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One bright Sunday morning in January, I found myself at Stir Cooking School in the Highland neighborhood, staring down at a very small, very pink chicken that was resting on a cutting board in front of me.
I was there, along with nine other people, to participate in the first class from the Denver Meat Collective. In the front of the room, Marcus McCauley, the farmer who’d pasture-raised all of the birds in front of us at his regenerative Boulder County farm, was describing how the chickens’ diets and uncommon access to the outdoors resulted in more compact birds with deeper-colored and -flavored meat. Meanwhile, Kyle Foster, the chef-owner of Julep, was demonstrating how to break down one of the chickens into pieces using smooth, elegant knife strokes.
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Established by Danielle Davis in 2019, the Denver Meat Collective is guided and incubated by the Good Meat Project, which was originally founded in Portland, Oregon. A meat collective, according to the Good Meat Project website, is meant to be a community resource “that offers hands-on classes to consumers in whole-animal butchery, cookery, and charcuterie…” Davis, who has spent most of her career working in the meat and food sector in marketing, communications, and consulting capacities, saw other collectives popping up everywhere from Texas to Appalachia, and was inspired to bring one to Denver.
While I can’t say that my own chicken butchery will ever look as effortless as Foster’s, I learned a lot in those five meaty hours. After breaking down our chickens, we braised the dark meat cuts into a creamy, white-wine-laced fricassée, then breaded and fried the breasts into golden cutlets for lunch. Next, Foster hauled in a 265-pound pig from Callicrate Cattle Co., butchering it into various cuts as we peppered him and Callicrate rep Matt Koster with questions. Instruction on sausage making and how to sear a pork shoulder followed. At the end of class, each student was sent home with butcher-paper-wrapped packets of pork belly, chops, and sausage, plus the McCauley chicken carcasses for stock making and additional grass-finished ground beef provided by local meat delivery service, Pasture Provisions.
Davis sees the hands-on, real-life context of the Denver Meat Collective as a way to directly connect the “daily process of nourishing ourselves” with high-quality information about why eating such well-raised food is important. “We can keep talking about the benefit of good meat in these niche circles,” she said, “but I want it to go beyond that. Home cooks need to experience the benefits so that they’ll really buy off on it. That’s why we start the conversation from a flavor and culinary foundation.”
Davis has big plans in store for the Denver Meat Collective, from expanding into wild game meats and fish to hosting farm dinners and, at some point, participating in on-farm slaughter. “I want to impress on people the message that if we’re going to kill an animal raised with such care, we owe it the respect of cooking it well, too.”
Her next event, also to be held at Stir Cooking School, will focus on Colorado lamb sourced from Maneotis Ranch. It’s an educational, fun, and delicious experience for everyone from meat geeks to culinary novices who truly want to connect farm or ranch to kitchen.
If you go: Denver Meat Collective’s All About Lamb class takes place at Stir Cooking School (3215 Zuni St.) on April 26, from 10 a.m.–2 p.m.; $115 per person. Students will watch as Foster breaks down a whole lamb; hear from the local farmer who raised the animal; cook multiple dishes to enjoy for lunch; and take home plenty of responsibly-raised meat to stock their freezers. Tickets are available here.