Valley Bounty: Sutter Meats

Aug 31 2021

In a time where distance and isolation have become a new norm, a local butcher shop in Northampton, Sutter Meats, has been providing a sense of reconnection – to our food and to our farmers at least. Owned and operated by the husband-and-wife duo, Terry and Susan Ragasa, Sutter Meats has always strived to “bring together the eater and their food source”.

Before setting roots in western Massachusetts, they both worked in New York where they fell in love with the craft of butchery. Terry Ragasa apprenticed under Master Butcher Joshua Applestone for several years before establishing his own whole-animal butcher shop in New York City, where Susan later worked.

When the two looked to start their own business, they realized the Valley could provide them with everything they needed to open a farm to table butcher shop – great soil, great access to markets, and a strong community of farmers striving to care for the land and their animals in sustainable ways.

As Terry Ragasa expresses, “it’s the perfect storm of people and ideas here, and we’re willing to put in the effort and the time to help this community grow more sustainable livestock.”

So, in 2014, the Ragasa’s opened Sutter Meats on King Street in Northampton. From the start, they’ve aimed to meet a high standard of traceability and quality across their supply chain, from the beginning of an animal’s life all the way to how it’s butchered and used.

They source from about a dozen local farms across the Valley, including the Austin Brother’s Valley Farm in Belchertown. Ragasa explains Austin Brother’s careful breeding strategies yield lean meat with beautiful marbling throughout. An eye for quality is something Ragasa has been able to hone with his years of experience in the industry.

By sourcing locally, Sutter Meats has been able to energize the growth of other local food businesses. For example, one of their first employees has now become one of their primary producers for pork. Tyler Sage, owner and operator of Sage Farm in Bernardston, began his operation while also working for Sutter Meats. Now because of their steady business, he has expanded his farm to supply anywhere from 120-180 hogs a year.

Ragasa shares how creating these relationships have been rewarding in terms of “having ground floor access to a farm” but most importantly, being able to support beginning farmers in the Valley.

Collaboration has been key in building synergistic relationships  with other local businesses as well. Ragasa mentions their chef collaboration sausages where they “work with a local restaurant or caterer to develop a new sausage recipe that will sell in the store and will help market that business as well.” Recent collaborations include the new restaurant, Patria in Northampton and Little Trúc, a Southeast Asian style food truck based in Easthampton.

Between farm and fork, the only other stop in Sutter Meat’s supply chain is the Adams Slaughterhouse in Athol, Massachusetts. This processing center was designed by the world-renowned leader in humane livestock handling, Dr. Temple Grandin.

Their highly admired, humane system is designed to reduce animal stress as much as possible in the lead up to processing. It also helps provide a better tasting end-product due to the reduction of stress hormones released in the animals prior to processing. “They have a great respect for the animals and the families that raise livestock,” Ragasa says.

Buying-in whole animals that are butchered in-house allows Sutter Meats to make use of every single part of the animal. Ragasa explains they use a European technique called seam butchery, a process that cuts along the natural “seams” of an animals’ structure, isolating individual muscle groups and producing more flavorful and palatable cuts of meat.

This technique naturally results in very little waste and gives them the opportunity to be creative with how they use the animal from “nose-to-tail”. From rendered fats and bone broths for cooking, to mixes of ground beef and beef organs for enhanced nutritional benefits, to house-made dog food, Sutter Meats is using every part of the animal that they can.

Reflecting on his time running Sutter Meats and as an apprentice before, Ragasa shares that in his eyes, what he’s really selling is trust. “I can sell anything to anyone one time,” he says, “but for them to come back and ask for it again and to know that I’m looking out for them and their families, that’s a whole different idea. And that’s what we’re in the market for.”

That trust allows him to introduce customers to cuts of meat that are otherwise foreign to them. By showcasing unfamiliar cuts next to familiar ones that are prepared and cooked similarly, Ragasa can guide customers in exploring new food with comfort.

In continuing their mission of reconnecting people to their food, Sutter Meats has also been working to increase access to what they sell. They recently became eligible to accept SNAP (the federal Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program), giving lower income residents a new way to use their benefits on quality local food, with Ragasa says “feels really great.”

The reconnection to food is at the heart of the local food movement, and businesses like Sutter Meats allow everyone to enjoy all that the Valley has to offer.

Monica Guzik is a Local Hero Intern at CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture). To find more locally raised meat and butcher shops near you, check out CISA’s online guide to local farms and food at buylocalfood.org/find-it-locally.

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