BEN THE BUTCHER
Ben Forbes Meat Company:
For a city known for its rich culinary culture, Tucson is short on access to locally raised meat. Whole-animal butcher Ben Forbes is working to change that.
“It all started with a pig,” divulges Ben Forbes when asked about his new venture. With Forbes Meat Company, Forbes is bridging the gap between local ranchers and customers and making regionally sourced meat, obscure cuts and all, more accessible to the public.
It’s likely you have seen his name around Tucson recently. Forbes’ sausages are now on the menus of Charro Steak, Ermano’s, Mama Louisa’s, and The Parish. Until recently, you may have met him at the meat counter at Johnny Gibson’s Market, where he offered his delicious chorizo verde made with roasted tomatillos, a bevy of green chilies, and Tucson grown pork from E & R Pork. His small-batch pates, terrines, and salamis show up on Revel’s charcuterie plates from time to time.
Over drinks at Revel, downtown Tucson’s vibrant new wine bar, Forbes told the story of how he ended up specializing in locally sourced whole animal butchery. He began working at a local grocery in southern California at age 14 and was promoted to the meat counter at age 15. Now he has over 25 years of experience, including owning a butcher shop in Portland, Maine.
When Forbes moved to Tucson four years ago, he took a step back and thought about what matters most to him. He honed in on his life’s work of butchery and the possibilities of it, and felt compelled to write about the resurgence of this almost-lost craft.
His research led him to talk to butcher shops owners in the western United States and ranchers in southern Arizona. Local ranchers revealed that they often have difficulties selling their meat. “They’re on the ranch raising their meat and taking them to harvest, then they’re at the farmers’ markets selling their meat. They’re trying to do it all,” Forbes said. “That’s where my vision for Forbes Meat Company comes in. The ranchers can stay on their ranch and I can sell their meat to the public.”
As he had this epiphany, a friend asked for help processing a whole pig. Forbes purchased one from Tucson ranchers Erika Pacheco and Rod Miller of E & R pork, had it processed at the University of Arizona Meat Sciences Lab, and then cut it up at the shop he subleases.
After that first pig, he reached out to see if any local chefs were interested in collaborating on whole-animal butchery. This seemingly mundane activity is something chefs don’t usually have access to, and the response was staggering. Charro Steak executive chef Gary Hickey had him bring half a cow to educate the staff. Restaurateur Janos Wilder and executive chef Devon Sanner of Carriage House came next, requesting a pig and a half, half an elk, some buffalo.
From there, business grew naturally through references and social media. He demonstrates butchery at high schools, processes orders from hunters and backyard pig and lamb farmers, and delivers fresh, local meat straight to customers’ homes.
Forbes is building relationships and working closely with select local ranchers. He has processed several cattle over the last six months for Sidney Spencer of Lazy J2 Ranch. Lighting up, he claimed that she has one of the best farms in Arizona. She allows her Angus-Hereford cross to roam the grasslands of Patagonia for at least four years before harvest, allows this slow-growing breed to develop marbling unusual in grass-fed cattle. He has also started working with Dennis Moroney of Sky Island Brand / 47 Ranch in McNeal, who raises lamb and Criollo cattle well suited to the arid climate.
In addition to providing the community with quality, local meat, Forbes is determined to teach people how to cook less familiar cuts. “The number one goal with the public is to educate them on what to do in the kitchen,” he said. “Anyone will buy a New York strip or a tenderloin, but they are not going to buy cuts of meat they don’t know how to cook like the sirloin picanha or chuck Sierra, which some think is tough but I find amazing. I can help make great dishes out of obscure and inexpensive cuts. Everyone asks what my favorite cut is, and I say it depends on how you cook it.”
Forbes moves cautiously to retain quality, integrity, and personal relationships every step of the way. “First and foremost, this is a sustainable whole animal butchery that allows rancher to be supported by the local community,” he said. Demand has kept pace with his current capacity, so his products are not yet regularly at retail locations, although he plans to work farmer’s markets and possibly open up a storefront in the near future. If you are interested in trying his exceptional yet humble cuts, you can contact him through Facebook to arrange a home delivery, which will likely include some great advice on how to prepare your order.