Morning ritual: how Blackbelly Market's Nate Singer starts his day
Nate Singer’s mornings start early — earlier than you might expect for a butcher, but Nate Singer is very little like what you might expect of a butcher. Singer is the kind of butcher who gets up at 4:30 am, then calls his ranchers to talk cattle before the sun comes up. By 9 a.m. when we arrive in his restaurant and butcher shop, Blackbelly Market, Nate is sipping housemade bison broth mixed with HANAH ONE and talking rapidly about everything from whole animal butchery to biodynamic soils.
“Sustainability is key. When you’re a grass-fed beef rancher, you’re a grass rancher,” Singer enthuses, as he holds up a beautiful cut of beef, showing us the fat patterns and slightly yellow coloring of the fat indicative of grass-fed beef. “You’re not raising beef, you’re raising grass to feed animals.”
Blackbelly’s mission extends beyond serving meat to the community. Singer is pushing an entirely different paradigm for sustainable meat production, one that’s focused on independent ranchers, sustainable practices and using every piece of the animal. “We don’t raise tenderloins, we raise cows,” he says. “Whole animal awareness is growing. The more we get comfortable with it at Blackbelly and the more the whole community gets comfortable with farm to table, the better."
“It takes the community to be knowledgeable and supportive of this. We’re lucky here in Boulder in that we have a community that asks questions about their food."
After his early start and calls with ranchers and suppliers, Singer arrives at Blackbelly by 5:30 a.m. for a second coffee and some quiet time to prepare for the day. He switches gears to bone broth mixed with HANAH ONE as the staff arrives and starts work. Singer been selling his staff on the virtues of broth and HANAH, and they’re buying in.
"Half our employees take HANAH ONE. I’ve shown them the increase in focus and productivity. I’ve seen a big difference in my focus especially."
Blackbelly’s morning rush subsides shortly after we arrive — it seems Boulder’s hyper-healthy community has had its morning fill of bone broth and breakfast burritos. Singer, tall and broad shouldered in his apron and constantly chewing a toothpick, walks us through the shop discussing dried meats in various stages of the curing process, introduces us to the team, and waxes poetic on his philosophy. He is a man clearly in his element. "I started curing and doing the European-style curing and cutting, which is a whole different style. There are no band saws or electric saws here; everything is done by hand."
Singer, a Wyoming native, is the third-generation in the business, following in the footsteps of both his father and grandfather. His ethic of sustainability and whole animal butchery comes not from formal training but from his family's hunting background. "Hunting is always whole animal butchering and preserving. We raised some cows to support the farm growing up, but mostly we filled our freezers with what we killed, and that’s what we ate. I grew up cleaning silver skin on deer, and learned to butcher the whole animal."
Now, he’s trying to instill that ethic into a population that’s nearly completely removed from the source of its food.
On any day, all the meat in his cases comes from just three animals: one cow, one pig and one lamb. Every part of the animal is used at Blackbelly — some cuts are sold in the meat case, while others will be salted and dried for over 24 months to make various cured meats. The bones go into broth, and the last leftovers are turned into dog treats.
“It takes all three branches to make the circle,” Singer says. “The rancher, he’s in charge of feeding, land management and soil, making sure he’s not depleting the land. He raises the animals the best way he can and has them slaughtered in the best way. Then I take it on, and develop the animal into a program. It takes the community to be knowledgeable and supportive of this. We’re lucky here in Boulder in that we have a community that asks questions about their food."
By 10 a.m., it’s time for us to go. A whole cow is about to be delivered straight from Jackson-based pro snowboarder Mark Carter’s Carter Country Meats (a fourth generation family business), and Singer has work to do.
For one of Nate Singer’s amazing recipes, get yourself some Carter Country meat and make this HANAH Blackbelly Glaze. You will not be disappointed.
Story: Patrick Crawford; Photos: Ray Ferrone
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