Editor’s Note: Jarrod Spangler is not your average meat-cutter. Portland’s food scene relies in part on locally-sourced cuts of meat, and Spangler is a vital link in that chain. He’s traveled and cooked from San Francisco to Italy and has big plans for Portland…namely, a salumeria and a Maine-themed tattoo.
IP: Nice ambiance out here (sitting down with Spangler in the parking lot behind Rosemont Market).
JS: We have this fire extinguisher box here and we’re thinking it would be perfect for a bottle of Jim Beam. But we’re afraid that we’d be breaking the glass every day.
IP: That would be pretty expensive. You still live in Dover (NH). How often do you come up here?
JS: I commute every day. It’s about 50 minutes.
IP: Most people come to Maine so they don’t have to commute.
JS: We’re working on it. A very large portion of my life is in seacoast New Hampshire. I have a lot of great friends and I’ve lived there for a while. I lived in South Berwick (ME) for a little shy of a year when I first came back from backpacking in Italy. I ended up getting a job offer in Italy from a friend of mine who owned a restaurant there. So I moved to Italy and when I came back, I went to seacoast New Hampshire.
IP: Where are you from?
JS: North Carolina. I moved there when I was 13. I was born in Pennsylvania.
IP: Describe what you do, in terms that a five-year-old could understand.
JS: I spend a lot of time on the phone, trying to track down quality animals. Scheduling. It’s a pain in the ass. Between talking to farmers and scheduling dates at at slaughterhouses, I manage to bring full animals into the market. We break them down and we use them for all sorts of different things, from retail cuts like you see in the case, to lots of cured products. Basically, I just try to bring it to a point where everything’s coming from our own region. All the animals are local; they’re all raised on small farms. I do have a couple of producers I deal with in New Hampshire, who are just very good friends of mine, and who do an amazing job. I try to focus on Maine, though.
IP: Clearly, it’s a lot more than just cutting meat. Up and down the supply chain you’re making things happen.
JS: It takes a long time to get to there. It takes 8-10 months to get a pig to market weight. And it takes me a minimum of two years to get a beef cow in here. It’s not visible whatsover to the customer, but I’m scheduled out all the way to the end of the summer on my animals because I have to be. I don’t have the luxury of just making a phone call and saying ‘I need this tomorrow.’ That doesn’t happen.
IP: How many animals?
JS: We go through roughly four pigs a week. Right now we’re just barely getting through a whole cow. We’re looking at expanding the butcher area a little bit so we’ll have the ability to bring in more stuff. We’re going to extend to carrying organic beef, which I can’t do right now because of space.
IP: How long have you been here?
JS: I’ve been here since [Rosemont] relocated here, which was in September of 2010.
IP: How long in Portland?
JS: I came back to work with a buddy of mine at Nosh—Jason Norrie, the guy who owns it—he and I have been good friends for years and years. I originally spent a year and a half working at Cinque Terre during my culinary externship. That was my first introduction to Portland, in ’03 and ’04. I fell in love. When I came back to the country I sold my portion of the restaurant in Italy. When I came home it took me a while to find where I wanted to be. I was coming up here working all day Friday and Saturday. That’s how I met (Rosemont owner) John [Naylor]. He was starting to talk about opening a butcher shop at his location. He didn’t quite know how to do it. I was in the process of doing research to open a salumeria in town, and had been going through the regulations with the department of agriculture. We started to chat, and that was how I ended up opening the store.
IP: So, right place at the right time
JS: Definitely it was a stroke of luck.
IP: What is your goal?
JS: The ultimate goal is a salumeria, but that’s a ways away. It’s to be able to bring everything I experienced in Europe..the products, the idea, the style of market, the food, and transpose that into everything I can do that’s local.
IP: Why is Portland such a good place for this?
JS: It’s well received here. When we first started this, I wasn’t going through nearly the volume that I’m doing now. It was a bit of a challenge to source things. It’s gone from being sporadic and having to order things in, to now I’ve got farmers coming out of the woodwork trying to sell me stuff. I have access to a lot better product now. I don’t think it was me personally who did that—who shifted the market a little bit—but I think that I’ve definitely been helping. A little bit of awareness and finding an outlet for some really talented farmers who didn’t have much of an outlet to sell product except for little vacuum-sealed packages frozen in the cooler in a farmers market.
IP: So it was ready.
JS: It was needed, yeah.
IP: Do you have any heroes?
JS: There are definitely people that I look up to, like Chris Cosentino out in San Franscisco. He opened a little salumeria out there and is doing some really beautiful things. One of my biggest heroes would be the guy from Italy who kind of opened the door and taught me some things. His name is Beppe Dho. Beppe and his wife run a really small salumeria in Centallo, Italy. He’s got a small laboratory where he and his assistant make an average of 400 kilos of salami a week. He sells some of it wholesale, but most of it he sells in his store and to some restaurants in the area. He invited me to spend some days in the workshop, basically trimming and watching him work. Once we had all the pork trimmed out he would disappear into his little office with all of his secret spices. He would do all his calculations and do his spice mix—no one was ever invited into the rooom with him. He taught me all of the processes that go into making beautiful, artisanal salamis, which I then brought back to the states and played with at my house to a lot of success. Beppe was the one who offered up all the knowlege that I gained. And it wasn’t that I was apprenticing with him…it was just a couple of days here and there, watching how they do things, secretly reading humidity and temperature controls. Before I came back to the states, he sat me down and gave me the Bible of what he does—his recipies and everything—and wished me luck and sent me on my way.
IP: So he’s all about getting the knowledge out there.
JS: He wants to get it out there to those who aren’t directly competing with him. I don’t think he opens up his doors too much to people. It’s so local over there, it’s not like he’s a rockstar or anything. It’s just what he does. He’s a really great guy who knows how to market himself and knows how to take care of customers. The shop was always packed with people.
IP: You spoke Italian there, right? Were you fluent before moving to Italy?
JS: I wasn’t fluent before I moved there. My vocabulary is still not great, but I have a couple of Italian customers and we banter back and forth a lot. I have opportunities to speak with Italian winemakers who are coming through to try to sell wine.
IP: Your vocabulary in the area of food and drink must be prettty impressive.
JS: I can hold my own, that’s for sure.
IP: How about Italian curse words?
JS: Oh, yeah…I’ve got all of them. That comes from working in restaurants. The only time you can learn anything like that is working in restaurants.
IP: Is that what you’ve done your whole career?
JS: I’ve been a chef since I was probably in my early-to mid-20s. I’ve been working in restaurants since I was 13. I started washing dishes, bussing tables and then a buddy of mine ended up getting me a job in a kitchen, doing some mild cooking. I took to it really well and really enjoyed it. My boss said ‘you should go to culinary school.’ So they helped me get into culinary school. It gave me a really good base to go and build on. I spent a lot of time talking to the guys who taught charcuterie in school and somehow, subconsciously that became one of my interest points.
IP: So did you have to specialize at that point?
JS: Well, culinary is just a broad base of knowledge. You touch on a little bit of everything. Bakers have to cook for three weeks. Chefs have to bake for three weeks. That’s normally all the overlap there is. Basic skills to meat. Just a brief overview. It’s intended to give you an idea and a base for you to then go and build on top of after school.
IP: By doing externships?
JS: Exactly. I ended up moving to Boston after I graduated with the intent of working for Barbara Lynch at the Butcher Shop. I worked there until randomly I decided that I was going to travel across country for a few months, to San Francisco. I worked at Quince with a gentleman named Mike Tusk. That’s where I learned how to maintain a relationship with farms. Mike took me under his wing and let me be his market buyer to a certain extent. I would be hand-making 15-16 different kinds of pasta for him every day. In between, I’d be taking breaks to run to the farmers’ market in Marin [City] with a hand truck, and I would fill up my car with all this amazing stuff that I’d find. I’d bring it back and he would work it into the menu throughout the day. We would butcher six to eight whole lambs a week, and a couple of pigs here and there. I never was really formally trained to butcher. I basically taught myself to do it just from watching him, mostly. Animal structure is basically the same. Pigs are a little bit different, but the whole idea is all the same. So to watch someone break down lambs and portion them out properly, it kind of applied to everything else. I never worked in a cutting room or slaughterhouse or anything like that. I just kind of took everything that I’ve seen in the past and put it all together to make the whole art.
IP: You make it sound easy, but I know it’s not.
JS: Using the whole animal is a challenge. And there’s still things that we could improve on here. It’s just because we don’t have that much space and we don’t have that many people. Access to a kitchen is kind of limited, so I’m held to a certain point.
IP: So what’s next?
JS: The next step would be to have a dedicated local meat shop where we’re doing a lot of prepared foods like you’d see in Italy, where they use everything. A butcher shop over there is a place you go to get a piece of meat but also to maybe get some food that’s already cooked by grandma in the back. That helps introduce people to new things, but also to utilize everything. The one thing I did learn over there is there is minimal wastage. You have to be very creative with how to do things. It’s kind of what butchers do.
IP:: What’s your secret of succes?
JS: There’s a mix of things. For what we do here, maintaining relationships is crucial because without the relationships I wouldn’t be where I am. I wouldn’t be able to sit here and talk about these small farms, or have all these amazing products for my customers. It all starts with the farmer. But it also is about being able to take that relationship and all your skills and then change something that looks very crude into something very beautiful that is also very recognizable….that’s one of my most favorite things to do. It sounds really mundane and simple, but that perfect pork chop or that perfect cowboy steak that you put in the case that people can’t resist because it looks so good…that takes a long time to be able to do. Anyone can cut a pork chop, but to make it look perfect…that’s where my background of working in restaurants comes in to play.
IP There’s a feel to it, right?
jS: Exactly. There’s a little bit of dexterity involved. I definitely feel that without my background in cooking I don’t think I would have nearly the grasp on it that I do.
IP: Why Portland?
JS: Over the years of traveling I kind of learned what I wanted to make me happy in life. Be close to the mountains. Be close to the coast. Enough of a population to support good food…clearly, Portland has that going on. I would say that above New York and Boston, Portland probably has one of the most happening food scenes, at least in New England and probably on the whole East Coast. There’s a lot of young talent around here, too. The local food scene and the local food production in Maine exceeds most other states. Where I live in the seacoast, we don’t have nearly the amount of infrastructure for farms that Maine does. It seems a lot more in-your-face up here. There are farmers markets everywhere. There’s so many more farms. There’s the Common Ground Fair that’s trying to help get people interested in local agriculture and sustainability
IP: Are those things the future of Portland?
JS: I think so. The way Portland is moving there’s definitely a trend towards better food, knowing where things come from, and there are more younger farmers out there who are really passionate and talented at what they do. It allows other people to kind of build upon that. For me to be able to source certain pigs it makes me excited, my farmers excited, my customers excited. It kinda brings it all full circle.
IP: What’s your favorite tool to use?
JS: The hacksaw. So rudimentary. We don’t use power tools for anything. I think that’s the other Old World part that we’re trying to bring to it. We’re not a meat-cutting facility where everything’s getting thrown into a bandsaw and getting chopped up in two seconds. It doesn’t have that same look.
IP: Why is it important for a place like this to exist here?
JS: The Rosemont has been doing an amazing thing for the past eight years, which is to give an outlet to people who really want good produce and good quality product all the time.
IP: People want to know where their food is coming from.
JS: I think it’s been a long time coming, actually. The trends have been there. It’s kind of a culmination of interests of so many different people that it’s funny to see butchers being considered rock stars nowadays. It’s a very funny concept to me.
IP: Is that why you wanta to get a tattoo?
JS: No. I want to get a tattoo because I’ve always wanted to get one. I never knew what I wanted until I thought about the Maine [meat inspection] stamp that I get every week on all my pigs that come through.
IP: So it’ll be like the state officially approves of you.
JS: Yeah, I’ll be Maine-inspected and passed.
IP: Makes it hard to move anywhere else, I guess
JS: When I was 18 I left the house and I never went back. I’ve lived a lot of places from East Coast to West Coast to Europe, and I experienced Portland at an earlier age; I was early 20s when I came here. I came to see a friend of mine play music at a place that no longer exists, call the Ale House. We came to Portland at night and I woke up in the morning and had a cup of coffee on their front porch overlooking the other side of [Casco] Bay. I had this moment of, “I just need to live here a while”. Ever since then I’ve had a special feeling for Portland.
IP: What’s something not everyone knows about you? Do you secretly really like McDonald’s burgers?
JS: I definitely don’t want that published. I have no idea. I’m kind of an open book. I don’t keep secrets. I like to drink bouron.
IP What do you drink?
JS: Jim Beam. I think Jim Beam needs to give me a small amount of their income because I’ve been selling Jim Beam to everyone for the past seven or eight years. We always joke that bourbon is the secret power behind the butcher.
IP: What’s one of your favorite cuts in the case right now?
JS: You know, the cured meat is clearly one of my favorite things, but that’s a raw piece that’s been transformed into something else. We have access to organic Tamworth pigs once a month. They come in and we’re cutting them, they’re like an inch and a half fat cap all the way around all the pork chops. When you cut the first couple of chops off the loin, which are closer to the blade, they’re a little bit sweeter, a little bit fattier. If I wanted a pork chop that’s what I would eat. Try to leave on an inch of fat, all the way around it. Once you cook it, it’s like candy. it just melts in your mouth…the most amazing flavor.
IP: I’m starved.
JS: Yeah. Me too.