To the editor:
What is the difference between a lamb chop, a pork chop and a T-bone steak? Not much really. Aside from the fact that they come from different species, they are, in essence, the same cut.
How do I know? I've participated in a Paul Smith's College culinary arts class designed to instruct students and farmers on the origins of various cuts of meat. Paul Smith's is a small Adirondack college known for its forestry and culinary programs, and hosts a restaurant and bakery on campus designed to expose students on the real-world experiences that will face in business.
The class' genesis was a conversation between a farmers market lamb vendor and the then-dean of the college culinary curriculum. The farmer was unsure of the cuts he was selling, and the dean had students who didn't know, either. So it was decided that if the farmer would provide the USDA-inspected lamb and a suitable meat cutter could be persuaded to do the demonstration, a class could be held that would include students and farmers so that all could gain from the experience. The plan came together when one of the chef instructors, Kevin McCarthy, whole-heartedly agreed to hold the class and to help make the necessary arrangements.
A professional meat cutter agreed, and when the students joined half a dozen farmers, all of whom sell cuts of meat at farmers markets, gathered around a steel work table in a classroom, the event began.
The butcher donned a chain-mail glove, and wielding an extremely sharp knife, he proceeded to explain the wherefores and whyfores of fabricating a lamb carcass into the delicious dishes on their dining room tables. Comparisons were made of a lamb loin chop and a beef T-bone steak. They both come from the same place on the animal, but the lamb is, of course, much smaller. The butcher explained that the more tender cuts come from little-used muscle groups, such as the loin, and cuts requiring longer cooking times come from more heavily used muscles, such as the legs and neck.
He further demonstrated that each muscle group may be fabricated in different ways resulting bone-in or boneless roasts, steaks, chops or ground. The students then cooked portions of the meat to finish the farm-to-table experience.
The class has been held several times since, using pork and beef also.
The group discussed the lack of expert meat cutters and the employment opportunities available to those trained in the art. SUNY Cobleskill is currently the only school in New York offering advanced instruction in the field.
The expectation is that the students will become the future chefs, restaurant owners, managers and employees. The farmers are increasing their knowledge and will thus be better able to help themselves sell their products and better serve their customers. Both are building relationships for the future.