The island shop where head-to-tail is only part of the appeal.
“The rule is,” says Matthew Danzer, as he brandishes an 8-inch breaking knife, “cut flesh with a knife and use a saw or scissors to cut the bone.”
Danzer is setting to work on a four-week-old suckling pig in the back of Reddings, the fancy food shop he owns with his girlfriend, Ann Redding, on Shelter Island. The 31-year-old Southold native may have spent his summers working a local farm that did raise pigs, but who knew he would end up butchering them waterside of Dering Harbor?
The location doesn’t faze Danzer much; he briefly looks out the window toward the boats docked behind the store and goes back to butchering quickly and deliberately while explaining what he is doing and what each piece of the animal will end up as: The shoulders will become pulled pork, the hind legs breakfast sausage, the loin will be grilled as an entrée and the tenderloin, well, that he usually eats himself.
He also makes headcheese. Boiling the entire pig’s head produces a natural gelatin. The tongue gets peeled and chopped and mixed in. The skin, after boiling and frying, becomes pork rinds.
The head comes off first, then, if the pig had a waist, its torso is bisected there. The hind legs come off looking like mini prosciutti. The front legs are separated from the carcass and join the rest on a paper-lined sheet pan. The rib cage is splayed open, the loins extracted and then the ribs are sawed in half.
Part of the reason for buying a whole pig, which Danzer says he gets from the purveyor D’Artagan for $3.50 per pound, is to make sure the entire animal gets used and because it’s cost effective.
“I think it’s fun to utilize everything,” he says. “People don’t do that anymore; they’ve gotten lazy.”
A word that could hardly be used to describe Danzer and Redding. The store, which opened last summer, closes during the winter, but in the time it’s open the two rarely get to leave the block that houses their business and their home. Besides serving breakfast and preparing lunches for people on the way to the beach, the couple has developed a thriving catering business and is looking for ways to draw customers in the evening hours. A weekly lobster fest has been a hit. A supper club is in the works.
As is fitting for a purveyor of fine foods on a small island, they offer pretty much everything you need to stock your pantry, as well as plenty of options for spontaneous eating. For breakfast there’s an egg sandwich with homemade maple and sage sausage. Lunches come with fries, buttermilk red onion rings or Satur Farm salad, and include dishes like crispy fish tacos, a Kobe beef burger, pulled-pork sandwich, fresh local lobster roll and soups and sushi made in house (with white or brown rice).
They roast their own turkey and roast beef for sandwiches. There are assorted salads (tomato, cucumber and mozzarella and green goddess dressing; or grilled chicken Mexican with queso fresco, corn, radishes and chipotle-lime dressing), hand-rolled pizzas (long-stemmed artichoke with caramelized onion or sopressata and olive). The dinner menu includes whole roast fish and fowl (organic chicken, Long Island crispy skin duck and fish of the day) as well as a long, rotating list of made-in-house offerings, including lentil salad, faro with roast tomatoes and arugula, corn and scallion polenta, caramelized fennel with Parmesan and lemon, fresh pastas and homemade pasta sauces.
The day after Danzer cut up this pig an article appeared in the food section of the New York Times saying how butchers are the new stars of the city’s culinary world, drawing crowds for classes and attracting low- to unpaid apprentices who wish to learn the art of taking apart an animal. Despite this resurgence, butchers remain rare on the East End. In addition to the IGAs, Waldbaums and King Kullens, which house their own butchers, there’s Riverhead Beef, Wayside Market in Southold, a butcher on Love Lane, and Cromer’s in Noyac.
For Danzer’s part, his attraction to butchering came from the break it gave from working behind the stove in busy
New York restaurants, which includes Per Se, where he met Redding.
“I always loved butchering. It’s almost like meditation,” he says. “It’s different, not like being on the line where you’re just going, going, going.”
A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Danzer does have some credits in butchering under his apron, but most of what he knows, he says, came on the job. Whenever a butchering chore arose, he jumped at it and learned at the elbows of masters.
At the French Laundry, the Napa restaurant owned by celebrity chef Thomas Keller, Danzer trained before moving to
Per Se, Keller’s project in the Time Warner Center. There he put in time as a fish butcher. “Thomas Keller would stand next to me and say Cut this sable,'” he says. “I would go station to station and try to absorb as much as possible.”
Now his training and enthusiasm are paying off as he and Redding consider staying open further into the “shoulder
seasons” of the fall and spring, and more and more customers are coming back for their favorite foods and have become willing to try something like headcheese.
As Danzer meticulously separates the ribs from the short ribs of the diminishing pig, two employees look on as rapt in the task as Danzer himself.
Asked if someday he might like to butcher a pig, Gus Hergrueter’s eyes light up and he says “Yeah!”
“He could do it,” says Danzer as he cleans off his band saw and stores the parts in the walk-in. And then gets back
Pat Marlowe writes from her home in Southold.