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Madison Style: A butcher shop with a focus on transparency, respect

Madison Style: A butcher shop with a focus on transparency, respect

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The Conscious Carnivore, tucked into the Shorewood Shopping Center, is a deceptively fancy butcher shop with roots deep in Wisconsin soil. Super clean, primly packaged, the products are meats from local farms using simple farming practices: pasture-based, small-lot agriculture that uses no antibiotics, no hormones and no confinement practices.

The key word is transparency, says Business Manager Bartlett Durand. It’s a way for people to connect with how the roast or the chops get on the table — from farm to small processor to butcher.

“It is a butcher shop,” Durand says. “You don’t see jams and jellies and fruit and spaghetti. It’s not a grocery store. This is where you come in for meat and you want to learn and talk and know where the food comes from.”

It’s not for the faint of heart, uncovered carcasses hang in a cooler. Master Butcher Dave Gathy rolls out a carcass and cuts it up under bright lights.

“You look through the case where you buy your product, and you see the carcasses behind it,” Durand says. “You can go back and talk to Dave while he’s working. People can really experience where the food is coming from and what’s going on. We want people to see the animals. It’s all about transparency.”

On a recent weekday, pork parts simmered in a slow cooker on the counter, rendering creamy white lard—eventually packed in clear glass jars for $15, and Gathy was butchering goats.

An offshoot of the now defunct Black Earth Meats, Durand says the shop, started in 2013, sells meat from animals that were gently handled and well-fed —beef, chickens, pork, goats, among others. It’s owned by a group of seven community members, including Gathy and General Manager Rhonda Slinde.

The shop also helps customers be more knowledgeable about what and how they eat. It was the first retail outlet for Black Earth Meats and is now on its own. Conscious Carnivore also has a buyer’s club, which is essentially a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) for meat.

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