Left Bank Butchery

Saxahapaw, North Carolina 

In a tiny unincorporated town in the gentle landscape of North Carolina's Piedmont region, there is a butcher who practices what he calls "ultimate transparency" to craft charcuterie, steaks and chops of UNPARALLELED quality. 

Left Bank Butchery | Saxahapaw, North Caolina 

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Ross Flynn has created a unique business model at his butcher shop in Saxahapaw, North Carolina. He sources from only one hog farm, Cane Creek Farm, and one beef operation, Braeburn Farms, to supply his shop. This creates an interdependent system where he has a reliable source for animals raised with the highest level of integrity and sustainability and the farmers have a partner that they can count on to source whole animals at a price they set directly. 

He practices seam butchery, which follows the seam of the animal's muscle groups, isolating individual muscles and creating cuts that cook evenly and reduce the waste that typical cross-cut butchery creates. Ross is dedicated to the small community he calls home and hosts free cooking classes where customers can gather in the back of the butcher shop and learn about the various cuts of meat Ross offers and how to cook them. Ross doesn’t just want to make these products available, he wants to make sure people know what to do with them when they get back to their own kitchens.

Artisan butchery has been pretty trendy in the past few years, and when things become trendy, we can lose sight of their authenticity. Ross isn’t interested in being a butcher because he sees it as a trend. He became a butcher based on his experience working on Braeburn Farm and getting to understand the animals, developing relationships with Charles Syndor and Eliza MacLean and seeing the struggle that farmers have with chefs only wanting certain cuts of meat. As Ross says in the episode, farmers don’t raise ribeyes or tenderloins. They raise whole animals.

The role Ross plays as butcher is a critical one: by taking whole animals from Charles and Eliza and using every part of the animal, he ensures that nothing goes to waste and also creates economic sustainability for the farmers. This is the way small town butcher shops used to operate and as we continue to push for sustainability in our food system, hopefully we will see more butcher shops like Left Bank Butchery open across the country.

By the way, if you happen to be lucky enough to visit Left Bank Butchery at any of its locations, be sure to try the ‘nduja. It’s the best I’ve had — spicy and fatty and deeply flavored. Exactly what you want ‘nduja to be. The mortadella is incredible too — perfectly silky and gently seasoned so the sweetness of the pork shines through. With a fresh loaf of bread and some wine and cheese, you couldn’t ask for a better picnic lunch!

 

Cane Creek Farm | Saxahapaw, North Carolina

At Cane Creek Farm, Eliza MacLean raises heritage hogs, chickens, donkeys, sheep, cats and gunieas on her diverse farm. Each animal plays a particular role in the health of the farm’s soil and Eliza moves the hogs around the farm on a rotating basis. She and Ross are close friends, collaborating on the mobile butcher shop that they take to market each week and relying on each other for support and success.

While we were shooting, we wandered into a field on the edge of a patch of forest and happened upon a sow giving birth. She had clipped a bunch of long grass and had buried herself beneath the mound of vegetation for shade, but was still clearly very hot and breathing rapidly. A couple of tiny piglets that had just been born were already up and nursing, their tiny legs wobbly as they tired them out for the first time.

It was a typical hot, humid summer day and Eliza wanted to help cool the mama sow down a bit while she was in labor, so she ran back to her house, which was on the other side of the field, and grabbed a beach umbrella. She staked that umbrella in the ground close to the sow and we quietly watched for a few more minutes before deciding to give her some privacy as she continued with labor. I’ve been on many, many hog farms over the years, but I’ve never seen a sow in labor and more than that, I’ve never seen a farmer so dedicated to the well being and comfort of her animals as Eliza. I could tell that she saw her animals as not just part of her farm, but as part of her family.

Braeburn Farms | Snow Camp, North Carolina

Braeburn Farms is where everything started for Ross Flynn. He was on his way through this part of North Carolina, heading to take on a new opportunity further south, when the financial crisis of 2008 hit. He was working on Charles Syndor’s Braeburn Farm at the time and decided to just stay put for the time being. He’s been in Saxahapaw ever since and how partners with Charles as his butcher shop’s only beef supplier. Eliza MacLean was farming on Charles’ property at the time and that’s what connected Ross and Eliza. Now, the three of them form a unique triumvirate of sustainable meat production that can serve as a model for others.

At Braeburn Farms, Charles uses an intense rotational grazing pattern in which he has broken his farm into multiple small pastures and he moves his herd of cattle every day, ensuring that the grasses upon which they feed are eaten down just enough to encourage regrowth and root development. The cattle are part of the overall system, but not his main focus. In a sense, they are tools for his main goal: to sequester carbon. In the Braeburn Farm system, manure is a rich fertilizer, helping to feed the pasture. Charles sees his cattle as something of an ancillary part of his farm, where his top priority is regenerating healthy soil and sequestering carbon.