Saturday, April 18, 2009

Congratulations, Tracy Smaciarz

A lot of us are coming to appreciate the artistry of talented livestock farmers and ranchers. Long part of the mythology of the American West and representative of quiet masculinity, the cowboy is by and large to be admired and emulated where possible.

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.


Rob Smart said...

Anyone that Carrie Oliver heaps praise one, especially referring to them as an "artisan butcher", deserves congratulations from those of us who appreciate the difference between commodity and quality.

Congrats, Tracy Smaciarz!


Rob Smart

Peter M said...

Tracy, congrats...quite the distinction. Let's hope you're in good company with some more people being given such accreditation. Until then, you're going to be a busy man.

Happy butchering!

Jacqueline Church said...

I am SO wishing I had gotten hooked up with the Seattle Food blogging conference so I could come out and meet Tracy to CONGRATULATE him in person. I learned about the mobile slaughterhouse concept through my friends at Wild Idea Buffalo and was so moved by the concept. As I meet more farmers who care about how they raise their animals I'm more and more convinced that we need people like Tracy (And YOU Carrie!) to help us fix the food delivery system. Really, if the farmer does everything right and then the poor animal is abused at the end our goal of humanely, ethically raised meat...evaporates.

What a great story - Thanks so much and please pass the Congrats on to Tracy.

Do you know anyone in the Boston area like this?

Rebecca/CUpS said...

Boy, you have whetted my appetite, Carrie! Now I'm looking forward to meeting Tracy even *more*! =D
Thanks for this post - love the fact you are helping put the word out about artisans - I love learning about all of them.

Jennifer Iannolo said...

Congratulations, Tracy! It's so encouraging and inspiring to learn of someone so dedicated to his craft, and I hope more will follow your example!

Carrie Oliver said...

Rob, Peter, Rebecca, Jacqueline, and Jennifer.

You are so great to leave such kind remarks, especially given how much I know about your personal passion for helping learn about clean, fair, fabulous tasting food and the people who help bring it to our plates.

Jacqueline, last I looked there were only 6 such mobile units in the country and a handful in the planning stages. I want to use the Pacific Northwest markets to help prove that similar regional systems can work elsewhere. Helping people discover the incredible variety beyond simple labels e.g. natural or local or grass-fed can, I believe, add to the momentum and long-term success of a such communities.

white on rice couple said...

Bravo to both Tracy and Carrie for your commitment to spreading the word for good Artisan Beef! Your amazing work and dedication continually inspires us on a daily basis.
We look forward to attending another tasting and seeing the both of you at the same event!

Curt McAdams said...

Congrats to Tracy, and I have to say I'm jealous of people in the Seattle area. I'd love to have someone on his side of the equation with that level of skill and passion. I think any time someone has the level of care put into what they do, great things can happen.

matt wright said...

What a fantastic person, and excellent write up. The world needs more Tracy's, and I am just glad he is only a short drive away from me.

Carrie Oliver said...

White on Rice Couple - Smooches and thanks for all your support and for somehow illuminating a path to Tracy. I still marvel that Todd grew up on a beef ranch and remember how great it was to have his dad call in to our artisan steak tasting to help us learn more.

Curt, I can't wait to have you start hosting Artisan Beef Institute tastings. Maybe we'll find someone like Tracy in Cincinnati/Dayton!

Matt, you are lucky indeed to live in Seattle and have access to wonderful food and people like Tracy. I'm looking forward to finding the artisan livestock farmers in his network and the others who, despite the interest in then, are currently hidden behind the veil of our retail system.

Amanda said...

Congratulations, Tracy! I wish I could be up in Seattle and Portland to see what a real artisan butcher can produce and taste the results.

Grill Charmer said...

Tracy, This is such a fantastic accomplishment! I congratulate you on you achievement. Now if you only lived here in "the south" :) Carrie, thank you for sharing!

Carrie Oliver said...

All - If you live in the SF area, you must visit Amanda( in Berkeley.

Amanda, thank you for the visit! You're lucky, the SF area has a few artisan butchers like Tracy (Cafe Rouge, Bryan Flannery are great examples). But we need more people like him to make it all work.

Leslie aka Grill Charmer, I hope you read the previous post that was about you and your great Grill Charms (tm).

Foodbat said...

Congratulations, Tracy! This is fantastic news. It was so illuminating to talk with you at the beef tasting!

SteamyKitchen said...

A big congrats!

Carrie Oliver said...

Foodbat, it's so fun to have you comment here given that you attended one of the artisan steak tastings with me and Tracy. Thank you! We'll be back in short time with some additional events, stay tuned.

SteamyKitchen, thanks for dropping by! I know how much you enjoyed meeting the butcher in your neighborhood who helped dress your husband's wild boar (or was that a sow?). You would really enjoy meeting Tracy and not just because he's good at his work.

ReMARKable Palate said...

It's so nice that we're finally turning back to appreciating the people who have always fed us with a labor of love, and the artistry of a good butcher should be recognized. Bravo.

Diana said...

How exciting! Love the passion you both have.

Anonymous said...


It is funny how our paths cross. I just spent about an hour or so with Tracy on the phone. I first recognized him from this when I introduced myself Electronically to you. Then, the USDA did a Processors meeting and there was a Presentation on the Inspected Mobile Slaughter. Finally, I had a new Pepperoni Proceesor suggest I meet him.

Well, I e-mailed and he called through Independent "spurring". I am bringing him Meat Samples and we will be talking to about helping each other. Perhaps I should have him set aside a sample for you as well?

Thanks for your work as well,

Pat Mallon
Pat~n~Tams Beef