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(Credit: Chris Casella)

The Top Cut

By James Westfall

Published July 19, 2011
(Credit: Chris Casella)

While many food lovers and travelers flock to Columbus’ historic North Market, there are multiple places in the capital city that appeal to those searching for quality meats. From grass-fed bison to free-range, antibiotic-free beef, these four establishments chop up a little bit of everything for the city’s home cooks.

North Market Poultry and Game

North Market Poultry and Game carries a variety of meats from farms across Ohio. As owner Annemarie Wong states, “We have grass-fed, organic bison from [Red Run Farm in] Marshalville, Ohio; rabbit from Flint Ridge Farm; fresh Cornish hens from Morrill County in Ohio; and chicken from Kettering.” Wong likes to showcase small local farms that do not use hormones or antibiotics. For those who prefer to try before you buy, there is an adjoining prepared food stand called Kitchen Little that features products from North Market Poultry and Game. They have a variety of delectable dishes that demonstrate the quality of the meats.

Bluescreek Farm

Just across the aisle from North Market Poultry and Game sits Bluescreek Farm’s stand. Sourcing the meat from their farm in Marysville, Ohio, Cheryl and David Smith sell free-range, antibiotic- and hormone-free beef, pork, lamb, goat and veal. Cheryl claims, “We raise our animals with love and our customers believe it because they can taste the difference.” Recently, Bluescreek has ventured into the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) market, offering several price points to accommodate individual or family tastes. The CSA market runs for four months and each month features a variety of cuts from each animal to help promote a diverse range of cooking possibilities. Bluescreek also offers a seasonal cooking/butchering class which teaches their customers more about the process of farm-to-table. Dishes made with Bluescreek meats are served in several restaurants in Columbus, including Latitude 41 and Alana’s Food and Wine.

Carfagna’s

Those of us who did not grow up with an Italian grandmother are lucky to experience Carfagna’s, an Italian market at 1405 East Dublin-Granville Road. Open seven days a week, Carfagna’s has been serving Columbus consumers since 1937, providing a wide range of fresh meats and a staff of skilled and accommodating butchers. In addition to weekly sales on meat, they have family value meat boxes at various price points that can be frozen for periods of time and will feed a family of four for an average of 10-30 meals. Carfagna’s also proudly sells pork and beef from The Herman Falter Packing Company, a Columbus meat processing plant that has served the city for over 100 years. As if that weren’t enough, they carry gift baskets that include cured meats, gourmet cheeses, wine and fruit, which are available for purchase in the store or on-line – some even contain homemade sauces and salad dressings. Carfagna’s also has an extensive yet inexpensive catering company ideal for any summer gathering.

Thurn’s Specialty Meats

Founded in 1886, Thurn’s Specialty Meats (tucked away at 530 Greenlawn Avenue, off I-71) is a must-see for any meat enthusiast. Open only Thursday through Saturday, Thurn’s staff dedicates the other days of the week to smoking and curing meats in the attached smokehouse. Although a first visit may be daunting because of the amount and variety of meat available, the friendly and knowledgeable staff creates a comfortable environment and can translate the German names for the unfamiliar.

Not to be missed is the cervelot (a type of salami studded with peppercorns) and the schinken (essentially German prosciutto). Those who are more adventurous eaters can check out a variety of beef tongue and the irresistible souse (a delicious blend of shank meat and tongue with a pickled flavor). Thurn’s is also an excellent place to buy fresh brats, sausages and franks for any grilling extravaganza. For those purchasing in bulk, whole and half hogs are available. Thurn’s may be tucked away near an overpass, but it is surely not a secret. They frequently sell out of most of their products by Saturday’s end.

Prime Numbers

The USDA’s process of grading beef depends upon two factors – marbling and maturity.

Marbling refers to the ratio of fat to lean muscle. The more evenly distributed the fat is amongst the muscle, the higher the grade of beef.

Maturity refers to the physiological maturity of the cattle before slaughter. This does not mean the chronological age of the cattle but refers to the way muscle tissue has developed in the animal itself.

The most commonly purchased grade of beef is USDA Choice. The highest grade of beef is USDA Prime, which comprises only two percent of the beef produced in the United States. The lowest grade of beef is USDA Select, which has less fat and is therefore less tender when cooked. To ensure quality product, be sure to look for the USDA shield on the packaging.