When you walk into The Meat Market, an 827-square-foot butcher shop in Carefree, what surprises you isn’t the house-made sausage or the lamb chops or the rib eyes awaiting you in the glass display. It isn’t the soaps and barbecue rubs, or the cool brick, or spotless tile. What really leaves an impression is mounted in a corner above the register: a flat-screen TV.
The TV pulls from a camera trained on the butcher block. You get to see what fresh cuts the three employees who work in the shop – owner Roni Terri and butchers Dom Ruggiero and Nate Hardy – are preparing.
The TV might show a 135-pound pig half. A knife slips between the ribs, reduces the pig into parts. The TV might show a hacksaw that you can hear, noisily rocking through lamb flesh and bone, producing one fresh chop after another. The TV might show steel: butcher’s knives, scimitars, bone knives, and saws.
The Meat Market is a whole-animal butcher shop, one that sources high-quality products. Even with the TV and a few cutting-edge preparations, the shop feels like a relic of a past age.
But not our past. The Meat Market, opened in 2016, kicks it back to the Old World.
Terri checked out butcher shops in Europe when brainstorming for The Meat Market. “I actually went over and spent some time at shops in Italy and France,” Terri says. “I wish we could do stuff like hang pheasants and geese from the ceiling, but we can’t."
She describes some of the shops she encountered as “beautiful.” They tended to be clean. They tended to have stainless steel, to smell nice, and to have impressive meat.
“I wanted to know how their cases looked, how they organized things, the style, trying to understand the flow of things,” Terri says.
You can get a feel for the flow on the TV. The three always work in the shop together. Though Terri helps with some aspects of fabrication, the two butchers take the lead here. The Meat Market does lamb, veal, beef, pork, chicken, and duck.
Much of the meat comes from grass-fed, free-range animals raised by Chiricahua Pasture Raised Meats in Willcox. You can order custom cuts, and you can even do this by texting one of the trio or sending a Facebook message. Or you can cherry-pick from the display case, which features a bunch of the prepared meat products that make The Meat Market a destination.
Those next level meat products are the project of former Chelsea’s Kitchen chef Dom Ruggiero. Earlier this summer, after a stage at Electric City Butcher in Santa Ana, California, Ruggiero traded a massive kitchen in Arcadia for a tiny butcher shop in Carefree. (Terri knows folks at Electric City; she, Ruggiero, and Hardy have each staged there.)
“It’s a 180-degree difference,” Ruggiero says. “Going from a big restaurant to a small, intimate shop. But it’s good for my soul.”
The carnivorous projects that Ruggiero spearheads seem to increase in number by the week.
He recently started hanging charcuterie, something only a handful of people in the Valley are doing. Among the meats dangling in twine are finocchiona, coppa, guanciale, Calabrese salami, pancetta, and coppa, a who’s who of major Italian salumi.
Ruggiero has been making jars of stunning chicken liver mousse. It melts more decadently than ice cream because it is smoother, richer, and fattier. He finishes each jar with a finger of rendered chicken fat. The mousse itself has been deepened with brandy, port, and sherry – and that’s just the booze.
An adept hand with the smoker, Ruggiero cures and smokes bacon for The Meat Market. He hits pork belly with thyme, sage, bay leave, garlic, peppercorn, and brown sugar before smoking.
Other prepared products include sausage, beef jerky, chili, veal-mushroom meatloaf with pork belly, chicken tortilla soup, sloppy joe meat, and Bolognese sauce. There are more still.
The TV might show Ruggiero pouring liquid chicken fat into glasses of mousse. If he is doing that, then the TV will likely show Hardy beside him, sawing and slicing, pulling and trimming.
Born in Arizona, Hardy grew up in Maryland. One of his pastimes was hunting and fabricating deer. He moved back to Arizona at 19. In Arizona, he missed the small butcher shops that he had had in Maryland. Eventually, he became a butcher. After meeting Terri, he became one in her shop.
You can order pretty much whatever cuts you want from The Meat Market. That includes tomahawk cuts with long jutting handles of bone. That includes Mexican cuts like carne asada. That includes specialties like little-known oyster steak, a tiny cut from the cow’s rear that gains flavor as the meat dries.
The TV might show a glimpse of somebody retrieving dry-aged meats from the back. The Meat Market’s dry-aged program features steaks aged for 30 to 45 days.
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What you will not see is an electric saw. Not yet. The 827-square-foot shop is still growing, and still cuts its meat by hand. That may mean freezing beef to get a finer cut for certain preparations, like beef jerky. That may mean applying extra pressure to saw through bone.
This trio is more than happy to take this extra step, and many others. It’ll be interesting to follow along and see what collaborations and next-level products this meatery dreams up for the north Valley’s carnivores.
The Meat Market. 37636 North Tom Darlington Drive, Carefree; 480-575-4358.
Monday to Friday noon to 6 p.m.; Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; closed Sunday and Monday.