Nose to tail: New Northampton butcher shop fills a niche for meats

Daily Hampshire Gazette, January 27, 2014. By Gena Mangiaratti.

NORTHAMPTON — Susan and Terry Ragasa looked all over the country before deciding that Northampton was the best place to open a butcher shop.

Sutter Meats, 65 King St., gets all of its meat from animals raised at local farms in surrounding communities. They describe themselves as the only butcher shop in the city that adheres to “nose to tail” butchering, a method that strives to use all parts of the animal. Susan Ragasa said Northampton appealed to them because they learned from the contacts they made before arriving, that there was a network of farmers in the surrounding area who did not have an outlet for selling their animals as a whole. She said they also found that there was an educated consumer base who would appreciate their efforts.

“The community was already in same mind-set we’re in,” she said.

Their meat selection currently includes beef, pork, lamb, chicken, and soon, turkey.

“This area is a fantastic place to do what we’re doing,” Terry Ragasa said at the shop Jan. 22, the day after it opened for business. “This is a farm community that happens to have a city in the middle of it.”

The husband and wife — who combined their first names to get the word “Sutter” — moved to Northampton from Williamsburg, Brooklyn last August.

For around a decade, they had both worked in the New York City arts scene before they decided to make a lifestyle change. Terry Ragasa, 37, had done both photography and photo retouching, and Susan Ragasa, 38, had worked in print production.

“I just needed something more meaningful — more community based,” Susan Ragasa said, as she cased hot Italian sausage in the King Street storefront that was formerly a popular haunt for foodies with the former Coffee Gallery, later renamed Cooks Shop Here. On the shelf behind her were dozens of spices, including cinnamon, cayenne and rosemary, from Southern New England Spice Company in Hadley.

Their journey started in 2008, when Terry Ragasa took an apprenticeship with Joshua Applestone, owner of Fleisher’s Meats in Kingston, New York, after which he began working at two local butcheries in the New York City area. Susan Ragasa took the same apprenticeship in 2013.

“I really wanted to work with food, but didn’t want to be stuck in a kitchen in the back,” Terry Ragasa explained. As a butcher, he said, he enjoys making connections with both the consumers and the farmers.

“I get to have a presence in people’s lives,” he said. He added that he enjoys talking with farmers about details such as how far along the animals are and how the grass is growing.

And with those connections he makes with the producers, he finds, comes a feeling of responsibility to waste as little of the animals as possible.

“It would be the biggest mistake we’d make not to treat these animals with the same respect the farmers had,” Terry Ragasa said.

Susan Ragasa said she feels they were fortunate to have met Pete Solis, owner of Mockingbird Farm in Easthampton, who connected them with Community Involved In Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) and several Valley meat farms.

Currently, Sutter Meats obtains its meat from 10 farms in towns including Belchertown, Williamsburg and Cummington, according to the shop’s website.

Solis said he is hopeful about Sutter Meats’ success.

“It will be a really nice addition to Northampton, and the whole area,” he said. “A lot of animal producers have been talking about really wanting a nose to tail butcher shop to open up.”

Susan Ragasa explained some of the ways they use different parts of the animal, such as rendering the fat for cooking oil and roasting the bones for stock. Their shop sells lesser-known cuts of meat such as the ranch steak, meaning meat from the cow’s shoulder, and the bavette steak, which comes from the area of the cow’s abdominal muscles.

The Ragasas said they are glad to help out local farmers, and feel lucky to be surrounded by a clientele that seems to put value on knowing where their food comes from.

“They don’t just buy blindly,” Terry Ragasa said.