The sight of a whole slaughtered pig is not necessarily a comfortable one. When the first half of a carcass is hanging from the ceiling and the second half of it is laid across a giant wooden cutting surface in a post-mortem holding pattern as the butcher prepares to give it the attention it deserves, a bystander such as myself is likely to do one of two things – gawk or fidget. Or both. Still, in a recent visit to Wheat and Sons, Orange County’s newest butcher shop, I was surprised to find that discomfort wasn’t even my strongest response. It was humility.
I am an omnivore. I regularly eat the standard pork, beef, poultry and – very, very rarely – creatures from the sea. But (in all likelihood) like you, my meat comes to me in unidentifiable, abstract portions, and on my fork it is often obscured by other ingredients. More often than not I don’t even touch the meat with my own hands before it’s in my belly; and I certainly don’t often see my food cut out of another once-living, footed being. But, no matter how many knives or flames it meets before hitting my plate, that is where meat comes from. In this sterile, convenient food culture in which we’ve all grown up, in one sense paying a visit to a butcher shop is one of the most honest things an everyday meat-eater can do.
Neither Ashly Amador or Nate Overstreet grew up on a cattle ranch. As kids they didn’t milk cows at dawn or slaughter sheep at dusk. Ashly grew up in Orange eating grandma’s homemade Mexican food every Friday night, and Nate grew up in Lake Tahoe, but they both ended up working as chefs in fresh-food-crazed San Francisco. In some of the most cutting edge kitchens in the country they both came to appreciate the superior quality of naturally raised meats.
And they came to appreciate each other quite a bit, too. About a year and a half ago they moved back to Ashly’s home town, with their baby boy Chambers Wheat, whose middle name is shared by his father and his grandfather.
Ashly and Nate quickly got into the farmer’s market circuit where they sold various artisan food items along with Ashly’s homemade pies. The opportunity at the then-developing artisan food hall at the Anaheim Packing District arose unexpectedly, and before long Ashly and Nate were elbows-deep in launching their first family business – and instead of a restaurant they chose to open a butchery specializing in providing fresh, locally raised, natural and organic meat to Orange County families.
Wheat and Sons opened its doors along with the Packing District at the end of May. They receive whole animals and butcher them in house – pig, goat, lamb, cow, duck, chicken and game – offered alongside fresh eggs and charcuterie; they also special order meats at customer request.
Wheat and Sons values sustainability and good nutrition. They buy and butcher pastured animals raised on farms within 150 miles of Orange County (locally produced foods require less fuel to get to the butcher shop, increasing the sustainability of both the business and natural resources it consumes), and they buy animals raised on their natural feed in their natural environment – such as cows that eat grass, not grain, and chickens that are allowed to roam around rather than being immobilized in a tiny cage all their lives. Nate and Ashly have personally visited the farms from which they source their meat to evaluate the cleanliness and healthfulness of the animals’ environments and conditions.
Alongside the raw cuts, Wheat and Sons offers a small menu of prepared food, because both Nate and Ashly still love to cook. A small but mighty menu of sandwiches varies according to what meats are in stock; half and whole organic chickens – fully cooked on the rotisserie and delicious – are always available for pick-up at a great price; and if you’re lucky you’ll get a slice of Ashly’s pie before the guy in front of you gets wise and cleans her out. M