After graduating high school, when most of his classmates were looking forward to college, Matthew Levere went to work at a slaughterhouse.
A fellow prep cook at the pizzeria where Levere worked also worked at the University of Arizona-run slaughterhouse in Tucson, Arizona.
He’d come to work each day and share stories. Eventually, Levere asked if he could come watch. Perfect timing, he was told. Tomorrow was a “kill day.”
So, at 7 a.m. the next morning, Levere went to the slaughterhouse and for the first time, watched the slaughter of a cow. Afterward, one of the professors asked Levere if he wanted to join the six-month, 600-hour apprenticeship.
“My head was shaking no,” Levere said. “But I said yes.”
Levere—20 years younger than any of his slaughterhouse colleagues—learned every step of the process, from corralling the animals outside, to the slaughter, splitting and butchering of the animals.
He took those talents across the country to Silver Spring, Maryland—just outside Washington, D.C.—to Urban Butcher, where he has worked as head butcher since the restaurant opened in 2013.
“I knew I liked food, but I didn’t want to be a chef,” Levere said. “But I didn’t want to work in a slaughterhouse either.”
Urban Butcher is part-restaurant, led by 2016 Restaurant Association of Maryland chef of the year Raynold Mendizábal, and part-meat market and deli, where Levere’s homemade salami, hams and other charcuterie shine.
Levere also sells his charcuterie at farmers markets around Washington, D.C. “We have a lot of outlets,” he said.
Levere buys whole animals from farmers in Virginia and Maryland, a decision Levere said is worth the extra work. That locally-raised pork is used for his country ham, which ages for 2 ½ years. Levere said his lamb prosciutto, like all his hams, is “absolutely incredible,” but sometimes, the simplest foods are the best. Of the nine types of salami he makes, which range from a Spanish chorizo to a Greek loukanika made from lamb, Levere’s favorites are the Toscano, a pork salami flavored with red wine, black pepper and garlic and the Diablo, which is the same base as the Toscano, but with habanero peppers.
Along with salami and hams, Levere makes lamb and pork bacon, coppa, pastrami, deli meats and dry-ages steaks, including the restaurant’s signature 60-day dry-aged bone-in ribeye.
Right now, Levere is working on his lamb charcuterie with techniques he developed from networks of fellow charcuteriers on social media.
“We’ve done a lot of experiments over the last three years,” he said. “The world is our oyster.”
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