greg: Full disclosure, I’ve been in several times as strictly a customer and you guys are very … I know I’ve taken up too much of your time, asking questions and just working my way up and down the case … So, why don’t explain what the sort of setup … there’s sort of a … I don’t know how you have it named, but there’s a case or a butcher shop out front and then a restaurant out back and you have salami and you have pork, there’s beef and duck and all sorts of stuff up front, right?
Jay: Right, one side is a ready to eat case, which is all cooked sausages and salami.
Greg: I’ve had the ham salad.
Jay: Oh yeah?
Greg: I’m just thinking of all the things I’ve bought out of here.
Jay: Yeah, I mean, it always rotates because we’re making new things and different things. So, we have basically a raw side with all your cuts for cooking and then a cooked and cured side which is stuff you cook as well, like hot dogs and different things like that, all the way to cured things that are just meant to be sliced and eaten. We’ve got a little bit across the gamut, we use the entire animal to produce everything in there. So, it just depends on what we get, what the animal looks like when it comes in. We have certain … For instance, certain pigs that are just for raw case products, we have certain pigs that are just for curing. It just depends on what it looks like when it comes in.
Greg: What does that mean? What are you looking for? I don’t even know what that means.
Jay: We’re looking for loin eye sizes, we’re looking for marbling, we’re looking for coloring of the meat, we’re looking for fat cover. All kinds of different things.
Duncan: The curing hog is usually much older and larger, and therefore, they’d be less tender for eating fresh but they make much better, more flavorful salami and ham and coppa and any cured product like that. That’s one thing you’ll see is that they’re much, much larger.
Jay: More flavorful, too. Typically, older animals are more flavorful.
Greg: And then if someone walks through, there are several different kinds … Lots of choices, right? How do you all decide what you’re in the mood to make, or where do you get your recipes? Do you always … Because you said your menu rotates, so, is it “I’m in the mood to try something new” or “I really liked the last one I did?” How do you all figure that out?
Duncan: Sometimes, I mean it kind of deals with what sells and what doesn’t.
Greg: Well, it seems like your salami sells. I’ve been in a few times and you’ve been out.
Duncan: Salami sells. Salami is a time consuming process so we don’t always have it. We found it’s really surprising some stuff sells, like Braunschweiger, we … Surprised at how much … I mean, that’s a staple in the case, and it’s a great way to use up pork livers and I’m really surprised that people buy it in the amount that they do. And other stuff, it’s kind of on our whim.
Greg: So y’all are allowed a little bit of freedom and a little bit of creativity and artistry?
Duncan: Oh, yeah.
Jay: Yeah, you have to, otherwise you’d have a bunch of wasted product in the back that we’d need to get rid of. So, in order to use the whole animal you’ve got to get kind of creative on what you’re going to use it for.
Greg: So, when you say you’re using the whole animal … and I know y’all have stock in there as well, so I assume you’re using the bones there…
Jay: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Greg: How does the animal arrive here? When you say “I’m using the whole animal,” it’s not coming here live, is it?
Jay: No, it comes in whole or split. It’s in probably the largest pieces that we can possibly handle.
Duncan: That we can move. So hogs are usually split, lambs are whole, beef usually comes in quarters or sixths and we further process it from there which leaves us with a lot of bones and scrap and things that most people just kind of throw away, like skin. Things that we’re turning into delicious products.
Greg: Okay, and when did you each start in this field?
Duncan: My last job was … I was a sous chef at Proof on Main and I did all the butchering and charcuterie and realized I liked doing that a lot more than making fancy high end plates and got into sausage making and stuff and I got with Bob and helped him break down his pigs in my off time and kind of went from there.
Jay: Mine was probably early 2000’s, had meat curing programs in all my restaurants here, Nashville, Chicago. Worked in Italy for a while. I actually went to Spain with Bob when we went over and checked out the dehesa and their production over there. It’s been a little while.
Greg: And do you all get to get out on the farm a little bit … to Bob’s farm? Or are you all pretty much here and you do the butchering and that’s more than enough to keep you guys busy?
Jay: Mostly here. There’s another couple guys that are out on the farm throughout the week and then we have different farms all across the state that we pull from, as well.
Duncan: Yeah, and we made a point to visit all the farms where we’re pulling meat from and meet with the farmers and see how they’re raising things and make sure everything’s up to our standards. You know, if a farmer’s scared to show you their farm then you probably don’t want their meat.
Greg: So, when you say you’re working with other farmers, are they going to have the same kind of standards and same type of concerns about how the animal is treated, how they’re raised, how they’re slaughtered, how they’re butchered?
Jay: Yeah, there might be some different variables but as far as the humane treatment and feeding and different things like that, some of the genetics are different, but for the most part it’s all basically the same. I mean, it’s definitely the same as far as minimums, what we look for. But there’s some variables as far as feeding and genetics and things like that, that are completely okay with us and very acceptable.
Duncan: Oh, yeah. We’ve had multiple kinds of steer in the case at the same time, like Jersey Steer versus a traditional kind of Angus Cross Steer. They don’t look anything alike and I think it’s cool to show people. Like hey, these are what two completely different breeds look like. They both look absolutely delicious, but they’re … the color is different, the shape is different.
Jay: You can’t find that at any grocery store. You can’t go in and be like “I want a Jersey and an Angus Strip to take home and taste the difference.” Or, even here we do dry aging, as well, and taste the difference between a thirty day, a sixty day, and a hundred day dry age or something like that. So, there’s a lot of different things that we do here that are a little unique to this day and age.
Greg: Do you all have classes or tastings where people can come in and try different stuff out, or do they need to come to the restaurant and just order stuff?
Jay: We’re planning those in the future for sure. We’ve done a few with some different organizations around the country that have scheduled conferences here. We’re working on a few more as well. We’ll probably do a few more of our own as well where we can sell tickets and people can do some classes. We’re just still getting all the details arranged.
Greg: So, you said that national organizations have conferences here? Are you guys … Is this something that is not common in every city across the states? Is this pretty cutting edge?
Duncan: It’s becoming more common in larger cities, but not everywhere, no.
Jay: We have an advantage in Kentucky, being that there’s a lot of small family farms still here and there’s a lot of slaughter houses here per capita based on everywhere else in the country. So, we’re kind of unique to the rest of the country where we have the ability to pull from a lot of different farms a little more easily than say you would out on the west coast or anywhere. This area and the Midwest a little bit, as well, is a little more dispositioned to do something of this caliber.
Greg: Okay, and then y’all have a full service restaurant, right? Is that mostly dinners? Is it lunch and dinner?
Jay: It’s dinner, dinner service only. We’re open four to close Tuesday through Saturday. The butcher shop does do a couple sandwiches and a soup each day. So, you can come in and grab a sandwich, they’re pre-made sandwiches that we do each day to our standards in quality so they’re very, very tasty sandwiches.
Greg: They are, and again another item that I’ve tried. What are some of your favorite items here? Not the stuff that you guys each make on a regular basis but something else that you particularly enjoy. We’re right next to a wood burning pizza oven right now, I would imagine pizzas are pretty popular around here.
Duncan: Pizzas are very popular. I mean, the menu is always changing so it’s fun to try stuff out on different days and it’s fun because I can take cuts that maybe won’t sell in the butcher shop and give them to the guys in the restaurant and they’ll turn them into something absolutely delicious. It’s another great way to use the entire animal. I always use pork shanks as an example, it’s become a pretty popular dish when we have them. We save all our pork shanks, we cure them, confit them, we roast them in the wood burning oven and it’s a great dish and it’s a way to use something that would never sell in the shop because it’s just not a big demand for raw pork shanks.
Greg: But if you do all the work and cook them up then they sell well.
Jay: Yeah, that’s one of the good things about working here is we get to see the quality of the meat and different cuts as soon as we cut into it so that’s probably one of the biggest things is if we could we’ll take home some of the stuff that we see, but that’s also a thing that our customers have access to as well. We don’t have room for everything in the case, so if there’s stuff that they don’t see they can ask us about different things that we might have in the back that we can get for them, or put them on a waiting list for when stuff comes in that … I think that’s probably one of the biggest point is since we do get in all animals and stuff we have access to different things that aren’t necessarily always accessible. So, if somebody has something that they particularly want and can’t really find it, definitely let us know and we can probably source it for you.
Duncan: That and our cutting techniques are much different than what you see in large scale facilities. We take a lot more time to get different cuts, especially out of beef. We’ll do so a lot more in the pork, there’s some really nice grilling cuts in the shoulder that you can’t find anywhere, that nobody knows about, but if they try it once I’m sure they’ll come back for more.
Greg: So, you mean like … When you say different cuts, do you mean your physical action, you’re cutting differently than most butchers or the cut that I would buy is different?
Duncan: Both. We’re cutting things differently. We’re isolating a lot more singular muscles to make steaks and chops and things. It takes a lot more time and effort but then you can get a lot of really awesome pieces, especially the beef that most people just hack up and throw in a grinder. I always think of bavette steak when I’m doing that.
Jay: Those cuts sell out really quickly because typically there’s either one or two in the entire animal, so just seeing that and if it stays in the case too long one of us is most likely going to take it home.
Greg: So, have you found that you have a loyal following? I mean, how has the reception been the first … what, six months, seven months?
Duncan: It’s been great, and I think a lot of people have gotten … We’ve opened a lot of people’s eyes to things things, like I just said the bavette steak, we just had one person who had it, she wanted a skirt steak, I told her this is the closest thing we have. She came back and said that’s amazing, next time you cut one of those let me know. We get a lot of stuff like that.
Jay: We get a lot of return faces, still seeing a lot of new face. Still seeing a lot of people from out of town coming in that are packing coolers and whatnot.
Jay: Yeah, a lot of people that shop with us two or three times a week. They’re buying daily for their meals.
Greg: So, if someone wants to follow along and … I assume you guys are on Instagram and some social places. Where can they find you?
Greg: All right, that’ll do it, right? They can find you if they want to find you. Awesome, thanks for having me in today, guys.
Jay: Thanks for coming!
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