Arizona’s cattle industry steers toward locally raised, sustainable meat.
If you grew up in Arizona, you may remember being taught the “five Cs” of Arizona: cotton, copper, citrus, climate and cattle.
Although the cattle industry is only about half the size as it was at its peak, it’s still about a third of the state’s agricultural output. In 2010, 391.2 million pounds of beef made a total economic impact of $3.2 billion on the state. What you probably don’t know is that the vast majority of Arizona beef—as well as pork, lamb and poultry—gets exported, only to be imported back in the restaurants and supermarkets.
Billing itself as an Arizona-raised meatery, Flagstaff-based Proper Meats + Provisions butcher shop is trying to change that dynamic.
“From an economic and sustainability standpoint, the current process doesn’t make sense,” says Paul Moir, the shop’s founder.
“The concept [evolved from] 10 years of running local-food-based, sustainable restaurants. Like everyone else in the state, we were struggling to procure locally raised meats, especially with the volume you need in a restaurant.”
When a friend who raises cattle and sheep expressed a desire to have everything he raised stay in the local food market, Moir thought the mutually beneficial solution could lie in opening a retail butcher shop.
Inspiration became reality when Proper Meats opened in September 2013.
“As part of the concept, we developed a small deli menu to go with it, focused on nose-to-tail utilization,” Moir says. “ Most people who walk into a meat shop want a New York strip, ribeye, pork chop, or rack of lamb. What people don’t always realize is that there’s a lot of animal outside those retail cuts.”
In fact, Moir notes, the prime retail cuts are only about 10 percent of the whole animal—leaving a need for creative use of bones, stew meat and organ meats. Some of those end up being consumed in the restaurants, while others end up in a wide range of prepared foods in the deli, such as charcuterie, deli meats, Bolognese sauce, and sausages. (They’re currently working to get approval from the department of health for dry curing.)
The shop even makes pet food, which Moir describes as a high-quality paté using offal, spent grain, and vegetable scraps.
“My dog and cat both go crazy for it,” he says. “We sell a ton of it.”
The launch of Proper Meats coincided with a resurgence of interest in craft butchery, making the timing ideal. One of the first steps for the new enterprise was to join the Butcher’s Guild based in California, started by two women who wanted to preserve the craft of whole-animal butchery. Training also included spending time at the beef processing plant in Perkinsville, Ariz., watching them cut and wrap for farmers who want to take product to market.
“None of us were butchers by trade,” says Moir. “We’re chefs, restaurant people and bartenders, so this was a divergence from what we’d done to this point. We started putting the pieces together—or actually taking them apart, as it were—and it kind of evolved.”
There’s no back room in the 1,500-square-foot shop, so customers get to see the craft in action.
“When we make a run to Perkinsville, we’ll get back into town at noon,” Moir says. “We give the people eating lunch a heads-up, and roll the cart right through the front door of the deli with a quarter of beef on it. No one freaks out—everyone is just blown away by it. It’s no joke when we say whole animal butcher.”
Story by Jake Poinier
Photography by Mark Lipczynski