While M&M Meat Lockers caters to Henderson County, and the New York Butcher Shoppe in Greenville offers something special for folks doing the daily commute, Asheville’s Chop Shop Butchery is uniquely Asheville.
Owner Josh Wright established the Chop Shop specifically to cater to North Asheville’s strong feelings about living in a sustainable environment. Nothing that comes through the butchery’s side door is wasted. They buy whole hogs and whole beef, on hooks, and use everything for something.
“We only buy local beef,” Wright says as we look at a side of beef that is hanging on the hook in his walk-in cooler. “Everything is from local farms. We buy the whole animal. There are no box meats coming in here.
“We focus on farms that are raising their animals in a sustainable manner. They don’t have any genetically modified organisms in their feed and no hormones. Mostly, they’re grass fed and finished on Silver corn. Most of our farmers have smaller farms. We buy from them because of their quality and our own desire to give them local market access.
“Our biggest beef farm is Apple Brandy Beef Farms in North Wilkesboro. It’s owned by a young, third generation farm couple, and they really work hard at raising their cattle properly. It’s a great partnership to work with them.”
The Chop Shop is primarily a retail store but they are providing more beef and other products to a growing number of Asheville area restaurants. Wright attributes the Chop Shop’s success (it opened Oct. 5, 2011) to the marketing plan, the location (100 Charlotte Street Asheville, NC 28801), and especially to his head butcher, Karen Fowler, and Charcuterie (mixed meat maker) Tyler Cook.
“I think they’re among the best in their fields,” Wright says with admiration. “Nobody does what we’re doing with the whole animal because they don’t have Karen and Tyler to make it possible.”
At that moment, Karen Fowler, a smallish young woman, is in the walk-in cooler literally man-handling a just-arrived beef carcass off the hook and onto her chopping block. She moves with lightning speed, leveraging rather than just lifting. After the beef is in position she slices off portions with her knives and then moves the large remainder over to the band saw. Within a short time it has largely disappeared and she’s trimming fat off the steaks.
“I don’t like to leave it exposed to the air too long,” she says. “I’ve been cutting six years. I’m from Orange Park, Florida, a little town just South of Jacksonville. I’ve been a cook, a chef and a butcher since I was 15. I used to have to cut all my meat myself to get it done right. When I came to Asheville 12 years ago I just knew I was in the right place in the mountains. I managed meat departments in local grocery stores, but I knew I wanted to take the next step beyond box meat. Also, this is a great 9 to 5 type job. When I was working restaurants the hours were just crazy. This is a healthier lifestyle, and I am working with great quality people.”
Fowler says the Chop Shop is “just brilliant. It works in Asheville because people are really into food. They live life a lot healthier than in most other areas. They are more involved with and concerned about their food, and what is in it.”
While Fowler is working, Wright gets Tyler Cook to prepare a sample tray. He explains each part and how it is made.
“We start this with Pepperloaf,” Cook says. “It’s a traditional blend with a bit of pepper. It has a little bite but not too much.”
Next is an air-cured pork loin called Lonza. It melts in your mouth. Cook then challenges your taste buds with Lamb Merguez, a Mediterranean styled air cured sausage that would be even better on a cracker with cheese and a glass of red wine.
A slice of cured ham is next. “We can’t call it Virginia ham because we’re not in Virginia,” Cook says pointing out the obvious. “But it’s done in the same style.”
Finally, the big challenge. Pork headcheese that is made “of all the parts of the pig’s head except the brain.” If you wonder if something is really in there, the answer is simply, “yes.”
Like the NY Butcher Shoppes, the Chop Shop makes special recipe sausage for their customers. “I really enjoy trying to recreate old recipes,” Tyler says. “I don’t need the exact recipe. I can do a lot if someone just tells me where they’re from, about their culture and what they remember their grandmother cooking for them. I can do a pretty good sausage just from that. It’s all about history and the culture someone grows up in.”
Asheville’s famous City Bakery rounds out the location and if all you want is a quick burger, Fuddrucker’s is just across West Chestnut Street.
“I really appreciate the reception we’ve had in our first year,” Wright says. “We’re adding beer and wines and a few other things in the next few weeks, tweaking our product mix. One thing we will never change is our focus on healthful foods. No hormones, no factory chicken, no antibiotics, no animals that were fed animal by-products.
“We’re just a small specialty meat shop,” Wright says. “We’re adding a few things that go with our meats but we’re not trying to compete with the regional grocery store chains. All I can promise is that if you try our meats – strip steaks, sausages, ground beef, chicken, even our hot dogs – you’ll find we have a very high quality product.”