Fri 4 Feb 2011
When it comes to food, Seth Cooper knows that process matters. He embraces the “Fresh, Local, Seasonal” ethos and he even makes his own cheese. But he found himself frustrated over and over again as he tried to bring that mentality to meat.
From 2006 to 2008, Cooper lived in England and enjoyed farmers’ markets right on his street where butchers would bring freshly dressed cuts of meat to sell. He loved the freshness and the more assertive flavor of the grass-fed beef. He could ask questions about the differences between breeds of cattle and even between different steaks taken from the same animal.
Upon arrival in Washington, he found a kindred spirit in Jon Wrinn. Together, the two engineers sought to tear down all the barriers that the meat industry has built up between the farm and the fork. They visited butcher shops and market stalls trying to find knowledgeable purveyors offering top-quality local meats, but they found that combination in short supply. They even toyed with the idea of butchering their own animals before buying a cow and splitting it among a group of friends. They felt so strongly about what they were doing, they traveled to Penn State’s Meat Laboratory to take classes regarding the regulations and procedures governing small-scale butchering operations.
Thankfully, they came to the conclusion that they couldn’t be the only ones who were looking for this, and so they’ve set out to make it easier for others. Thus was born White House Meats. Their idea: bring grass-fed, dry-aged, locally-raised beef to Washingtonians in a way that allows them to promote the cause and have some fun at the same time. Their method: The Meat-Up.
What is a Meat-Up and how can you get the hook-up? Find out after the jump.
One of the biggest obstacles to getting the freshest and best beef in the city is the size of your average cow relative to your average DC freezer. The average side of grass-fed beef weighs in at more than two hundred pounds of usable beef, and there aren’t a lot of us in the area with the organizational skills and the carnivorous inclinations necessary to gather a crowd of ten or twelve people to band together and buy a side together. Even if you could arrange it, there’s the issue of equity: fights are bound to break out over who gets the flank steak and who gets the rump roast.
White House Meats solves both of these issues elegantly via their Meat-Ups. Roughly once a month, Seth and Jon arrange an afternoon where they bring in a side of beef for a group of strangers to split up among themselves. They take the time to educate their guests about the best preparations for the various cuts of beef and they cook up roasts and burgers so people can taste that delicious grass-fed difference.
The meat is pre-portioned into steaks and roasts after dry-aging for a minimum of two weeks. The cuts are then laid out for everyone in attendance to review and find their favorites. But you don’t need to go all Lord of the Flies to guarantee you get your preferred steaks. All of the share participants draw numbers at random and then they enter into what can best be described as a Fantasy Meatball draft, taking turns picking cuts until the side has been split among them. When everything is parceled out it’s weighed and those who ended up with less are given one-pound packages of ground beef to make up the difference.
Participants then pay a pre-set price per pound (currently set at $9.80 per pound), “stay and talk a little meat” according to Seth, and then leave with at least a third of their freezer’s real estate spoken for. Each share will likely net twenty-two to twenty-five pounds of beef and will cost roughly $200. For those who aren’t ready to commit to 20+ pounds of meat in one go, pre-made boxes of local corn-fed beef and possibly even some individual steaks and roasts are available for purchase as supplies permit.
The next Meat-Up is taking place tomorrow (February 5th) at 1 PM, and there are still a few shares available. The gathering will take place at Christ Church, which is located at 620 G Street, SE. Future Meat-Ups are scheduled for March 12th and April 9th on Capitol Hill and March 14th at A.M. Wine Shoppe in Adams Morgan. To reserve your space for tomorrow or later, you can sign up through the website or contact Seth directly at (202) 320-4829.
Cooper sums up his vision succinctly: “This is a cause we feel strongly about and there’s a need for it in the city. We firmly believe more people would buy direct from the farm if the option were more widely available.” He sees this as a program that can be readily replicated throughout the Washington region. We’d love to see that happen.