Local chefs spend a day learning about the food production system at Shipley Farms Beef

by | Jul 5, 2021

The blog post below was written by Food Service Marketing Specialist, Chad Blackwelder, following the annual Chef & Butcher Social with Shipley Farms Beef.

In April 2020, when restaurants were dealing with COVID shutdowns, the annual Chef & Butcher Social went virtual, partnering with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and the N.C. Restaurant and Lodging Association. The virtual version featured education and advice on how to cope with and adjust to the pandemic restrictions and what NCRLA and NCDA&CS was doing to help, as well as cooking demos from Steve Goff (2019 N.C. Chef of the Year) and NCDA&CS’s Chef Chad Blackwelder. The Shipley’s also introduced their plans to launch Watauga Butchery in response to the supply chain challenges stemming form COVID. The USDA inspected plant was opened in July 2020 and has participated in the IMPEC grant program to help expand independent meat processing capacity for local farmers.

Last month, Shipley Farms once again partnered with the NCDA&CS, NC Choices and the NC Cattleman’s Association and resumed their annual live event providing chefs and other end users with perspectives and insights into the local food production system. This in-person event gave restaurant leaders a chance to take a day to get outside, socialize, commiserate, regroup and prepare to move back to normalcy in the near post-COVID world. Some 55 people were on hand to enjoy an afternoon on the 100-year-old Shipley Farm. Having been around that long, Shipley Farms is recognized as a Century Farm in North Carolina.

As guests arrived in the afternoon, Shipley Farms new chef, Danny Bock greeted folks with burger sliders and braised beef sloppy joes. Chef Danny Bock, formerly of Appalachian State University dining and long-time fixture of the Boone dining scene, officially came on board with Shipley Farms just days before the event. Danny has been working with the Shipley’s for the last five years. Chef Bock’s role will include new product development and research, sales support as well as being a resource for chefs and restaurants partnering with Shipley Farms to improve their beef programs. For the Social, Chef Danny also did a butcher demo on beef ribs and a top sirloin showing how to utilize under-used cuts, how to find inspiration and add to the bottom line.

The crowd then heard from Gray Shipley who talked about Shipley Farms newest venture, Watauga Butchery. The now Watauga Butchery is a newly revamped and redesigned USDA meat processing facility just a mile away from the farm. Originally the small plant was used as a game processing house that served the community. The new iteration will do the same as it will process for the Shipley’s as well as other pasture-raised operations in the Vilas area. Watauga Butchery will also produce value added items like jerky, meat sticks and fermented charcuterie items. More of these smaller, community-based operations will be popping up now and in the near future to help avoid the bottlenecking that we saw on a national level during the pandemic.

Gray’s father and the family patriarch, Bob Shipley, spoke about the farming operation. During that time the guest learned about the history and future plans as well as farming practices and animal husbandry. The Shipley family has a long tradition of raising English breeds of cattle such as Hereford, Angus, South Devon, and Shorthorn – breeds that trace back to the British Isles, brought to America from England and Scotland in the 1800’s. W.E. Shipley pioneered Hereford farming in North Carolina, bringing the first registered stock to the state over 100 years ago. These English breeds aren’t the largest cattle. However, they are known for providing the best combination of meat quality (tenderness and marbling), efficiency (conversion of grass forage into muscle), ease of care (thriving in cooler climates and calving without assistance) and disposition.

Not only are the breeds that Shipley uses important, but also the breeding. Through selective breeding, they raise animals sired by bulls and from cows with specific genetic traits for the best quality beef possible, focusing on traits such as body shape and frame, muscle mass, weight gain and fat content. The animals’ dispositions are equally as important, more skittish or irritable animals have more tendency for injury, and even agitation and stress of an animal can negatively affect meat quality. Crossbreeding is practiced – combining traits of various English breeds can enhance animal quality – what’s referred to as “hybrid vigor.” Beginning with a commitment to quality. Shipley Farms Signature Beef is free of any added hormones or steroids and is never treated with antibiotics except in limited circumstances when medically necessary to treat a temporary illness. The cattle graze on lush, clover-rich mountain pastures, which produces beef with higher levels of nutrients than conventional feedlot beef production. They are supplemented with a vegetable based feed and dry aged for the best flavor, texture, tenderness and marbling.

Dr. Matthew Poore, NCSU Department Extension Leader and Ruminant Nutrition Specialist, spoke about how his involvement in helping the Shipley’s with their model of grass feeding and regenerative farming. The beef industry, along with many other industries within the food sector are under extreme pressure to take bolder steps towards a truly sustainable food system. Regenerative agriculture is an approach to growing food that aims to actively rebuild degraded soil, recharge watersheds, and dramatically increase biodiversity. This type of farming is actually good for the land, soil, cattle and consumers. The theme of the day was laser focused on educating people with the facts.

Chef Steven Goff of Jargon Restaurant in Asheville prepared an amazing feast that was enjoyed under a large tent in the pasture. A small herd grazed in an adjoining pasture. Chef Goff has been using Shipley beef for several years and helps to represent the farm at trade shows and other statewide food events. For the Social and using all Shipley products, Steven made grilled beef heart skewers, smoked brisket and beef liver pudding, or mash depending on where you are from. The menu also included braised shanks, liver pate with crispy shallot, aka liver and onion, and collard green chimichurri marinated skirt steaks cooked over charcoal on Shipley’s custom-made grills. The meat extravaganza was accompanied by an assortment of summer salads, spreads and homemade pickles. Two western N.C. beverage companies, Jones Von Drehle Winery and Lost Province Brewing, were on-site providing liquid refreshments on that hot June afternoon in a beautiful valley in Vilas.

Chef Goff and Chad Blackwelder with NCDA