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Photo by Donna Turner Ruhlman

 

When Donna and I stay in New York we are five blocks away from my favorite butcher in the city. And it is my favorite not simply because it’s the closest. There are other butchers in the West Village, but none are quite like Dickson’s Farmstand in the Chelsea Market, a food emporium that runs a full city block of West 15th Street between 9th and 10th Avenues.

One look at the meat case and you won’t disagree with me. It runs the gamut from charcuterie and salumi (excellent dry cured meats, pâtés, duck confit caked in duck lard), sausage, fresh cuts of lamb, pork, and beef, and even very good frozen meat stocks, plus a few condiments (mustards, finishing salts) and several fine books devoted to meat.

But it’s more than what you can see in the case.

Conversations about the costs of eating meat, whether ethical, environmental, or nutritional, have been in the air for years now. This combined with a growing awareness of the inhumane conditions of industrial meat production make eating meat more fraught than ever.

And so it was too for Jake Dickson, who formerly worked in marketing but, recognizing his deep love of eating meat, gave up a conventional white collar job to become a purveyor not just of meat, but of meat that has been properly and humanely raised.

For the past year or so, I’ve worked to buy only meat from farmers I know. In Cleveland, there are several I buy from. In New York, I can head to Dickson’s Farmstand, because of Jake’s commitment only to bring in animals from farmers he personally knows and who raise the animals in comfortable environments compatible with their nature and have not been given hormones or antibiotics (unless one becomes sick, but then only on a case-by-case basis).

There’s growing evidence (supported by common sense) that eating the meat from well-raised animals is better for our bodies, for the environment, and for the animals. We know they taste better. And it makes me wish that all of the animals that we raise for food could be raised thoughtfully and humanely. I have no illusions that the dysfunctional and inhumane commodity meat system in this country will go away anytime soon.

But I do know that that change is indeed happening. I can now buy hormone-free, grass-fed beef at my grocery store in Cleveland. And we the consumer are the ones who effect that change. So we should eat smaller portions of better (and more expensive) meat. Which is why I wanted to call attention to Dickson’s Farmstand.

What caught my eye immediately on entering his store was that all the butchering is done not only in house but is also on view for the people buying the meat.

I asked Donna to shoot two of the people who do the work, two of the butchers, Giancarlo Sbarbaro and Jocelyn Guest, Dickson’s manager (featured in the lead photo). Jocelyn left the west coast and comedy writing to break down whole animals in Manhattan.

I also wanted to call attention to one of the great cuts of beef they offer, from a muscle that runs along the ribs behind the foreleg: the zabuton (the Japanese term). It’s tough (like the short ribs it’s connected to), but so well marbled you can cook it rare and it’s incredibly succulent. It’s the kind of cut you find only at a butcher that breaks down whole animals.

See the pix below if you like butchery, and there are a few more here at Donna’s site. Jake brings in 4 to 5 quartered steer a week, 8 to 9 whole pigs, and 6 to 12 lambs depending on the size.

It’s a great place, the kind that is popping up throughout the country and supported by people who share a hope of better animal husbandry—or who simply want better quality meat than is available at the grocery store.

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Jake Dickson, above.

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© 2014 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2014 Donna Turner Ruhlman. All rights reserved.

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18 Wonderful responses to “Dickson’s Farmstand”

  • Kiara

    I love these kinds of posts. I really hope one day it’s the norm for the majority to buy this kind of meat.

    • Xavier Verde

      The vast majority of people will never be able to afford these prices, not to mention

      If all meat in the world was raised in this manner, the amount of beef would also plummet.

      Before we wax philosophical on how to change the agriculture and cattle industries, we need to understand the hard cold reality of the ramifications of those changes.

  • Randy

    Love it. Man, butchering really builds your arms. The young lady in the first pic has got some guns that would put most men to shame. It is great to see young ladies doing this type of work.

  • Randy

    Also, Michael, why haven’t you been picked up by Food Network or another similar thing, like Tony B.? My wife thinks you are really cute and wonders why you don’t do a show. I would have loved to see this post turned into a show.

  • RonP1456

    Great pictures and worthy philosophy, but can it work when it comes to feeding 320 million people in this country? Beef prices are quickly moving beyond the budget’s of many Americans very quickly. Not making a political statement in the above, but it just might not be a practical solution for many. Nevertheless, always enjoy the postings and education.

    • Efood71

      I think the point is (and I agree strongly with it) that we should consume less, but insist on good quality. I feel that good quality meat (& fish, etc.) is a privilege, not a right and shouldn’t be taken for granted, even by those who can. A vast majority of us eat more cheap “food-like-substances”, to borrow Michael Pollan’s language, than we really need, when we should all be striving to consume great quality food, and not too much of it. It’s infinitely more satisfying and incidentally more responsible…tall order though, with our busy lives…sigh! I fully intend to visit Dickson’s on my next trip to NYC…and will happily pay for the opportunity to try their top-quality products. Thanks Michael for another great post.

    • Michael Ruhlman

      There are no quick and easy answers. I suspect the planet will tell us when enough is enough.

      • Yukio

        Oct 19th 2012 Greetings from North Carolina. I’m not new to gardening, but this will be my first time doing it year-round ioordns. Mostly doing it because I’m tired of paying too much for food that I don’t even know where or how it’s grown, but this is quickly turning into an enjoyable hobby. So far it’s working out quite well, but I’m excited to meet some new people and pick up some tips and tricks from those more experienced than I. Dickson

  • Victoria

    I agree that Dickson’s is wonderful.

    I hope you will check out Hudson & Charles (at, of course, Hudson & Charles). It is wonderful too. I am a customer and have no affiliation to the shop.

    Both my grandfathers, one in New York City and one in Cheshire, England, were butchers who owned their own shops, so I consider myself very picky about what butcher shops I frequent.

  • Jeannie

    Agree with Kiara, I love these kinds of posts as well!

    Went to a place in my neighborhood that opened recently and they supposedly specialize in meat. When I asked if they had farmers they work with, if they used hormone-free meat, they dodged the question and looked at me like “your one of those kind of people”. However, I think it gave them pause. But the more we, the consumer, ask those questions, then these places will ask these questions of their suppliers.

  • gwyn

    just wanted to say i’m still thinking about your post on blue hill at stone barn. the statement that they don’t pick over the food and turn away anything blew my mind open a little. it’s easy to be seduced by starlet “I’m ready for my close-up” produce–but i see now that the mindful, thoughtful, respectful and frugal cook will make something delicious with what is at hand. that post will change how i shop. i’m going to start looking for the stuff that needs some love. thanks, chef.

  • John C. Lowe

    Wouldn’t it be nice if butchers returned to Cleveland…?
    Instead of saran wrapped meats in diapers and foam?

    • Shinichi

      Wonderful meal in my book – I’ve been craving some baebrcue too, lucky you. I had some leftover chicken intended for another recipe and then The Cajun ate it!! For a “snack!” Why does he never eat the leftovers that are just, well… leftovers not intended for anything else?

    • Okka

      soup is one of my favorite thigns to make. i love how it is totally different each time I make it. all the flavors coming together is magical. your recipe looks great! I am going to try it with the thanksgiving turkey carcass at thanksgiving

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