Chris Eley recently opened his USDA-inspected meat processing facility in Indianapolis, the Smoking Goose Meatery. The new space is in addition to his already popular Goose the Market, opened in 2008. (Read the interview with Chris at the Indiana Food Review).
The Smoking Goose now produces the delicious meat products served at the Market in addition to selling products straight from its premises (Thursday through Saturday afternoons) and through wholesale accounts (online ordering capability will be forthcoming).
Adding A Local Touch
Chris has a unique way of operating: He seeks out independent Indiana farms and farmers who sustainably and humanely raise and slaughter their animals.
He not only knows each meat farmer, from whom he sources, Chris also works to make use all parts of the animal in his products. One taste of the offal-icious "Kitchen Sink" sausage, and you'll find the term "nose to tail" truly brought to justice.
Restrictive Red Tape
Being so environmentally efficient is not an easy task: small butchering facilities continue to shut their doors nationwide because they cannot afford strict USDA regulations. As an employee there I, for example, am required to change my smock every time I change from the raw to the ready-to-eat room.
The abattoir rooms are kept triply sanitized at all times with a specific wash-rinse-sanitize process repeated throughout the day.
As such, it takes a high amount of throughput, or higher (and therefore less competitive) prices to afford USDA-inspected meat facilities, one result of which is the great consolidation and integration of meat production across the country.
A Week In Meat Paradise
The days spent working at The Smoking Goose mean early starts: We clock in around 6:45a.m. and the workday ends sometime between 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. depending on the orders that need completing and working permissions extended by the USDA.
Because hours are mandated by the USDA, a federal organization, we are required to begin the workday no earlier than 7:00 AM and commence with wash and sanitation no later than 3:30 PM. Unfortunately (for us), these hours can be extended when express permission is granted upon request, making our actual quitting time anywhere form 4-6:00PM.
The cold is hard to ignore even with the six layers I typically wore that included long johns and a scarf. The burly men, who've spent more time there than me, say that while their fingers do get cold, they begin to sweat as they muscle their way through breaking down each hog.
Chris makes the process of dismembering hogs look easy deftly detaching cheek from bone and removing the skin in one fell swoop with a simple shimmy of the wrist in the time it takes me to outline the jawbone.
By the end of my third day I joyously welcome the opportunity to tie and hang sausages, a task I still manage to be appalling inefficient at. I leave my brief workweek, hands aching, cheeks burning and totally exhausted.
Do I have the strength and endurance required to be a modern butcher? Who knows, but one thing I am sure of; the next time I bite into a juicy hand-made sausage I will consider the indulgence with an appreciation that can only come from having been shoulder deep in a barrel of hogs' heads.