Two Years in Business

January 1, 2013

[reposting from Link Lab’s web site….with few more photos here]

Link Lab Artisan Meats is wrapping up our 2nd full year of business. Our community of customers, partners, friends, and intrigued bystanders continues to grow, and we seem to be getting busier with each passing week. During 2012, we steadily increased our presence in restaurants and retail shops, and there are a lot of big plans for 2013.

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Thank you everyone for remaining passionate about using locally sourced meat and thoughtfully produced products like our sausage from Link Lab. The local farmers we partner with are doing incredible work, and it is very satisfying to help so many carnivores support our local food system.

  • To all the chefs using Link Lab sausage on your menu: Thank you!
  • To all the retailers selling Link Lab sausage at your shop: Thank you!
  • To folks who can’t find Link Lab Sausage: Speak up and help spread the word. Tell your favorite restaurant and grocery store about Link Lab.  Good business decisions (even in restaurants) are made based on customer feedback.

Here are a few fun numbers and highlights from 2012:

  • >9000 lbs Link Lab sausage sold in 2012
  • Our meat: A great and expanding group of farmers provided our meat this year:
    • Jones Family Farm on Lopez Island, WA
    • Martiny Livestock in Concrete, WA
    • Tails & Trotters Hazelnut finished pork
    • Heritage Lane Farm in Lynden, WA
    • Crown S Ranch in Winthrop, WA
    • Draper Organic Poultry farm in Mt Vernon
    • Boise Creek Boer Goats in Enumclaw, WA
  • 20 restaurants bought and served Link Lab sausage this year.
  • 15 retail stores around the state are selling Link Lab sausage
  • New kitchen:
  •  In August, Link Lab moved out of our original facility (my garage) and into a fully dedicated commercial kitchen. There is a lot more elbow room now.

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  • New Delivery Truck: The Prius served me well, but 2012 was the year to upgrade to a larger delivery vehicle.
  • Three great employees: George, Daniel, and Em are a 6-armed sausage making machine. We’re all still learning each day, but production moves along well with good people and extra square footage to work in.

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  • Mr. Pearlstein goes to Washington: In August, David travelled to Washington, DC and spoke to a group of 30 employees at USDA/FSIS (food safety inspection service). A very exciting morning, and everyone seemed to like the story of what Link Lab is doing out here in the Northwest.

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  • International friends: Link Lab has new supporters and friends from around the world (Wales, Singapore, Philippines, Hong Kong, Brazil, Canada, Thailand)
  • Macrina: A huge thanks to Leslie Mackie of Macrina Bakery for mentioning Link Lab Artisan Meats in the beautiful new cookbook More from Macrina

Redesign of Link Lab Labels: Our packaging took a giant step forward with newly designed labels. IMAG0034IMAG0032

  • USDA Inspection: USDA Food Safety Inspectors continue to visit Link Lab every day. And every 6 months, we get a new inspector.  Quite decent people so far who are good at their job, helpful to the safety of our product, and not too burdensome to our work.  My most recent inspector once hosted a Euro-Metal radio show on Texas public radio.  Government workers come from everywhere!
  • Beta testing of “Meat Camp” – An urban shepherd and his daughter spent a day at Link Lab learning to make sausage. There may be more workshops in the future.

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  • Creative Customers: Some of you Link Lab customers were very creative with sausage:
    • Martini Turkey Sausage served on a vermouth foam
    • “Make way for Duck-Links” – appetizer sized duck & cherry sausages served on a brioche bun with house made ketchup and relishes.
    • “Bunnies in the Garden” – Rabbit & Prune sausage served on a bed of greens….for Easter.
    • Rosemary & Sage Turkey sausage dipped in panco crumbs, fried and served on a skewer.
    • Link Lab’s Juniper-Garlic Sausage stuffed in Roast Chicken
  • Farewell: Seattle said goodbye to two of my favorite restaurants. Elemental at Gasworks  and Skelly & the Bean. They were both Link Lab customers, but more importantly they changed the food landscape in Seattle and cooked amazing food. Good luck to you guys! I’m already looking forward to whatever you do next.
  • The Press: Link Lab was fortunate to have some very nice stories written and published about us this past year.
  • Illinois Men’s Gymnastics wins 2012 NCAA Championships! – a bit off topic and non-regional, but some news is worth sharing

Upcoming in 2013

  • Bacon production is just about ready to begin! Who’s ready for bacon?

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  • New sausage varieties continue to be developed. Organic Curry Chicken sausage is one to look for soon.
  • More restaurant partners, grocery partners,  and easier availability for everyone.
  • So much more…..get ready for a big 2013!

All the best to everyone for a busy and healthy new year.
David


USDA story on Link Lab

July 23, 2012

Thanks to an unlikely but fortunate new friendship, Link Lab’s (and my) story got sent to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack a few months back.  Evidently, USDA finds my story compelling enough to write about, which I sure do appreciate. I hope everyone enjoys this article. 

 

http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/usdahome?contentidonly=true&contentid=KYF_Compass_Case_Studies_LinkLab.html


Path To Building Link Lab Artisan Meats

February 1, 2012

I haven’t posted to this blog in a while, but there’s a nice article that just came out sharing a lot of the background and explaining some of the inspiration behind Link Lab Artisan Meats.  Hope you enjoy.


The Big Day: Cutting Into the Prosciutto

July 25, 2011

Well……on a scale of one to “pretty damned amazing”, Herschel the prosciutto rates very high toward the top of the scale.

Yesterday, after twenty one months of watching this pig leg age, dry, mature, and hang from the ceiling of my basement, it was finally time to cut into this meaty jewel, give it a taste, and share a long-awaited feast with friends.

Below is a shot of the final product. I’m still amazed that salt and a lot of time can transform raw pork into something this pretty. The color, the texture, the sweet and nutty smell. I don’t know exactly what went on below the skin during the last 2 years, but it was a very good thing.

If you recall from the first post of this blog (October 2009), the pig leg, sourced from Sea Breeze farm on Vashon Island, Washington started as a fresh 22 lb drumstick. The pig had been slaughtered just days before I retrieved it from the Ballard Farmers Market,  put it in my bike trailer, and peddled it home behind my bicycle. Below is a “before” pic.

Below, just 21 months later, the leg had lost more than 40% of its original weight. Before cutting into it, I was concerned that it may be too dry. The skin and outer surfaces were extremely hard. But there was always some give when squeezing the thick center part of the muscle. It was not always easy wondering if the meat inside this package was doing all the stuff it was supposed to be doing. Aging, mellowing, and softening of the inside leg meat seemed a bit far fetched when visually inspecting the leg during the past few months.

Sure enough, the outer edge of the leg was extremely hard and dry. But despite the jerky-like texture, the flavor was stunning. Some sort of  magic had definitely taken place here, because there was a rich nutty taste permeating this DRY and tough section. But……..as I continued slicing and cutting into the thicker part of the  the leg…….

…….the meat became softer, more moist, and finally a rich ruby red color. I took the large piece below and ran it through my electric meat slicer, shaving paper-thin sheets of ham from this area of the leg.

Results…..this prosciutto melted on my tongue. There was no toughness about the meat. The salt level was perfect.  This thing had simply turned into the most complex and elegant piece of food I have ever made. I’ve been lucky enough to eat a lot of prosciutto in Europe and in the States, and I think the friends that joined me on Sunday were treated to a very special leg. This was amazing!   We ate it wrapped around sweet cantaloupe, alongside rustic bread, and there was a lot consumed directly from fingers to mouth without any extra flavors to confuse the matter. No matter what you did with this prosciutto, it was good slow food, and it made people smile. And that made me happy.

But, how can you host a party and pretend to feed 30 friends with a single prosciutto? That’s where the fresh Link Lab Artisan Meats sausage entered the picture. We all enjoyed Boerewors and Hot Italian Sausage links.

And after we ate, there was music. Lots of music.

(photo by Karla Thomas)

As soon as the temperatures start to turn cool again, I can’t wait to start the process again and age another prosciutto. Actually, this time, I plan to find a couple or three legs from different pig breeds and let them all age simultaneously. There’s a great chance I’ll keep notes on this oinkmoo blog, but if not, check back with me in 2013, and I’ll let everyone know how it went.

Now….back to work. Link Lab Artisan Meats, LLC is 6 months old. The Seattle food community has been really supportive of my efforts, and I’m looking forward to continuing to make great sausage, support great farmers, and hopefully share some fun stories about meat. Thanks again to everyone for all of your interest, enthusiasm, and support during these past two years! —-David


That Old Meat Hobby

February 6, 2011

This has been a big week!

I am no longer just a meat enthusiast experimenting in my kitchen.  And over the past year, I did quite a bit more than just build myself a  “man-cave” in the garage. I built a USDA Inspected and Approved Meat Processing Facility, and did so in a very small and unique space. The project is complete, the USDA gave me the green light to get to work, and Link Lab Artisan Meats is in business!

Here’s a partial list of some of the tasks and challenges I had to solve getting to this point:

  • Learn to make  great sausage, and decide I’d like to do it full-time. (This was the easy part. It took 12 years of practice but what doesn’t?)
  • Identify city, county, state, and federal rules and roles relevant to my commercial meat production plans. Every agency has their own unique role to play.
  • Read and re-read the Code of Federal Regulations to understand USDA/FSIS expectations for meat processing in this country
  • HACCP training (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point).
  • Lots of interaction with the USDA, confirming that my plans were going to be acceptable to them.
  • Construction
  • Write, document, and formalize EVERYTHING. This includes HACCP plans, Pre-requisite programs, Decision making documents, flow charts, floor plans, and lots of other fascinating material authored by me. (Maybe someday, Art Spiegelman will help me re-craft everything into a comic book format.)
  • Identified and met some amazing farmers and local meat suppliers. They are worth supporting, and I will.
  • Worked and worked and worked….and told my doubters to become vegans.

I plan to continue updating this OinkMoo blog as Herschel the prosciutto ages and as I take on new personal meat projects.  But as you can imagine, my time and priorities are shifting to the new business, Link Lab Artisan Meats.  I hope everyone who enjoys this OinkMoo blog will consider following Link lab on Facebook, and also Link Lab’s blog. There is a lot going on these days…

I guess Jim Jackson said it best in 1927 when he sang,I heard the voice of the pork chop say, come unto me and rest.”

Wish me luck.


Naked Goose

December 28, 2010

With a very sharp boning knife and bit of butcher twine, I had fun deboning and cooking up a goose for the family last weekend.

Below is the carnage and the resulting meal. Every carnivore should try doing this to a bird at some point. It’s strangely satisfying. And slicing into the final boneless product is too much fun.

Below, the meat and skin  have been separated from the bones.

Yes, that goose could have come right out of the 1983 Far Side. But I’m sure it was raised on a small farm in Carnation, Washington that looks nothing like the graphic below.

Chantrelle mushrooms, sage, leeks, roasted chestnuts, and plenty of Cognac made up the stuffing.

Below, the boneless goose has been stuffed back to an original bird-shape….kind of.

Cooked and resting.

Show me a goose dinner that’s easier to carve and serve to guests!

Considering the pork-centric nature of this blog, I hope everyone will forgive this  poultry diversion. It needed to be documented, and I recommend giving it a try. A great meal, and a fun project.

Happy New Year to everyone. Thank you for reading this blog and for showing so much support of my butchering and slow-food protein adventures. —   David


Tamworth project: part 2

December 18, 2010

This post is a continuation of the last one, which described some of the receiving and butchering process of a half (102 lb)  of a Tamworth pig. Here’s the rest of the process turning great meat into great sausage.

Below is 23.2 kg (51 lbs) of partially frozen meat ready for the grinder. The grinding blade and tray have been in the freezer for a while so they’re very cold too.

Grinding begins….and nine minutes later, I have a 51 lb bowl of ground pork. The grinder is a 1.5 hp  monster. Do not wear a neck tie or long scarf when operating this thing!

The plastic wrap is taped to the grinder to control any splattering when the meat is working through the gears. It is a simple trick, but I went for many years cleaning splattered meat from the walls before learning about this.

There is about 20% fat in this bowl of meat.

Below, the ground meat has been weighed and separated into 2 kg piles. This makes it easy to do the math and measure ingredients without wondering how much meat I have to work with.

Spices are prepared for different types of sausages.

My hands were a bit messy while mixing the meat with spices, so there are no pictures of that process. Hopefully you can imagine pretty accurately what meat mixing looks like.

Below , pork in the food processor is being turned into a very smooth emulsion (paste) to be used in hot dogs and a separate emulsion for mortadella.

…and here are the hot dogs.

Bratwurst ready for tailgating at any Big Ten football game. Except these taste better than anything found in central Illinois. Where’s the bucket of  Old Style to go along with these?

Final results of my work. This collection started out with102 pounds of pig. The only waste I ended up discarding was about a cup of dirty fat and a few glands that didn’t belong in anyone’s food. Other than that, we have soup bones, rendered lard, pate, bacon,  and a bunch of sausages.

Not a bad collection of food to pick from over the next few months.