A tradition, and a guild, unlike any other

Boulder Butchery Guild imparts time-honored butchery skills to varied groups of students

Veronica Volney/boulder Butchery Guild

In Italy, Alberto Sabbadini’s family and neighbors butchered a pig every winter. His father or a neighbor would shoot it in the head with a .22-caliber rifle, slit its throat just so and hang it from a tree, snoutdown, to drain the blood. They’d catch the blood in a bucket to use for sausage and then begin scraping off the pig’s skin with rags soaked with boiling water.

Then they’d eat breakfast. 

It is in this tradition that Sabbadini and Veronica Volny teach butchery at the Boulder Butchery Guild — a group of people who have taken one of several classes with Sabbadini and Volny and come back for more.

After completing their first season on May 18, the Guild will resume classes in the Fall, open to foodies, amateur cooks, restaurant chefs, plastic surgeons, accountants, writers or anyone adventurous enough to sign up.

“It’s somewhat of a substitute for the European model,” Volny, co-founder of Meadow Lark Farm Dinners says, “where people have a relationship with the butcher. In this country, for the most part, we’re used to seeing a bird shrink-wrapped in plastic and people often don’t know which side is front and which side is back.”

Sabbadini, who joined Meadow Lark after being executive chef at The Kitchen, says classes are Connect designed with to us give students the tools to break down their own meats.

“We want people to go home with skills from the Guild,” Sabbadini says. “It may not be super fast — they’re not going to be butchers in a month — but it’s a start.”

Classes are held at Cure Organic Farm and typically consist of four students. The Guild provides all materials from aprons and knives to butcher paper and twine.

The animals are killed and delivered beforehand. They are sourced through connections that Sabbadini and Volny have made with local farms through their previous work. However, they hope their students can make similar connections with farmers to source their own meat in the future.

This season, students worked with three breeds of pig from Cure Organic Farm, lamb from Leistekow Farms, chicken from Jodar Farms and rabbit from Jacob Springs and Stan’s.

The Guild’s success — all of its spring classes sold out — is due in part to people’s increased interest in where their food comes from, Volny says.

“I think it’s a reaction to the greater awareness of the food system being quite an industrial process and there’s a lot in the news these days about GMOs,” Volny says. “To others it might be more the taste or the personal connection to the farmer.”

Sabbadini added, “The meats we use in our classes, because they’ve been raised so close out in the pasture, they taste so different than what we can get in the store.”

Plus, “students go home with cuts of meat they didn’t even know existed,” Sabbadini says.

There are other butchery class options in Boulder: Lucky’s Market, the Auguste Escoffier School and even Cure Farm have all hosted butchery classes in the last year. It’s part of a national trend that promotes a do-it-yourself approach to food, Volny says.

“There might be some panic about losing certain skills and a reaction to that,” Volny says. “So many people have taken up pickling and making their own jam and their own cheese. All of these lost arts are making a comeback.”

Unlike other butchery classes, Guild classes are designed to be hands-on because “if you don’t have a little background experience, you don’t know what part you’re taking down,” Sabbadini says.

In class, students watch Sabbadini demonstrate on his own half-pig, halflamb, chicken or rabbit before turning the knife over to the small group of students to break down their own meat. Students take home the meat— that’s part of the fee, which ranges from $85 for rabbit and chicken classes to $350 for pig classes. So far, students have left with “anywhere from two chickens or two rabbits to 30-35 pounds of pork.”

There’s also a popular sausage-making class borne again out of Sabbadini’s tradition. There are plans to add a turkey butchery course around Thanksgiving as well as a meat curing, pâté and terrine class.

Guild classes present a unique learning opportunity, Volny says, not only because of Sabbadini’s expertise but because securing animals from small farms is not easy.

“We were going to do a rabbit class one week and then coyotes ate the rabbits,” Volny says. “[The farms] are all small-scale operations, so there’s no backup.”

The ultimate goal of the Guild is to get students to return for “Be Your Own Butcher” classes, where animals are slaughtered prior to the session and students can work with the Guild in a mutually beneficial cooperative.

“This is an opportunity to take their skills and work side by side with other people, have access to equipment and to Alberto, if they need reminders. But they can make their own decisions and swap recipes and ideas and make it more of a community activity,” Volny says.

Students who passed through Guild classes have expressed interest in participating in classes that start with slaughtering the animal in the morning and butchering it later in the day — just as Sabbadini did with his family in Italy.

“It would be less hands-on cutting up the meat because there would be more students and just one animal,” Volny says, “but it would be more for the closeness and intimacy of the process.”

Plans for slaughter-to-butcher classes are tentative but could be on the calendar this fall.

For the summer, Sabbadini and Volny will run Meadow Lark Farm Dinners at Cure (Valmont and 75th) but the Guild will return in October.

To sign up for the Boulder Butchery Guild’s mailing list, and to be notified of all upcoming classes when they are announced, visit www.boulderbutcheryguild.com.

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