Tuesday, March 31, 2015

My Inner Geek (MIG, for short) Goes to Slaughterhouse 4

My Inner Geek had a field day today.  MIG always loves getting let loose.  And in my current job, the opportunities for free-range geek are few and far between.

A couple of weeks ago, I taught a class about gambling in Old Testament times.  It was a fun class, with a nice tie between gambling and prognostication, and we ended the class by throwing bones and keeping score, using rules that had been recorded from the 1st Century AD. 

What we used in that class were deer astralagi; a small talus bone at a joint found in the hind leg (snorts to self about the 'hind' leg....).  They were available from an etsy site, and they cost about 20 bucks for the four 'dice' we used. 

Worth.  Every.  Penny.

What I had really wanted, though, was lamb tali.  (Taluses?  Whatever.)  I had called around to a couple of butchers in the area, and they had no idea what I was talking about, had even less interest, and suggested that I talk to a sheep farmer.

Wait.  What?  A sheep farmer.....  Hmmmmm.

As it turns out, an acquaintance of mine has a sheep farm just north of New Orleans.  Charlie used to live down the street from me, and his company sells organic lamb (and beef, and goat) to restaurants and retail clients around the entire area.

So I contacted him, asking for his help to obtain some sheep knucklebones.

His reaction was laughter.

"Sure! But i have no idea what that is. Sheep dont have knuckles haha."

Eventually, a few pictures and websites later, he realized what I was talking about, and invited me to help with the slaughter (Fridays) or butchery (Tuesdays) of the lambs.

Are you kidding me?  MIG went crazy.

The end result was that they process that part of the lamb on Tuesdays, so I asked for the morning off and drove to Springfield, Louisiana to see the operation.  I saw the sign for the facility, and started to get excited.

I drove by it twice, and did not see the signage I was expecting.  But it seemed like it was the right place.

I went in, and there was a small antechamber, with another door.  On the door were the rules - visitors had to sign in, they were not allowed to participate in the processing of meat, they had to step in the trough of antiseptic before and after entering the room (I almost expected a sign that also said "EAT ME").  I signed, dipped, and opened the door.

It took quite a bit of 'splainin to get across what I was looking for to the guy in the white, bloodsplattered jacket and the Walking Dead baseball cap. And the confusion was very nearly complete.

No, Charlie isn't here.  No he usually doesn't work on this with us.  He is in his office in New Orleans.  Are you a wholesaler?  A customer?  Wait, you want what??

Finally the guy in the Walking Dead baseball cap invited me inside to see if we could figure out what the heck an astragalus was.

Inside the meat locker/butchering room were two Latino guys, carving stew meat away from bones, and removing thigh bones from loin cuts.  They seemed unsurprised to see a different gringo in their work space, and only registered a little surprise when I started speaking idiomatic Spanish.

Twenty minutes later, the three butchers had cut away meat from different leg bone parts, and carved away tendons from oddly placed bones.... they knew the process of cutting the meat, but had no idea about the skeletal morphology.  And Miguel (the Latino from Guatemala - Baja Verapaz, I think he said) popped out a perfect talus from a piece that he had fished out of the leftover bin.

All four of us crowded around, looked at the piece, compared it to the picture I had on my phone, and agreed that he was right.

So from that point on, I watched as Brian (Mr. Walking Dead Baseball Cap) butchered 8 lambs, setting aside the segment with the talus from each.  MIG took notes, watching how he cut up haunch, shank, rib, spare rib, and separated out each piece into a different pile.  Miguel and Emilio, meanwhile, were working on their part of the process, turning unrecognizable haunch into piles of loin and stew meat.

And with each successive butchered leg, I ended up with a scrap piece of talus.

MIG loved every minute of it.  And walked out with about 17 dice that I will be boiling tonight when I get home.

And back at the house, I suspect that Emilio and Miguel will have a laugh at the crazy gringo that came in today.

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