Chris Eley, owner of Goose the Market and Smoking Goose Meatery, chuckles at what he describes as the "butcher/rock star phenomenon" sweeping the nation. "It's not flashy, not glorified. It's physically-demanding work in a cold room."
As if to illustrate his point, he's wearing a heavy knit stocking cap, a hoodie, long pants, and a white button-down butcher's frock on a day that will see 98 degrees. He has just come out of the butchering area at Smoking Goose, where he can be found most days from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. carving various carcasses in a room kept at a nippy 50 degrees.
The Meatery, originally envisioned by Eley as a small-scale production house for Goose the Market, opened last September with 6,000 square feet of refrigerated space.
"Everything just got bigger and bigger," he says of the design and building process. "We realized that we would have outgrown the original plan very quickly - and that if we'd stayed small and only opted for state certification we would be cutting ourselves out of larger regional markets that have a demand for what we're making."
The decision to scale up the Meatery had much to do with getting USDA certification, which allows Smoking Goose to sell their products across state lines to urban regional markets like Chicago and Louisville. "We're the only USDA facility with a dry-cure fermented program in the region," Eley says. He adds that while the current space allows for room to grow, it's still considered a "very small" facility by federal standards.
That niche of the cured-meat world - dry-cure fermented - is the ultimate art of the Meatery. It's also the most time-consuming: While a cooked sausage can be mixed, stuffed into casings, and packaged in 24 to 48 hours, a dry-cured fermented salumi must hang for four to eight weeks before it's ready to eat, making it a rarity among larger production facilities.
Smoking Goose processes eight to nine hogs a week, along with ducks and chickens. They're mostly sourced from Gunthorp Farms in LaGrange, Ind., and always drawn from small regional farms raising hormone-and-antibiotic-free animals in healthy, free-range environments. Bacon is their bread-and-butter, shipping out at a couple thousand pounds a week. But it's time-consuming products like the elk, blueberry and mead salumi (available locally at Goose the Market) that make the Meatery truly unique.
"Right now we're operating at one-third to one-half capacity," says Eley, adding that the area where he'd most like to expand is the high-demand dry-cure market. When asked what keeps him from expanding, he explains it's a lack of labor. The rock-star delusion falls apart after a few weeks in the cold room, and butcher retention has been a challenge.
"I sleep about five to six hours a night, and am butchering every day," he says. "But it's what I love to do."
Smoking Goose products can be found locally at farmer's markets and at Goose the Market, 2503 N. Delaware St. The Meat Locker at the Smoking Goose Meatery is open limited hours, offering a selection of fully-cooked sausages and salumis available for purchase.