Months ago, I had the pleasure of spending the day butchering a pig with Kate Kavanaugh and her fiance, Josh Curtiss, the two of whom have spent the last few years conceptualizing, cultivating and building Western Daughters Butcher Shoppe, a new-school, artisanal chop shop of saws, hatchets and butcher blocks, meat hooks and hand hooks, cut-and-slash gloves and chainmill aprons, whole beasts and beautiful cuts of meat, all of it sourced from less than 250 miles from their front door. And tomorrow, the couple will open their LoHi butcher shop to the public.
"We're really thrilled to open around the holidays," says Kavanaugh, who, along with Curtiss, trained under rock star butchers Joshua Applestone, Bryan Mayer and Shiloh Partin. In fact, the couple spent an entire year mastering the art of butchery at Fleisher's Meats, Applestone's famed butcher shop in New York. They traveled across the United States, too, exploring butcher shops in Pennsylvania, Texas, Kentucky and Tennessee. "We wanted to do some exploratory research trips to other places that had great butcher shops, but we were also interested in the feeling that you get when you walk through the doors of the shops, too," Kavanaugh adds. "Our goal at Western Daughters is to have a shop that's a warm and welcoming environment, especially for those who might be unfamiliar with full-scale butchery."
To say they've succeeded would be an understatement. The small space, formerly Pig & Block Charcuterie, is lovely: Rusticated wooden racks and shelves display an impressive collection of dry goods, including several products made in Colorado (Elevation Ketchup, bloody Mary mix and jarred pickles from the Real Dill, Horsetooth hot sauce, 5280 salsa and Grumpy's barbecue sauce among them) as well as products, points out Kavanaugh, that are new to Colorado. "When we were driving across country, along the way we picked up some of our favorite products that you probably haven't seen in Colorado," says Kavanaugh, pointing to a shelf that's artistically arranged with Heyden Mills pizza flour, pancake mixes and polenta, sourced from a mill in Arizona. Jars of all-natural, non-GMO bacon mayo, procured from a company in Brooklyn share space with ghost pepper mustard and barrel-aged bourbon maple syrup.
A refrigerator, dedicated to locally-produced milk (including chocolate), farm-fresh, pasture-raised, brown-speckled eggs from Cottonwood Creek Farms, whose tagline is "no pens, happy hens" and Noosa yoghurt doubles as a small grab-and-go breakfast stage, which turns into a full-fledged breakfast of champions when you've picked up a pound of bacon or maple breakfast sausage from the meat display cases, which are visual showstoppers of house-cured deli meats, plump sausages, common cuts of beef (dry-aged ribeyes and strips) and more unusual off-cuts like flap steak (also known as bavette), osso bucco and hanger. Pork cuts, in every guise, are available, too, and the sacrificial whole pigs that supply the pork hang in a secured, temperature-controlled meat locker just behind the shop. And all of the meats are antibiotic- and hormone-free and can be custom cut to order.
Kavanaugh and Curtiss source their pigs exclusively from Cottonwood Creek Farms, on the Eastern Plains, and when it comes to pigs, these are the king of the pasture. Half Berkshire, a quarter Yorkshire and a quarter Duroc, Curtiss describes them as "beautifully marbled, caramelly, buttery, almost nutty and just delicious," and he stresses that he and Kavanaugh have developed a personal bond with every rancher and farmer from whom they procure product. "We think it's really important to establish a relationship with the farmers and ranchers, so we visit each and every farm prior to determining what we want to source for the shop," explains Curtiss. And the pigs, he notes, which spend their days roaming free on land strewn with cottonwood trees, "produce the best tasting pork we've ever had."
Their all-natural beef, which currently comes from Koberstein Farm, an oasis in Holyoke, Colorado, will "cycle through a lot of different farms," says Kavanaugh. "Some of the beef is grain-finished, and some of it is grass-finished, and we'll offer both until we see what our customers are most interesting in getting," she explains. And bison, which roam the grasslands of the high-altitude San Luis Valley, will be offered, too, on a seasonal basis, usually in November and December; their lamb, adds Kavanaugh, is from Fruition Farms, the land that Alex Seidel, chef-owner of Fruition, owns in Larkspur, Colorado.
In addition to all of that, the future of Western Daughters includes the addition of specialty sausages (think bacon cheeseburger, green chorizo with Hatch chiles and beef bourguignon); a sandwich lineup; prepared stocks, soups and stews and prepared foods like whole-smoked meats and Texas chili; butchery, quick meal, kid-focused and sausage-making classes; and education seminars aimed at hunters who want to learn the art of field-dressing.
And all of that forthcoming schooling will take place inside the hand-crafted shop, which features a a reclaimed barnwood counter, complete with a swinging shelf door; butcher block wood; weathered walnut shelving; schoolhouse light fixtures; black-and-white hexagonal tile; and a wood-beamed ceiling that's reminiscent of the Old West, a look, says Kavanaugh, that she and Curtiss were striving for all along. "Josh and I had the same vision -- a vision that when people walked in, they'd feel like they were in a classic butcher shop, and Josh did all of the woodworking himself, building everything in the parking lot behind us," she notes.
And Kavanaugh, who's originally from Denver, emphasizes that the passion that she and Curtiss share for the land stems from a simple philosophy: restoring the ecology of the plains. "It's one thing to talk about sustainability, but it's a whole different thing to witness life on the High Plains firsthand, and to see, right in front of you, what's sustainable for the farmers and ranchers, for us, the land and, most important, the animals," she says.
When Western Daughters opens tomorrow at 11 a.m. (regular hours will be 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday), customers will also be able to order holiday gift baskets, which are actually reclaimed boxes created from beetlekill pine. And bring the kids, too, because while there's no seating in the shop, there is an area devoted strictly to kids, complete with a chalkboard easel and art supplies.
The name of the shop, by the way, is in honor of Kavanaugh's great grandparents, who moved from Ireland to Philadelphia in the late 1900s. Her great grandfather died soon after, but her grandmother, who had five daughters, loaded up all the girls in a covered wagon and headed West, to Colorado.
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Here's a sneak peek at the space and all the glorious foods you'll find while you're there.