Scott Gehman is not new to breaking down a side of beef. By his own admission, he has been practicing the craft since long before he should have been wielding such a sharp knife.
He is, however, one of a dying breed. Amid a sea of supermarkets and mass merchandise stores eliminating their butchers altogether, in lieu of getting more processed meats and ultimately giving consumers less choice, Gehman started Back Home Butcher Shop.
“Forty or 50 years ago, this is how all the beef was done,” Gehman said while thumbing a box of custom-cut, butcher paper-wrapped cuts at his Morwood Road, Franconia Township shop. “But young people coming up now are just taught how to cut from primals (eight boneless sections broken down from each side of beef). I want to use my knowledge to do it the old-fashioned way.”
Gehman learned the art by watching his dad, Ernie, who owned and operated Gehman’s Meats of Morwood for decades. And while exactly how he learned to do each cut is a little fuzzy, his expert hand can carve up everything from brisket to filet mignon with precision – just how his customers order it.
Unlike meat from the supermarket, his beef is not processed on a line at a big plant, gassed with ammonia to eliminate bacteria or with carbon dioxide to give it an artificial pink-red color, nor does it contain any of that recently headline-grabbing pink slime.
“It’s definitely an advantage,” the Upper Hanover resident said of the minimal processing, noting one large package of supermarket beef comes from literally thousands of steers and is a couple of weeks old by the time it hits shelves.
He knows firsthand; Gehman’s full-time job is as a butcher for a large supermarket chain.
His motto, “One Cow – One Farmer – One Butcher,” is where his old-school skills meet a new trend though. Gehman’s beef is purchased from a total of four area farmers; one in Mainland, one in Blooming Glen and two in Franconia Township. The steers are all raised without growth hormones or antibiotics – a popular option in today’s health-conscious society.
The farmer from Blooming Glen raises exclusively grass-fed steers, another growing movement, as people are turning to it for less saturated and overall fats, more omega-3s and more vitamins.
“People are worried about building up antibiotic resistance and growth hormone levels, especially in [young children],” noted fourth-generation farmer Dave Yoder of Franconia Township. “It’s important to people that they are raised without them. With a small herd like ours, each one does get individual attention. That’s why people are seeking out local stuff.”
The steers are delivered live to Springfield Meats in Richlandtown where they are slaughtered and hung to chill. They are then driven to the butcher shop by rail truck where they are dry aged for a minimum of 10 days before processing. The dry aging allows enzymes in the beef to break down, making it tenderer. The evaporation of some of the meat’s outer moisture also makes the cuts more flavorful.
The result is a definite treat for the taste buds, Gehman said.
“I think people forget what beef is supposed to taste like. It (dry aging) really makes a difference. It gives it robust flavor,” he explained. “We encourage people to try it and decide for themselves.”
And while the price of beef and feed like corn is slated to go up in the next few months due to a drought in the Midwest and other parts of the US, Gehman said local farmers aren’t affected as much and that helps keep prices comparable to those at the supermarket.
His customers can purchase as little as a pound of ground beef to a half steer, cut to order. He offers a “Share a Cow” program where customers can buy a smaller quantity, as little as an eighth a side of beef, without depleting their food budget.
He also offers frequent specials through e-mail and accepts PayPal for online orders.
Additionally, Scott and his wife, Jessica, make gourmet sloppy joe sauce and sweet pickled beets through a branch of their business called Back Home Country Recipes. They currently produce and sell about 30 cases of the sauce each month, which retails at Landis Supermarkets and other area outlets.
For more information visit www.backhomecountryrecipes.com.