Head-to-tail eating

Mark Liberman


Mark Liberman is a classically trained chef who has worked with high-caliber chefs such as Daniel Boulud and Roland Passot. He recently relocated to Sacramento, where he’s started the semi-underground Black Sheep Butchery. Get in the cut on his blog at www.seasaltandbourbon.com.

Why is butchery making such a comeback?

I think people want to know where their meat comes from. There are so many avenues for people to learn about meats, whether on TV, magazines or Internet, and they’re starting to get away from Cryovaced meat. I think there’s an interest in learning about head-to-tail eating.

How did you become a butcher?

Butchery is just a part of being a chef and it’s something I’ve always done, especially whole-animal butchery. It’s profitable for a restaurant, and you develop a connection to the farmer. I love sausage making and charcuterie. I want to have hands-on classes, but there’s a little more liability with that. I’ve always learned a lot better by getting my hands on something and doing it. And at the end of the class, they all get to keep the meat!

Where are you working?

I’m looking to set up a restaurant with a butchery, but I’m working out of Steel Magnolia [701 16th Street] for now. I do classes three or four times a month. I have one coming up that’s focusing on making porchetta. It’s more about learning how to bone out a pig from the inside. I also want to get into the curing and salumi-making aspect of charcuterie. Right now the curing is getting done in my apartment, so I’ve mostly been doing pâtés and terrines.

Would I have to bring my own (dull) knife to your class?

I provide knives for my classes, but if people want to bring knives, they can do that. I also provide aprons, towels—and cold beer! I do a quick demo on sharpening with a steel. I give little packets out with recipes and info on where the animal came from.

Which local farmers do you go to for meat?

I’ve used St. John’s pigs and turkeys, and John Bledsoe for pigs, and lamb from Martin Emigh in Dixon. My suckling pigs are coming from up north on Olson Farms. I’ve met most of the farmers and been to a few of the farms. They all raise different varietals of pigs. I like to use different pigs for different things. Michael Tuohy at Grange gave me a lot of information on local farmers when I first got here. A lot of them are hard to find because they aren’t listed.

Tell me about your blog.

My brother and I put it together about things we like and don’t like. It’s not really directed at anything specific, but it’s a lot of random stuff. He’s got another year in Florida working as a mixologist, and then he’s planning on coming back here and we might launch a restaurant. I put the butchery-class schedule on the blog and basically anything about food and wine.

How do you feel about using local ingredients vs. using authentic ingredients?

I’m trained in French and Italian cooking and I’m not against outsourcing from a different area, if the product is better two hours away. I don’t totally believe everything has to be in a 50-mile radius. Beef is still a little wishy-washy locally, but the other great meats are easy to come by. Obviously seafood would come from farther away. I would like to do as much American product as possible, but there’s not really a replacement for some things, like Parmesan.

So where can we eat your food now?

I’m doing dinners at Steel Magnolia one night a week. It will be a little sporadic in July and August, but I send out an e-mail with the menu on Wednesdays. I only seat 12, so it’s a little limited. There’s one long communal table, and you generally get a very broad audience.