What happens when foodies and ranchers have a ball with fresh meat?
Words and Photos by Jessica Devenyns
Calling all red-blooded, meat-loving, farm-to-table fans and sustainable harvest-supporting foodies. Bring empty plates and get ready for the best barbecue you’ve ever sunk your teeth into.
For the second year in a row, Rockin’ Star Ranch in Brenham, Texas was covered by a white pavilion sheltering Texas chefs and their cooking from whipping winds. Despite the chilly breeze’s determination to cool the smoldering fires beneath racks of meat, enterprising chefs managed to hand out samples to persuade hungry attendees that their slices of brisket and slow-smoked pork bellies were worthy of their votes. Unfortunately, there could only be one winner.
With a focus on sustainable ranching practices, the annual Butcher’s Ball brings together Texas’ top chefs, butchers, and ranchers for a day of demonstrations, panel discussions, tastings, and competition. Although there is a people’s choice Golden Clever Award that is presented at the end of the day, the premise of the meat-centric celebration is to shine a light on Central Texas’ culinary creativity through bringing awareness to sustainable farming and ranching practices. In support of this educative mission, a host of high-caliber chefs, including Ben Runkle of Salt & Time and Lance Gillum of Uchi, set up shop and prepared to fill forks with meat from one of six local Texas ranches: 44 Farms, Black Hill Ranch, Louisiana Foods, Liberty Provisions, Three Sisters Farms.
Outside of the sample tent, however, another unusual event was taking place. Called Le Boucherie or La Matanza, this event hearkened back to the traditional French-Cajun and Spanish ritual of butchering and preparing a hog to feed a large crowd in a single day. Today, this idea may seem out of place with our modern disconnect from the animal that provides our daily protein. However, in an effort to rekindle our attachment to our food sources, attendees were encouraged to participate along with the chefs in the breakdown and preparation of a hog for their afternoon’s gastronomic pleasure.
Although encouraged, those who preferred a more hands-off enjoyment of their day were able to leisurely wander through the ankle-length grass and enjoy smoky, carnivorous samples as they listened to live music drifting through the air. Hailing from both Houston and Austin, acts like Dale Watson and His Lone Stars, White Ghost Shivers, Will Van Horn Trio, and Vinyl Ranch kept an upbeat atmosphere as event attendees enthusiastically experienced the culinary result of hyper-fresh and hyper-local ingredients. No one appeared to be phased that 5 hours before arriving their lunch had been rooting through the same mud they were currently trekking across.
A beautiful tribute to the innate collaboration of nature and man, the Butcher’s Ball is a unique opportunity to reconnect with the land that provides us with the energy to enjoy another Texas sunrise. This year, ticket purchases raised funds for those farms and ranches that were affected by Hurricane Harvey.