By Jeremy Berger
on 10.2.12
Photo by Eric Yang

It’s day two in the Month of Beef and here we are eating pork. Don’t look at us like that: Nobody said pork was prohibited during the month of beef. Try making a bacon-double-cheeseburger without it. We’re at Heritage Meat Shop inside Essex Street Market, a former pushcart market in New York City’s Lower East Side that went indoors under Mayor La Guardia in the 1930s. The butchers here make a handful of sandwiches with aged ham for the lunch crowd. The “Sweet & Savory” is a baguette with Edwards aged ham, smoky ricotta cheese, honey, and cracked pepper — a salty, creamy, sweet experience that makes us uncomfortable talking about in public. The principal reason we’re here is for the beef.

Old School Butchers, Old School Animals

Heritage beef, specifically. HMS, which opened in September of 2011, is the first shop in the United States to exclusively sell the meat of heritage breed animals. What that means is that the cows are not the fastest growing breeds with the highest meat yields, ideal for an industrial operation; they’re old breeds, antibiotic-free, raised on pastures by small American family farms and slaughtered humanely at a facility in the midwest. Depending on the week, Silva, the head butcher, and his team are breaking down beef from Wagyu cattle (originally from Japan), Piedmontese (Italy), and Dexter (Irish/English) — plus heritage pork and sometimes lamb and goat.

What you’ll find there is the usual suspects: strip, rib-eye, porterhouse, brisket, prime rib, eye of round and skirt. Most of it’s fresh. The porterhouse steaks from New York-area Dexter cows are so deeply, richly red they’re purple, a sign of good health, according to one of the butchers. Then there’s the aged stuff, trimmed of its fat and aged on-site for six to eight weeks, giving it a dark, jerky-like color and sapping strips of their moisture and giving them a smoother, richer flavor.

Eat Better Meat, Wherever You Live

What that means is that the cows are not the fastest growing breeds with the highest meat yields, ideal for an industrial operation; they’re old breeds, antibiotic-free, raised on pastures by small American family farms and slaughtered humanely at a facility in the midwest.

The good news is that HMS isn’t just a meat shop for New Yorkers. It’s a part of Heritage Foods USA, originally an arm of Slow Food USA, which started out selling a handful of heritage birds at Thanksgiving 10 years ago and today runs a brisk wholesale business with restaurants all over the country, plus a mail-order business that ships everything from 12 pound boneless rib-eye roasts to pre-pattied wagyu burgers to guys like us. You can order this stuff at home, or better yet, from the office when you’re sneaking a beer instead of finishing that Excel document.

The Great Heritage Meat Movement of 2012

Heritage Meat Shop is just a small stand in one market in a big city, but the company is making moves. Between the mail order business, the meat shop, a Brooklyn-based radio station with high-profile food programming, restaurants run by some of the country’s best chefs, and a network of 50 farms, they’re bound to influence the way people think about their meat and type of beef that comes to market.

In other words, now is the time to start throwing terms like “heritage breed,” “Piedmontese beef,” and “Akaushi ribeye” around your foodie friends. They’ll be scrambling for Google on their iPhones while you sip a beer and figure out what to serve with dinner.