Good cooking starts with good ingredients. And savvy home cooks and chefs will scour the marketplace for all the right stuff. Shopping our local farmers' markets and supporting independent makers – or making requests at your local deli or supermarket, be it for salted anchovies, Serrano ham or a specialty BC-made cheese – can be a first step in quality ingredient sourcing.
The hunt for quality can also mean being a more conscious consumer. Concerns for the environment, a rally cry against factory farming and industrialization or non-GMO products, can all factor in when making decisions on where and how to spend our hard earned dollars.
On a recent road trip I discovered another source for quality that factors in conscious consumption. The newly opened Black Sage Butcher in Oliver, owned by chef Matt Leyes, offers fresh and closely sourced meats, and is the first independently owned butcher shop in the Oliver-Osoyoos region in close to 20 years.
As a chef, Leyes is well versed in the hunt for, and use, of quality foodstuffs. He honed his skills at Vancouver’s top-notch Provence Marinaside restaurant working through the ranks to position of sous chef. He credits his tenure there for learning and perfecting classic French techniques, making everything from scratch, using produce and seafood in season and starting his skills in butchery.
Moving on, he further honed his skills at Harkness and Co. Butchers before working full-time as meat cutter and manager at the noted Windsor Meats.
But it was the hectic pace of Vancouver that spurred Leyes and his wife, Ravina Johal, to make a change. Two years ago, she sold an apartment investment and the couple moved lock, stock and barrel to Oliver, buying a home, with hopes of starting a business. They toyed with the idea of a bed and breakfast, or maybe an intimate French bistro, but when they mentioned the thought of opening a butcher shop, people’s eyes widened with delight.
Before opening, the couple did some more market research and found that money in the South Okanagan didn’t stay in the south.
“Sourcing is extremely important to the vision of our shop,” say Leyes. “Beyond shortening the supply chain from producers to consumers, our goal is to contribute to the local economy.”
The shop, neighbouring popular Oliver Eats and Vagabond food truck, is of modest size, white and pristine, with two refrigerated cases, displaying the weekly meaty treats.
Find beef, lamb, chicken, duck, and pork, free of hormones or antibiotics, sourced as close to home as possible from medium to small farms in Chilliwack, Abbotsford and the Fraser Valley. Chops, steaks, ribs and roasts all vie for attention, displayed with breathing room, not suffocating under Styrofoam and plastic wrap.
Leyes applies his creativity and chef-y skills to a wide array of housemade sausages at Black Sage, without the use of binders or additives. There were 10 varieties the day I visited with such flavours as spinach and feta, chilie and garlic, hot Italian, apricot with mustard, and fine herbs. And others that partnered with neighbouring wineries and breweries such as the pear and blue cheese with vinAmite’s pinot gris, or the cheddar and leek with Firehall Brewery’s stoked ember ale.
I took home the merguez, a North African lamb sausage redolent of warm spices, and the bratwurst with hints of caraway. Both were delicious.
Seasonality and local produce will also come into play with fresh herbs, and fruit – fresh and dehydrated – to use as Leyes sees fit. Other cuts of meat are offered marinated for ease of cooking, perfect for last-minute guests, or when time is of the essence. Beef and pork skewers and chicken, in a variety of house-made marinades – from Jamaican jerk spice to chipotle-lime or piri-piri, are just a few examples.
I honed in on the “lamb popsicles,” individual B.C.-sourced lamb rib chops marinated in rosemary, mint and olive oil. Just a quick sear on the grill for a few minutes is all that’s needed. And they made for a quick and flavourful appetizer.
There are a few heat-and-serve products as Leyes builds his repertoire including duck confit, that classic French dish (a real showstopper served over stewed lentils), and down the road, sous vide lamb shanks. Whole chickens are brought in air-chilled, which Leyes feels maximizes their flavour – and certainly aids in getting a crispy skin when roasting.
As a chef, he can also advise on cooking techniques. And as a butcher, will custom-cut steaks or chops to size specifications or create showy roasts such as the crown, or pork roast with crackling. Other value-driven cuts from the chuck, those lesser-known but equally delicious cuts of beef, such as the flatiron, will also be available to address every pocket book, another important factor for Leyes’s customers.
Certified organic meats or specialty meats such as rabbit can be ordered in, and free-range holiday turkeys and hams will be suitably sourced to reflect Leyes’s vision.
So far, Leyes is running his shop single-handedly, and word-of-mouth has him working overtime to keep pace with its popularity. Customers are excited that they don’t have to make the trek outside of their community for quality meats, and can support an independent business that prides itself on excellent customer service and a well-sourced quality product.
Partnership, community, great ingredients and supporting a local economy – a recipe for success.
The Black Sage Butcher can be found at 4-6060 Station St., Oliver. Open Tuesday – Saturday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., 778-439-2350, blacksagebutcher.ca
With fork and pen in hand, and a passion for culinary adventure, Shelora Sheldan, writer, cook and curious traveller, goes in search of the delectable. This column appears every other Tuesday in The Herald