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Grain fed, pasture raised

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Mystic — There’s a lot that can be done with a half-ton steer when it’s delivered to Grass & Bone.

The butcher shop and restaurant, open since September 2017, is a popular eatery and meat market, especially for those with discerning palettes.

The meat is local, some of it so local it comes from a farm just a few miles away and all of it from within a few hours driving distance.

Butcher James Higgins helps to carry in the average delivery of 800 to 1,100 pounds of beef, which is typically cut in quarters or eighths when it arrives in a refrigerated truck at the side door of the 24 East Main St. business.

Butchering occurs every day at Grass & Bone and Higgins begins his preparation with a band saw. Some of the meat will stay at Grass & Bone and some goes to its sister restaurants, Mystic Oyster Club and the Engine Room.

“We use everything,” Higgins says, as he runs a side of beef through the big saw and fellow butcher Kobe Morey takes the cuts and trims them.

“The bones are used to make stocks, and we reduce the fat for cooking, and the meat goes in our case or to our restaurants,” he says. “We use it all — nose to tail — from the very front to the tail end. We can always find a use.”

He’s even used the fat to make candles and plans to experiment with it to make soap soon.

But the focus is on the meat at Grass & Bone, where they procure and prepare everything from beef, pork, chicken, turkey, goat, lamb and rabbit, and always from local farms, not industrial or commodity-meat producers.

Dan Meiser, the co-owner of Grass & Bone, says there is no comparison between the pork chops, strip steaks, tenderloins or rib eyes in his case versus those in a traditional supermarket or big box store.

“It’s not apples to apples, you can’t do it,” he says, explaining that his meat is more expensive because of the way it is raised and the flavor, tenderness and fat content of it.

“You just can’t take a mass-produced commodity product and compare it with locally raised at any level,” he says.

He acknowledges the price difference, but says once a customer invests in the higher-end product, many are willing to pay more and never return to commodity beef or pork.

“People do ask, ‘Why should I pay $15.99 a pound for a pork chop when I can get it for $4.99 or $5.99 at a grocery store?’ And I tell them to try it, and when they do, they understand,” he says.

Pork from Stonington

Some of the pork at Grass & Bone comes from Wehpittituck Farm on Cove Road in Stonington, just three or four miles away. Farmer Jimmy Moran raises flowers, vegetables and pigs — and Meiser and Grass & Bone co-owner James Wayman buy 25 or 30 pigs a year from Moran. His Berkshires and Yorkshires are grain fed and pasture raised, and Wayman, a professional chef, says that makes a big difference.

“An important part of their diet is that they are eating real-life food, like grass and bugs and acorns,” he says.

Wayman says feedlot cattle and pigs — those that are held in pens, fed and fattened up, and injected with growth hormones — lack the flavor of the pork and beef that Grass & Bone sells.

He explains the marbling of the pork chops in his showcase, with spider web-like veins of fat running through them and a cap of fat on the outer side. That fat, he says, enhances the taste and tenderness.

Meiser says quality pork is red, not white, despite the claims of a national advertising campaign that proclaims pork is “the other white meat.”

And then he says something that’s unexpected coming from a man in the meat business.

“I do think people in this country eat too much meat and should cut back, enjoying it only occasionally as an indulgence,” he says.

And when they do, Meiser suggests they should invest in top quality beef, pork or whatever meat they enjoy and make sure it has been organically, humanely and pasture-raised.

“When they buy pork that’s been pasture raised, certified organic and see that it’s a marbled scarlet red, they will tell you after that it’s the best pork chop they’ve ever had,” he says.

Some of the pork at Grass & Bone comes from the Wild Harmony Farm in Exeter, R.I., which raises pigs as well as chickens and cows.

“They (the pigs) are born outside, where the mothers are never confined by a gestation or farrowing crate,” says the Wild Harmony website. “They browse on forage, root around the forest floor and dine on organic grain.”

The farm explains that its piglets are weaned from their mothers after nine weeks — triple the time of the large-scale pork industry.

“We see the pigs every day and enjoy watching them romp around and play. We can assure you, this ain’t your grocery store pork chop,” says Wild Harmony.

And that’s the mantra at Grass & Bone. To provide the best quality, locally sourced meats to customers at its butcher shop or associated restaurants.

Turkeys from Sterling

They buy 75 to 100 pasture, corn and grain-fed cattle from the Beriah Lewis Farm in North Stonington, which has been in operation since the 1600s.

Their chickens come from FreeBird in Pennsylvania, where they are fed a vegetarian diet, never given antibiotics, growth hormones or steroids, and the farm owners boast their birds are humanely raised.

Wayman says Grass & Bone goes that far to get the quantity of quality chickens it needs, since the shop sells upwards of 100 rotisserie chickens a day in the busy summer season.

For Thanksgiving this year, they sold 130 turkeys from Ekonk Farm in Sterling at $5.99 a pound. More of their pork comes from Soeltl Farm in Salem, where farmer Donna Macek-Lesczczynski’s pigs are pastured, grain fed, and given goat’s milk, which Wayman says enhances the flavor of the pork. Grass & Bone also buys goat and lamb and gets its veal from Soeltl.

Some of the Mystic butcher shop’s most expensive meat comes from the Lewis Family Farm in Essex, N.Y., where the cattle are federally certified as grass-fed beef. At Lewis, they raise grass specifically to feed their herd and all their pastures are organic, with natural fertilization.

The Lewis Farm is the first in the country to receive the USDA’s grass-fed certification, and Wayman says the biologically diverse pasture, with clover, vetch, nettle and other grasses contributes to the quality of the beef.

A New York strip steak from the Lewis Family Farm sells for $24.99 a pound at Grass & Bone, and repeat customers come back again and again to buy it.

15 months later 

While a big grocery butcher will open a box of steaks and cut them out of sealed bags to repackage for the store’s display cases, it’s a different scenario at Grass & Bone. Pork and beef arrive as primals — or sections of an animal — and must be cut and trimmed.

From the rib, a butcher can deliver rib roasts, rib steaks, rib eye, or a roast of steak. From the rump, a pot roast, stew meat or ground beef. There’s ground beef in the plate primal, too, as well as short ribs and skirt steak. Pot roast comes from the brisket and London broil and flank steaks from the hanging tender.

There’s a dizzying array of cow parts and cuts of beef that come from them. And there are sub-primals in addition to the primals that all contribute to retail cuts.

When Grass & Bone buys a steer from Beriah Lewis Farm, it goes to Rhode Island Beef & Veal, the slaughterhouse in Johnston where after it is killed, dressed and inspected, it’s aged for 21 days. That aging, a combination of temperature, humidity and air flow, helps to improve the meat’s flavor.

For the butchers at Grass & Bone, it’s a daily routine of hanging sides of beef and pork in the walk-in cooler, cutting, trimming and preparing cuts of meat, and grinding massive amounts of ground beef, much of it for Engine Room where burgers are a featured item. They also ensure that the showcase trays of pork belly, loin roasts, ribs, pork butts, sausage, T-bones, tenderloins and porterhouse are fresh and filled, as well as supplying meat for the three restaurants.

It’s been 15 months since Grass & Bone opened and the place is seemingly always busy. Three weeks before Christmas, and already order slips for holiday roasts and special cuts are written on butcher paper and plastered on the wall of the butcher shop. They’ll run out of wall space long before the holiday, Higgins says, but the orders will be transferred to a book and ready for customers when they come in.

Like Meiser, Higgins says he’s heard customers question the high prices, and begrudgingly give in and buy something, only to return time and again after to willingly buy another time.

“Once they try it, they understand,” he says.

Business Snapshot

What: Grass & Bone

What: Butcher shop and casual restaurant

Where: 24 East Main St., Mystic

Phone: (860) 245-4814



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