Not shopping here is a great missed steak
Maine Meat is a community-focused whole animal butchery perched between some of the hottest spots in the Kittery Foreside neighborhood. Resting between Anju and Lil’s, it’s a stone’s throw from The Black Birch and Wallingford Dram.* On the day I visited with the owners, Jarrod Spangler and his fiancée, Shannon Hill, people were spilling out of Buoy, an art gallery owned by one of the bartenders at The Black Birch, celebrating someone’s 70th birthday and casting a contagious festive vibe.
Hill and Spangler run the butchery, with Hill greeting everyone who walks through the door and Spangler offering up creative recipe ideas so that each cut of meat shines.
Spangler, a Culinary Institute of America grad, worked in kitchens from Boston to San Francisco prior to traveling to Italy via WOOFING (World Wide Organization of Organic Farmers), where he met Lucio, who would become his business partner in their restaurant, La Pecora Nera, in the northern Italian Alps. It was also here that he met his mentor, Giuseppe Dho, who worked with whole animals and broke them down to create his own salami.
Upon returning to the states, Spangler established the butcher program at the Rosemont Market & Bakery in Portland while putting the pieces into place to open his own establishment alongside Hill, who has always had a passion for working with and for sustainable small businesses. An integral part of both the couple’s business and the community is local farms. Hill and Spangler consider themselves fortunate to live in an area where this dying art is still practiced.
One of their goals with Maine Meat is to encourage the connection between locally produced food and the customer’s table. To support this aim, they source their meat from farmers located within 100 miles of Kittery who let their animals roam free, practice sustainable farming, and never use growth hormones or antibiotics. They then bring in whole animals directly from the farmer and break them down.
Spangler still works with many of the farmers he worked with seven years ago in Portland at Rosemont Market; other local farmers who heard about Maine Meat contact him directly.
Steve Burger, owner of Winter Hill Farm, has worked with Maine Meat since its inception.
“Raising good pigs is a labor of love, and it takes a partnership to take those pigs and process them into something really great for the table,” says Burger. “One of my favorite food memories is the first time I tasted a slice of prosciutto that Jarrod had crafted from one of our pigs. To create something that good relies on a partnership between farmer and butcher—and that's what we've grown together over the years.”
Opening customers’ minds to a different cut of meat or a new recipe that might end up even better than what they originally planned is another favorite for these butchers. Hill and Spangler take the time to speak with each of their visitors, find out what they’re thinking about making, and how they’re going to prepare it. Due to the whole-animal butchery method, there are times when they will run out of certain cuts of meat, but they guarantee there is often a great alternative. It also means that they have the out-of-the-ordinary pieces of meat that you just can’t find at a grocery store.
Such unique offerings don’t go without a lot of time and hard work. The couple tends to work 80-plus hour weeks. But, you won’t hear them complaining. This is mainly due to their desire to do more.
“Having a skilled butcher, like Jarrod, who has the ability to maximize carcass yield and add value in a way that we can't do ourselves is key to our business. By being able to pay for and utilize the entire animal, the whole-animal butcher can pass that extra value on to the farmer,” says Burger.
This partnership that Burger describes is characteristic of a story Spangler shared during our visit. When he was running the restaurant in the northern Italian Alps, he had taken a drive to the closest larger town to get provisions at the farmers’ market for his restaurant when several avalanches occurred between the village and the town. A call soon came for all men over the age of 35 to return to the small village (via helicopter) to shovel rooftops and care for the animals. All thoughts of provisions fled Spangler’s mind as he jumped into that helicopter to go help his neighbors. It is this sense of community that continues to be a driving inspiration for both Hill and Spangler; one that you rally around and that rallies around you.
*Each of the restaurants named all use some form of Maine Meat’s products on their menu.
Olivia MacDonald received a degree in English from the University of Maine and has enjoyed a career writing and editing.