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Prime cuts

Anne Hardie

For Georgie Moleta’s 21st birthday, her parents gave her a great wooden butcher’s block. It’s a creative piece of artwork made from aged posts and the different timbers found on the farm, but more importantly, it’s a sturdy work bench for her fledging home-kill butchery business.

Two years on, her small business is capable of vacuum-packing cuts of meat, producing salami, sausages and smoky bacon, as well as turning a carcase into a range of cooking options for her customers. She’s butchered wild cattle, thar and chamois, turned ducks into salami and is over the moon if customers ask her to french-cut rib-eye steak on the bone and create small roasts from sub-primal cuts of meat.

Growing up on a farm near Takaka and hunting in the mountains with her father provided plenty of opportunity to learn about the meat they delivered to the table.

At high school and contemplating future careers, she began working in the supermarket’s butchery through the Gateway programme and found she liked it. Leaving school at 18 she got the chance to take on a three-year apprenticeship with a French butcher in Nelson who was renowned for his different cuts of meat and the ability to turn the often-wasted leftovers into traditional French cuisine such as pates and terrines.

It was the ideal training ground for a fledgling butcher and before long Georgie had job offers from supermarket butcheries and that led her back to Golden Bay. Supermarkets can only offer the run-of-the-mill cuts of meat and smallgoods which was frustrating when she knew there was so much more that could be offered, so she got a home-kill licence and began building up her own equipment.

‘You have a calf and one day you’re going to eat it, so you drench it and keep it in good condition – typical good farming. You’ve got to look after it all the way through and respect it.’

At this stage she has different chillers around town, a small smokehouse built by her father on the home farm and shares facilities to make the salamis and sausages. The costs of expanding facilities and buying ingredients in bulk, combined with a house mortgage at a young age, has meant she has continued working for a wage while it gets established. Bacon goes in the smoker in the morning, while the sausages and salamis are made in the evenings and home kill carried out in the weekends.

Turning pig into sliced bacon.

Most of her customers are hunters and farmers who bring her the carcases, while others such as many lifestyle block owners need animals killed as well, with most shot in the paddock to reduce stress on the animal and the meat.

“Wild animals that are stressed and have adrenalin pumping through them have meat that is almost jelly in texture,” she says. “When I hunt, I’m mainly stalking without dogs for that reason.”

Poor condition is also stress on an animal that will be reflected in the meat and if she has one message for her customers, it is to look after the animals well from day one.

“You have a calf and one day you’re going to eat it, so you drench it and keep it in good condition – typical good farming. You’ve got to look after it all the way through and respect it.”

Choosing the right time of year to slaughter, when there’s still plenty of pasture will also dictate the quality of the meat, which usually means autumn before the cold reduces pasture growth, she says. If an animal is not in good condition, that stress leads to tougher meat and there will be less of the desired marbling.

Too often when someone gets a beast slaughtered, Georgie says they’re only seeking steaks, mince and sausages which gives them a copious amount of meat in the freezer, but little choice for dinner. It pains her, when there is so much more that can be done with a carcase.

“With sheep, you can break down the leg to portions – sub primals with just the muscle part of the leg – to give you a little roast that you sear in the pan and then chuck in the oven for 15 minutes which is such a simple way of cooking it and so pure.

“And there’s massive variety with beef – you can do little roasts, schnitzel and cross-blade steaks which is a really nice stewing steak with one line of sinew. It’s out of the little hollow behind the shoulder blade and you can take that sinew out for a flat-iron steak that can be tenderised, marinated and put on the barbeque. You can get lots of different steaks out of stewing steak.”

Her favourite is rib eye left on the bone and French-cut like a rack of lamb, then seared in a pan before cooking slowly in the oven like a roast.

Once butchered into its various cuts, she vacuum-packs the meat to preserve it longer and retain its flavour. Without vacuum packing, the meat really needs to be eaten within three months, she says. And it can take longer than three months to eat the meat produced by a good-sized cattle beast.