DALTON — It’s almost a given that no one wants to see how the sausage is made, but James Burden and Jazu Stine, co-owners of nose-to-tail Red Apple Butchers, beg to differ. “People do want to see,” says Stine, who opened the butcher shop/catering business in response to consumers’ demand for food transparency. “We’re fixing what’s broken.”
The 3-month-old Berkshire County shop is trying to feed customers while also eliminating animal waste. Along with the traditional cuts of meat such as beef tenderloin, pork chops, and chicken breasts, Red Apple has elevated the ordinary, like grinding hamburger with bacon, and introducing new cuts such as merlot (from the beef shank), jowl bacon, and picanha (rump cover, which is popular in Brazil), offering “so many more approachable cuts of meat that aren’t necessarily the most expensive,” says Stine. Pastured meats come from nearby farms such as Pigasso in Copake, N.Y., and Busy Corner in Cummington; heritage poultry comes from GourmAvian Farms in Bolton, Conn.
A shared background as chefs brought the two men together to start Red Apple Butcher. Burden, 34, and Stine, 33, met at Mission Bar and Tapas in Pittsfield, where both worked at different times as executive chef. “Two years ago, we were admittedly ignorant when just ordering a case of 25 hanger steaks,” says Burden. They were clueless that a cow produces only a single hanger steak.
Those kinds of realizations made Burden and Stine decide that a butcher business could be more sustainable. Inside their shop, which is housed in Berkshire Organics on the Pittsfield/Dalton line, the chef touches are both subtle (meat is displayed in the butcher case on dinner plates as if in a restaurant) and obvious. Stine hands customers samples of his chicken liver mousse (for which he won a Good Food Award last year), a recipe that took months to perfect. “The recipes are delicious,” says Burden. “It’s not just pork sausage. It’s the best-tasting pork sausage. That’s the chef in me.”
For Stine, the route to the kitchen, and, now, the meat locker, was a circuitous one. Always “consumed and obsessed with producing things in my hands,” is how the Brewster, N.Y., native, who graduated from the University of Massachusetts with a degree in sculpture, describes himself. He spent three years in Manhattan pursuing an art career, and started cooking to keep his hands occupied. “I had to do it to eat. It was a nice necessity that filled the part of my brain that needed that,” he says. Adamant that he would “never cook professionally,” Stine moved to Pittsfield in 2007 to help a friend open an art gallery. Soon he was cooking soups and roasting chickens at a local coffee shop.
Then he landed at Mission. “It was not the right kind of stress for me. It’s too fast,” says Stine, who lasted a year. The young dad found more family-friendly hours at The Meat Market in Great Barrington, which he helped build and open in 2010. He trained as a butcher, ultimately settling into a charcuterie position as well as overseeing the fresh sausage program.
“The technical part, the anatomy, the structure, learning what makes part of the animal taste good,” along with dabbling in sausage and charcuterie, he says, “that’s what makes me tick — the alchemy.”
Stepping into Red Apple’s meat locker, Stine lays his boning knife into a shoulder of beef, carving out a flat iron with the tip of the blade. “I’m still using band saws and hacksaws and torches, just different versions of them,” he says. He thinks of his butchering as an art form, and customers concur.
“The taste is just superior,” says Jeff Bell, who owns The Inn at Stockbridge and serves Red Apple’s breakfast sausage, ham, and bacon daily at breakfast.
Event planner Patricia Hubbard, who hired Red Apple to feed 200 guests at the Norman Rockwell Museum’s June gala, writes in an e-mail, “The cocktail hour, and full dinner were creatively and impeccably prepared. And the energy and excitement of the staff at creating their craft was a joy to behold.”
Stine says the customer base is a mix of tourists and locals, and the shop is doing three times as much business as they expected in the first three months. “We thought we’d do a pig a week,” he says. “We did three last week.”
Theresa Quillard, 81, of Hinsdale pushes her grocery cart up to the butcher case and asks for a pound of the ground beef with bacon, and a pound of ground lamb. “I had it yesterday. It doesn’t shrink. It stays the same size. That’s when you know it’s good,” she says. “And the chicken is awesome. The flavor is unbelievable. You can tell by the color.”
Equally enthralled is Jacob Stapledon, who asks for a rib-eye. “They’re awesome so you’re going to want four,” says Burden. The 29-year-old Pittsfield resident settles on two steaks, saying he hadn’t cooked meat in years until he was introduced to Red Apple sausages.
“Now when I buy it, I only buy it from them. It’s exceptional,” says Stapledon. “We talk recipes. They’re laid-back guys. If you can connect with people you get your food from, why not?”
Red Apple Butchers
813 Dalton Division Road, Dalton, 413-442-0888
Jill Radsken can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.