The Danish sun was slowly fading towards the tree line that was interrupted by wind farms – there wouldn’t be enough light to see any of the farm tonight.
Henning, Ollie, and I continued our two-hour trek West from Copenhagen to the island of Funen to visit Steensgaard, an organic “seed-to-sausage” operation that I had heard about and had the butcher community buzzing. I had first met Henning, the owner of Steensgaard, at the Butcher’s Manifesto in Copenhagen. There, he had given a short presentation on the traditions of butchery, showcasing his establishment and explaining how his farm practiced stress-free slaughters and warm meat cutting. Both of these processes help to harvest the full integrity of the meat.
Ollie and I were settled into a small flat in a long building bordering the gardens and the “Big House.” After showing us our living quarters, Henning retired for the evening, and we soon followed to rest up for our first day at Steensgaard.
Early the next morning, Ollie and I rumbled into the large building in the middle of the farm. It houses the retail shop, restaurant, and processing facility. Patrick, the head butcher we would be assisting, walked us through their state-of-the-art slaughter facility, processing room, and maturing chambers – the place was incredible! There were so many varieties of products – different kinds of casings, various salts, and some unique looking molds. There was also new assortment of charcuterie, and to be perfectly honest, I couldn’t identify most of them.
Our morning's schedule had us to harvest four pigs. They had just been guided up from the pasture by their herdsman and were penned outside the slaughterhouse door. Normally, animals are transported to a slaughter facility by truck. The transportation alone causes stress, bruising, and trauma – all of which lessen the quality of the end product. Now, for the first time, I saw a more humane passage. The Steensgaard pigs never left the farm.
After prepping, Patrick cued us to begin – Ollie grabbed the electrical stunning claw and opened the door to four massive pigs, all weighing around 160 kilos each. After the stun, the pig was raised into the facility via a hydraulic lift and bled out. Not one squeal was heard. The pig never knew what happened. The perfect slaughter.
The carcass was then transferred into a tumbler filled with boiling water. This process removes the majority of hair follicles leaving our knives to remove the remaining stray hairs. Finally, we gave the carcass a light torching just to be sure all the hair was gone – lots of pathogens live in there.
Patrick took the first carcass into the adjoining room and began the process of removing the intestines. Ollie and I went to work on the next pig - another silent, perfect slaughter.
In just a few short hours, we had eight, half carcasses lined up on the rails of the processing facility ready to begin the second unique process of Steensgaard – warm meat cutting. Immediately after slaughter, you have about three hours in which to do this process. Starting with the shoulders from each carcass, we deboned, ground, and salted the meat. This emulsified meat was then frozen to be used later in sausages or salami as a flavor kick.
We stopped around noon for a butcher’s breakfast – one of the best breakfasts I've ever had. As I ate, I realized Steengaard was revolutionizing my philosophies. I called myself into question.
Am I a true butcher?
I had just witnessed Ollie and Patrick take live animals and seamlessly transform them into carcasses and then into a diverse number of incredible products. Ollie does this same process in his home country of Germany out in the fields with just a handful of tools.
In my opinion, that is a true butcher.
Yes, I spent some time on a kill floor in Texas - mostly confined to one station where I skinned and assisted in splitting the cattle carcasses. This alinea left me with only one option – I needed to stay at Steensgaard to learn their processes.