Good news spreads rapidly in Ashland and especially when it involves great local food. In this interview we go behind the scenes with Jonathan and Elisa Boulton, owners and founders of Boulton & Son butcher shop, to learn about the fascinating world of whole carcass butchery, gourmet sausages, and house made chicken pot pies. Master butcher Xian Cleaver will introduce us to the process of cutting and curing locally sourced meats, and finally we will discover how an entirely new way of approaching the meat we eat can build and foster local food security.
Jonathan and Elisa, thanks for being here with us today.
Well, it was about time that someone stepped forward to open a great butcher shop in Ashland. Thank you for doing this. Can you start by telling us a little bit about the inspiration and mission behind Boulton & Son?
We moved to Oregon several years ago to a small farm in the Applegate, where we farmed hogs and sheep. We were able to sell our meat at the farmer’s markets and made many connections with customers who cared about how their meat was raised and supporting local farmers. We noticed that there was no shop open year round where these kinds of quality products were available and we thought there should be one. We knew many local farmers producing excellent quality products, and we thought we could be the bridge that brought these products to Ashland and made them available year round.
Part of your mission is to offer products that one cannot get anywhere else. Either the products are simply not available or the skills required to create these products have long vanished. Can you tell us a little bit about what you have to offer?
Part of our interest in opening the shop was to be able to revive the kinds of sustainable artisanal processing that once were common, but have been lost in the recent industrialization of the food supply. For example, we make all our own sausages in house, from traditional recipes, and use all the parts of the animals we bring in. We make things like head terrines, rillettes, and dry cured bacon, which are all processes that take time, care and skill. They also really good!
In your butcher shop you do whole carcass butchery. Can you tell us what differences this creates vs the grocery story illusion that meat grows on trees and that the customer can have any cut they want any time of day or night 365 days a year?
There are definitely some differences between what we are doing and what is commonly available elsewhere. At Boulton & Son, we are bringing in whole carcasses, which means that not only is our meat much fresher than prepackaged, we can also choose exactly how we want to break it down and what cuts we feature. We are able to fulfill special requests and cut to order. However, it also means that we have a limited supply of tenderloins, and have to find uses for all of the other parts. This is something that was traditionally done, and something that excites us. We are doing a lot of curing in house, making corned beef, pastrami, guanciale, roast beef and jerky. We also bake fresh meat pot pies every morning. We have chicken pot pies, braised beef, and occasionally lamb shepherd’s pie.
You are offering Ashlanders an opportunity to try something new. To set new expectations around the meat they eat and to develop a new palate of tastes. BTW (by the way), our family picked up a new barbecue at Ace hardware and meat has never tasted so good! (Talk to Jim if you go to Ace to buy a BBQ).
Yes, our meat is extremely high quality, and that is because we only choose to work with farmers that we know and respect. They treat their animals well and feed them correctly, as well as allowing them access to fresh pasture. We also use an animal welfare approved slaughterhouse which is modeled on principles developed by Temple Grandin to minimize stress on the animals. Having control of the animal from the farm gate to the cutting block produces a quality product of integrity, which you can actually appreciate when you taste it.
It was great to hear that you have had several old timers walk into the butcher shop with a giant smile across their faces.
We probably are more like an old fashioned shop than a new idea. We are just trying to provide a level of quality and service that we can be proud of, while respecting the animals and the customers who eat them. We actually believe that you are what you eat, and for people who choose to eat meat, we think it’s important that it was raised well and that it is processed with integrity. I guess this is the way it was done in the past, and that is what is ringing a bell with people who can remember.
I say this with respect to all the other places one can buy meat in Ashland, but there really is a big difference in the type of butchering your shop is doing vs say one of the major grocery stores can you please explain?
One thing is the quality animals we are starting with, but it also comes down to how we manage the whole process. Most of the time when an animal is slaughtered it is cut and bagged up quickly by the technicians at the slaughterhouse. I don’t want to talk too much about what is wrong with this, but let me say that our meat comes to us whole, not sealed in a plastic bag full of its own purge, and therefore it is much fresher and correctly aged. Our butcher can then customize his cuts, and really take his time to merchandise the whole animal. Xian has over 15 years of experience as a butcher and has learned from some of the best butchers practicing today. So you really won’t find this kind of meat anywhere else: as nowhere else in The Valley has both the skill set and the commitment to sourcing sustainably raised livestock ultra-locally. As I’ve already alluded to, we are old school method with modern sensibilities.
Well, we do have two 15 minute loading zones right out front of the shop. But actually, we put our shop in the center of town because we want it to be a community treasure and we want people to value it as a part of Ashland’s unique local culture. This is a beautiful town with a charming downtown, and we are glad to be a part of it. If you don’t fancy a little stroll and a breath of fresh air, you can park in the lot by the post office and come in by the back stairs. Or, there is a parking lot just near Smithfield’s which rarely fills up, or choose the huge multistory car park behind The Varsity Theater. In addition, street parking is available in all directions starting immediately out front and going for blocks in all directions!
Jonathan, I would have to totally agree. In fact it’s the entire homogenization of culture down to mass availability of food that directly relates to all the things that actually end up destroying small communities. Its things like the farmers market and now your butcher shop that make Ashland great… So for Pete’s sake… get out and take a walk to the butcher shop, you’ll burn the few calories you need before you gobble down some great sausages!
So now that all of Ashland is on board to get behind and support your new butcher shop, let’s talk about this idea of Food Security. Where do you guys fit into the model and how does Ashland and the Rogue Valley change over time as we begin to work with this model?
Well, we are stocking a lot of great local products in our shop. We have Mama Terra goat cheese, house made lacto-fermented pickles by Mellonia , Pennington Farms preserves, Rogue Creamery cheeses, Rogue Valley Brambles olive oil and raspberry balsamic vinegar, POEtential farm eggs, Flying B Honey, Zorba’s chocolates, Pickled Planet Krauts, Volcanic Mineral water, custom elixirs by Uber-Herbal to name just a few. We feel like a huge part of our mission is to support and encourage our local farmers and artisans who are creating excellent products by providing a market venue for them. As we ramp up the community support, the local producers will be able to provide more because they will know they have a marketplace. In turn, other new producers will join the region and we will become more and more self-sufficient and commodity rich, which benefits everyone in the area. All it takes is enough people to believe these outcomes desirable, and vote with their dollars. We provide them that opportunity, this business truly is borne of a sense of service to the wider community.
I’d like to shift now to ask a question to master butcher Xian Cleaver about the process of cutting and curing meat. Xian, will you please tell us a little bit about your training and own personal philosophy behind your work?
I was born to be a butcher. I started out working in a meat shop doing customer service and counter help with two old school butchers. I guess they saw something in me once they finally let me pick up a knife, because from then on they encouraged me and showed me their trade. I practiced with them until they felt like I was proficient and since then I have worked in several high quality meat shops in Sonoma County, CA and in Portland, where I was before I came to Boulton & Son. I believe 100% in whole carcass butchery as a matter of principle. It is the only right way to treat the animal and the only way you are going to be able to get a quality product every time. I don’t want some guys who process a hundred animals a day to hack through the hanger steak because they are just not paying attention, or don’t care. I am interested in charcuterie and using every part of the animals I work with. I feel like we just perfected our house made ham, and of course, our bacon is spectacular. I’m glad to be working somewhere where I can take pride in what we are putting out.
You offer a unique type of bacon, can you please tell us about this?
We start with a breed of pig that is especially good for bacon. Then our bacon is dry rubbed with a salt and brown sugar cure, and we hold it for five days before smoking it. Most modern bacon is made by pumping the belly full of brine with needles, which leads to a different tasting product. Ours is the old fashioned kind, salty, smoky and delicious.
Jonathan, back to product. What are some other unique products you have to offer?
In addition to the meat and the local foods I mentioned, Elisa bakes meat pot pies fresh every day from all organic ingredients, and we also do a hot sandwich of the day on house made bread. We make lots of deli items like meatballs, terrines, rillettes, roast beef, ham, bacon, pastrami and add things all the time. We also carry a range of books about cooking meat, charcuterie, the philosophy of America, and a line of cooking products, such as local artisan cutting boards and stripey aprons.
Best customer comment after they came back to your shop for more?
We get wonderful comments every day. I do especially like the one from a contented wife, who told us that her husband was moaning with pleasure as he ate our pork chops.
We are going to be offering classes on Monday afternoons in basic butchery and on cooking, with a focus on cooking meat. Xian will teach the butchery classes and Elisa will lead the cooking. Anyone who is interested in these classes can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We hope to start in the next couple of weeks.
Finally, any last comments for our readers?
We are just so grateful for the warm welcome we have received in Ashland, and for how the business has grown in such a short time. We already have a band of loyal repeat customers; we are honored to serve them. One last comment is that we always have ground beef available, but you won’t see it in the case because we grind to order. Just ask for what you want! In fact, as an old school full service butcher shop – if you don’t see it, ask. If we can make it happen we will. We are here to serve, and we are looking forward to serving our community with integrity and a quality product each time – for a long time to come.
We are open from 10 am – 6:30 pm every day except Monday, which is our primary butchering day and when we teach classes in the afternoon. We look forward to seeing you soon! Thank you.
Boulton & Son, Butchers
165 East Main Street, Ashland