It may have seemed a risky dive into antiquated waters when Cleaver & Co. (3917 Baronne St., 504-227-3830; www.cleaverand.co), decided to open a whole animal butcher shop Uptown. But one year later, the operation is thriving, thanks to a loyal local following and some old-fashioned ingenuity. Owner Seth Hamstead spoke with Gambit about what it takes to turn whole animals into business.
You've brought whole-animal butchering back to the Crescent City. How have things turned out, now that you're one year in?
Hamstead: It's been really busy, which is a good thing. We've gotten our feet under us, figured out everything we want to do and now we're thinking about what we want to do in the future. A lot of it's been about customer education, because people walk in and expect to see pre-cut steaks, but then they see this huge list on the wall and they haven't heard of three-quarters of it. So we have to take them through all of the different cuts and the characteristics of each, since there's so much more to a cow than rib-eyes, strip steaks and ground beef. It's been nice to steer people to new cuts of meat, too, and there's been a really nice response to the quality of the meat itself. They really appreciate the differences there. There are some people who find it a little too expensive, but people who really appreciate and understand what we're offering tend to become loyal customers. We get a fair amount of business from the neighborhood, but we also have folks coming in from Metairie and the Northshore as well. People are really willing to travel for it.
For someone coming into Cleaver for the first time, what out-of-the-ordinary cuts might you suggest?
H: If they're looking for beef, a lot of times we'll direct them towards the flatiron steak, which I think is just an absolutely delicious muscle. A lot of people haven't seen it, or if they have, they've only seen it on a restaurant menu and don't know where to find it for themselves. The chuck-eye is also a really nice cut. It's really just the same as a rib-eye, cut from where the rib primal meets the chuck, or shoulder. It's a really great steak, and also a little less expensive than a rib-eye. For pork, we keep it an open secret about making chops from the coppa muscle, one of the most prized parts of the shoulder. The Italians traditionally dry-cure that whole muscle and turn it into coppa salami. It's got some distinct marbling to it and just a whole lot of flavor. It's got more fat than, say, a pork tenderloin, so it doesn't dry out as much, and you can cook it beautifully.
You're also known for selling products that people might not expect, like pet food and soap.
H: We want to use as much of the animal as possible, so we'll take the chewier bits from the beef trim and other cuts and grind that up with some of the offal — maybe the liver and spleen — and we'll grind up the duck bones, then we add vegetables to it to make a really nutritious, natural dog food. We'll also custom cut dog bones. For the soap, there's a lot of fat on a cow, and we'll render that down into beef tallow, which is great to sear a steak in, but then we've also started making soap out of it as well. It's got a really nice texture to it. We mix it up with sandalwood and cedar wood, and we make another with more holiday spicing. It's got jicama, tea and nutmeg, so it has that wintry smell to it. It's all about using every last bit of product we have at our disposal every week and turning it into something that people will love. — Scott Gold