Despite it being close to my own habits, I’d never heard of the phrase “nose-to-tail consumption” until a couple of days ago when a conversation between puppetry-loving friends led me to the Herald Sun’s rave review of “The Beast“, a currently-showing play by Melbourne Theatre Company. Then I came across it again earlier today when looking at the website of Warialda Belted Galloways in Clonbinane, Victoria. So, today’s post is going to explore the concept a little further.
Disclosure: I grew up on a farm where we raised and killed our own animals. Butchering meant hanging the cute little goat from my treehouse, and a certain amount of cursing when my dad’s hopeless physical coordination meant he missed the knockout blow. So the process has always been quite real for me. I was young enough not to hear and remember all the follow-on and the whys and wherefores, but I do remember that after a couple of tries of doing our own we started taking the young goats to a local butcher to kill and carve for us instead. In later years Dad tried raising rabbits and our farm manager took me aside one school holidays and ran me through the butchering and skinning technique, but I never used it as they never quite managed to construct a hutch the rabbits couldn’t escape from. As an adult, I was mostly-vegetarian for ten years, and while I now eat everything again I do mean a fairly broad range of everything. I’ve always felt that just selecting the choicest bits of the choicest animals is a wasteful process. And only eating big animals means hard work and time in raising and butchering them. They don’t just magically appear in little styrofoam packets.
There’s a theory that most of the protein eaten in hunter-gatherer societies came from the (often women) gatherers, who gathered insects, snails, and various small animals as well as high-protein seeds as they wandered around harvesting plants. While the hunters of kangaroos and buffaloes and whatnot were skilled, the big catches weren’t the daily staple. When they did happen, there was a need to use and prepare all parts of the animal quite quickly. I’ve spent quite a bit of time learning primitive skills and survival skills across the years, and all of the teachers have emphasised that respect for the animal and for the hunt means not wasting any of it. It doesn’t always mean eating it all – kangaroo tendons might get prepared and set aside for toolmaking, or the brain of a rabbit could be used to tan that rabbit’s hide – but it does get used. In the animal raising and butchering as I grew up the same thing happened without being spoken of. The various edible bits of the animals went into our freezer, the less-suitable organs and squidgy bits went to the dogs, and we still have some home-made goat-skin vests in a chest somewhere from Mum’s early attempts to prepare for the coming nuclear war (it was the 1970s, after all).
So when I stopped being vegetarian and started cooking meat again, I took advantage of our three local butchers to try learning to cook with some of the less popular options. After my third failed attempt at making chicken gizzards into something edible my somewhat-squeamish husband banned me from further experimentation on his dinner plate. The fried gizzards were tasty but not all sufficiently cooked through, the gizzard soup was nostalgically and richly fragrant but the texture was a little offputting. I still want to try again sometime but I’m a little disorganised. And now that I no longer live next to three butchers all selling cheap cuts, I need to plan ahead to be able to get something other than chunks of muscle fibre. There’s lots of information out there now though.
One friend of mine bewailed the influx of reality cooking shows, which had brought cheap cuts of meat such as pork belly to the attention of so many people that butchers had put up their prices on it. The upside of having difficult and unusual choices of meat cuts on prime time TV though is that it does mean a plethora of recipes, techniques, discussions, forums, people trying things and talking about them, and even better people going back to their grannies and old neighbour ladies and saying “Now how exactly did you use to do this?”. And old foods become less forgotten. Here’s three of my favourite articles on the topic. Charlotte Wood writes about a one-week nose-to-tail cooking-and-consumption challenge. Laurie Tuffley of The Ecologist writes about their one-week nose-to-tail challenge.
And back in March in Queensland there was an event showcasing nose-to-tail cuts of beef in a five course degustation menu. If you search, you’ll undoubtedly find more.