By Linda Baker
Camas Davis runs the Portland Meat Collective, a year-old mobile butchery school.
At a recent Portland Meat Collective class at Kitchen Cru, Adam Sappington, chef and owner of Country Cat Dinnerhouse and Bar, shows participants how to carve a lamb. // Photos by Teresa Meier
Camas Davis is sipping tea in the Pearl Bakery, expounding on the lost art of butchery. “The knowledge of what constitutes a good cut of meat is completely gone,” says Davis, a former food editor at Portland Monthly magazine who is now the proprietor of the Portland Meat Collective, a year-old mobile butchery school. ”We don’t know how things are slaughtered or why. We don’t question quality or price. So the meat world gets away with a lot.”
A few blocks from the bakery on NW Broadway is Kitchen Cru, a shared kitchen space where Davis, 34, and an alternating crew of instructors teach students — single moms, hunters, hipsters — how to carve up whole lambs, pigs and sides of beef. “I’m trying to get consumers to understand meat enough that they can own a big part of the process,” says Davis, whose clients leave class with the meat they have mastered.
PMC is one of a small but growing number of businesses that are pushing the boundaries of Oregon’s local meat industry by offering “farm-direct” meat purchasing and products and classes targeting the craftsmanship of how that meat is butchered and prepared. Bridging urban and rural, the eclectic outfits include “private meat clubs” such as Portland’s Gorilla Meats, as well as family farms such as Kookoolan Farms in Yamhill, which last year offered its first how-to-humanely-kill-a-chicken class.
The sold-out class will be offered several times this year, in addition to workshops on curing bacon and ham without nitrates, says co-owner Chrissie Zaerpoor, “It’s a natural extension of buying meat from your farmer,” she says. Capitalizing on demand, farms are also diversifying into “meat CSAs,” in which customers purchase in advance a “share” of the animal harvest, be it a side of grass-fed beef or a dozen free-range chickens. About 50 farms offer such community-supported agriculture programs today, up from only a few in 2007, estimates Chris Deck, co-owner of Deck Family Farm in Junction City.
One of the pioneers, Deck’s CSA is now growing 25% annually. About those boundaries. It’s not happenstance that Davis’ operation is called a “collective,” or that farmers usually refer to CSA “shares” instead of ground pork or sirloin. Federal regulations require meat processed in facilities without an on-site USDA inspector to be consumed only by the owner. That means businesses bound by those rules must technically sell live animals — or portions thereof — to their clients, who become the “owners” before processing.