GET INTO THE GAME
At The Local Butcher Shop’s Deer Butchery Class
Indigenous mule deer run amok through the East Bay hills to the delight of children and urban nature lovers. But when the fauna non grata polish off the baby blueberry and kumquat trees just planted in the backyard, an omnivore in our gardening community can’t be faulted for pondering the virtue of a good venison steak. Of course, the charming ruminants enjoy protections here, and yet … the inner hunter stalks through our DNA, and hunger looms daily.
In the event that something bigger than a turkey lands on our kitchen counter, some of us just want to know what to do with it. Last summer, when we learned that The Local Butcher Shop (TLBS) in Berkeley was offering a deer butchery class, we sent our house nimrod Erik Ferry to sit in. “The majority of participants were urban and suburban vegetable gardeners with a general locavore sentiment,” he noted.
Wondering what prompted the shop to offer the class, we asked TLBS marketing maven Kathryn Tomajan, who says they had many phone calls and inquiries from the community. “In our first class we had many hunters, aspiring hunters, as well as a few chefs and ambitious home cooks. Bill really spearheaded organizing the class as he is a huge advocate of hunting and eating what you kill. It fits perfectly into our mission.”
Bill would be Bill McCann, a longtime member and mentor of the shop’s butchery team. He retired just after Thanksgiving, but is reprising the deer butchery class this spring on April 24 and June 5.
“One of the things that surprised this country boy about Berkeley more than anything else has been the number of hunters and aspiring hunters that I have met while working here at the shop,” Bill says. “I think that hunting is seen by some as the ultimate experience in following the meat that you eat back to its true source. Hunting more than any other outdoor activity can put us into real awareness of the natural world around us. When you hunt well, you become a better birdwatcher, hiker, naturalist, and just overall more attentive human.”
And as Bill explains: “Hunting is a practice that has skipped a few generations in this country, which means that some parents and grandparents have missed an opportunity to pass on skills that they learned as youngsters.”
For many years, Bill ran his own butcher shop in Madera, one of the little cities on highway 99 in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley. He says that processing wild game was a big part of the business.
“For most of my life in the trade, I dealt with hunters and their quarry and found them to be a pretty stereotypical lot that I understood well because I had a lot of that same stuff in me,” he says. “The part that troubled me was that a pretty high percentage of the younger hunters had very little of the practical knowledge needed to care for the game after it had been harvested. While I still had my shop, I did some YouTube videos of home processing of deer and some related things and was kind of astounded by the reception that I received. I found that there are a lot more hunters and aspiring hunters out there than you would imagine, and they are not a stereotype. When we finally did our first game class at TLBS it was a group that pretty much represented the Bay Area demographic . . . not many plaid shirts and ball caps.”
At the class last summer, Bill demonstrated his skinning method on a young fallow deer from a ranch in the Sierra foothills near Mariposa. Using a few tools most people would have at home, he showed how to process the carcass into smaller pieces that can fit in a home freezer. TLBS owner Aaron Rocchino talked about cooking deer and also gave advice for making venison sausage and jerky. Each class participant went home with approximately four pounds of various cuts of venison including sausage.
See Bill McCann’s YouTube videos here: williesbutchery.com