In September, when Michael Dulock opened M.F. Dulock Pasture-Raised Meats in Somerville, the butcher had to retrain some customers used to unlimited cuts of meat. “Our biggest challenge is getting people away from the commodity model, which dictates you can have whatever you want, whenever you want it, and as much of it as you want,” says the 39-year-old Everett native. “That’s very contrary to what our model is. We’re trying to reconnect people with their food supply in understanding that if I get a 1,000-pound steer, I get eight pounds of tenderloin. It becomes a challenge, but we’re finding that a lot of the customers coming through the door are willing to accept that this is the way the animals are built.”
Q. At your shop, the staff butchers whole animals, meaning you only have what’s available on a given day. How do you convince customers to take a variety of cuts if they’re having, say, a dinner party and need to feed a certain number of people?
A. Once we know how many people are at their party, then we can work from there and we can essentially make it so that we can get them through the dinner. It does require a little bit of creative thinking. There’s always a lot of cuts that are similar so once we know what their cooking style is going to be — do they want something that’s a braised dish or do they want something that’s going to be cooked pretty quickly — then we can work it that way.
Q. Do customers need to have a higher cooking acumen to deal with multiple cuts?
A. That’s not necessarily a requirement. You know, we still have a full amount of all of the cuts so they’re certainly going to be available to them: quick-cooking cuts that really require only very basic cooking skills; dry-roasting cuts, where they can simply turn on the oven and roast it. But generally speaking, people who are coming to us are leaving satisfied. They’re leaving with something that is either exactly what they wanted when they came through the door or it’s something that’s very similar and doesn’t require much modification. We also get our fair share of customers who do have an advanced skill set in the kitchen and are looking for parts that are sort of the opposite, the parts that aren’t readily available somewhere else.
Q. Do you give a lot of cooking advice?
A. We do. Part of what we’re able to do is coach people through what they’re getting in the case, whether it’s something that they’re familiar with and just want our personal input on how we would prepare it or if it’s a cut that’s entirely new to them and they want some basic background information on it. I have my entire cookbook collection here, at least the meat section of my cookbook collection, and we use those as sort of a jumping-off point to let people know there’s other ways to cook things. You know, you may have cooked a top round before, but you’ve only done it one particular way. We can tell you through our experiences, all of our mutual experiences here in the shop, any one of the three of us can say, “This is how we’ve done it,” and sort of open dialogue that way. We’ve cooked every cut in the case or most of them, so we’ve worked our way through and we have varying tastes and styles of cooking.
Q. Is your meat mostly grass-fed or heritage breeds?
A. There’s a lot of buzzwords in meat nowadays. What we do is we set parameters on our farmers. Going down the line, we say that you have to be within 250 miles of where we are, your animals have to have had access to pastures their whole lives — we want them to be grazing animals — and there’s no hormones or antibiotics used. So we’re basically telling the farmers we want animals that are living their life as closely to a natural life as they could live. That being said, we don’t restrict farmers from using grain or supplementing grain in the feed. The animals’ diets are primarily grass but they do get grain. All of our hogs are heritage breeds so that varies depending on which farmer we’re getting them from. Some days, we’ll have Yorkshire hogs, other days Berkshires or Tamworth or Red Wattles. A lot of beef farmers are not necessarily breed-specific beef farmers. I have some that will raise just all Galloway, some that raise just Black Angus, some that raise Herefords. But a lot of them will breed crosses, because a lot of what they’re looking for is a good animal for production and a good meat animal, an animal that’s going to translate into a better steak. For a farmer, a better steak means a better bottom line.