Anyone who knows me knows I have discovered there is a sub-section of meat producers - some cowboys, some not - who are truly artisans of their craft. The Elliott & Ferris families of the Front Range Region of Colorado, who've been perfecting a Charolais beef program for 50 years, are one of my favorites and not just because I love their beef (which I truly do).
Tracy Smaciarz is a more recent discovery for me. He is neither a cowboy nor a rancher. Instead, he is an artisan butcher. I'd like to briefly tell you why he's one of my new heroes.
First, funny that I met Tracy through a lady named Traca. Traca Savadogo, that is, also known as Seattle Tall Poppy. I was working with Traca, whom I in turn met through Diane & Todd of White On Rice Couple, whom in turn I met through Jaden Hair of Steamy Kitchen, on setting up a series of artisan steak tastings in Seattle under my Artisan Beef Institute's(r) Provenance of Beef Program (tm).
"I'm looking for an artisan butcher in the area who I can include on my expert panel at the tastings, " I told Traca in early January. A few weeks later she finds herself at the Chef's Collaborative meeting and sits down at the beef table. The next day, "I didn't have a chance to talk much with him, but Tracy Smaciarz just might be your guy."
My is he ever. An extremely personable and affable person, Tracy spent nearly an hour with me on the phone after I cold-called him one day. He may have sized up pretty quickly that I knew a lot about artisan beef but no matter, he certainly treated me as knowledgeable.
A second generation meat processor, Tracy, who's about 40, has been "slinging" meat since he was 6 years old. He told me, "I've seen it all. Different breeds on different diets. I've worked in the slaughterhouse, on the truck, I can age, cut, wrap, cure, and smoke. I can tell a dark-cutter [cattle that was stressed at the point of slaughter] by sight and why it tastes as bad as it looks."
What is his passion? "I am looking to help my customers sell more directly." Be still my beating heart, this is MY passion.
Do you know how to dry-age meat, I ask? Oh, yes, I have my own aging room where I dry-age by the quarter.
An engagement was made. Within a few minutes, Tracy agreed to be on my panel and I was thrilled.
The marriage came quickly thereafter. "I'm a key member of the Puget Sound Meat Co-Op," a new USDA certified mobile slaughterhouse unit due to come on line this spring. "I'll be certified by the USDA in mid-April and am gearing up to achieve Organic certification, too." Washington state's third such progam, a mobile slaughterhouse can dramatically reduce the stress from which livestock can suffer in transportation and when encountering new places and people at the slaughterhouse.
Tracy went on to wow the people who came to my artisan steak tasting events, including Chefs Jason Franey of Canlis Jason Wilson of Crush, food bloggers including Molly of Orangette, and several dozen meat lovers who came to learn more about artisan beef at the sold-out event.
I conducted three tastings in a row and with each, I watched Tracy, who claims to have little experience in public speaking, speak with a passion about his work in an ever more intriguing way. He can talk to audiences at all levels of knowledge and make all feel valued and intelligent. Here he is pondering what he'll say after Chef Jason Wilson presents the evening's menu. The photo, taken in Crush's candlelit underground private dining room, is compliments of the very talented Dawn and Eric Wright of Wright Eats.
There are many things that Tracy does that make him an artisan of his craft, but here are the key three things that any artisan butcher does differently than your regular butcher:
Knowledge. He or she can tell you exactly what is on your plate. The name of the farm(s), the breed or crossbreed, the diet, the husbandry practices of those who handled it, the name of the slaughterhouse.
Aging. He will have aged the beef to perfection, using either a wet-aging or dry-aging technique or both. Her eye is trained to know when meat is at its peak for flavor and tenderness.
Cutting. She will be an expert at cutting a carcass into final retail-ready portions. In doing so, he will work properly with the grain of the meat and maximize the amount of quality beef from any one carcass.Tracy and I and others will be bringing even more Artisan Beef Institute events this summer to the Seattle and Portland markets. If you'd like to learn more about them and be included on the invitiation lists, please go to my online marketplace and sign up for my newsletter.
In the meantime, please join me in congratulating Tracy on receiving his formal approval from the USDA, which came through as expected last week. CONGRATULATIONS, TRACY. Honored to have met you.