Alan Michaud does not want his students only to learn about butchering, but to come away with a better understanding of what they’re eating.
Michaud adopted the name Montana Meat Collective, believed to be the first collective in the state, about two years ago and began offering classes earlier this year. A meat collective works by sourcing ready-to-butcher animals from local producers and then holding classes taught by trained butchers.
A collective approach emphasizes sustainable and local purchasing with a direct to consumer model, where producers sell to the students and Michaud acts as the facilitator.
“We have all these cuts in the store, and many people don’t know where they’re coming from,” he said. “What we’re promoting is more of a hands-on education in where food comes from, rather than simply learning about butchering.”
Michaud attended classes at the Portland Meat Collective in Portland, Oregon, four years ago and looks to its success for guidance. He hopes to attract students from across the state, and so far has seen attendees from Arlee, Sunburst and the Bitterroot Valley come to Helena.
Meat collectives often become the place where producers and consumers meet for meat. Michaud is interested in building up the network between suppliers and those interested in buying direct. It can also be a place for sales of butchering equipment and supplies, he added.
“The Montana Meat Collective brings local meat to local people,” according to montanameatcollective.com. “It's a network of Montana citizens who are looking for a cost-effective way to buy meat directly from Montana’s small ranchers and farmers.”
Classes thus far have focused on pork but Michaud thinks a lamb class will generate some interest, including by those who want to butcher their own wild game. He is still trying to figure out a beef class, which due to size, would take much longer.
At the end of each class Michaud and the instructor gather with the students, eat some of their product and talk about lessons learned. The next class is slated for January.
The direct to consumer sale does mean fewer regulations including inspections, although Michaud chooses to use state inspected meat. The meat he sources is also antibiotic free.
“If we sold it then we’d be a retailer, but we’re still using state inspected animals for safety even though it’s a little more expensive,” he said.
Michaud’s goal is to one day open his own restaurant and uses his culinary training. Along with those looking to purchase meat direct, he also thinks the class could help out other aspiring chefs to learn more about the food they’re preparing.
“In Portland they have a million people right there,” he said. “We have a million people in the whole state of Montana that I’m hoping to cater to.”