Steakcraft: Heritage Meats in the Essex Street Market
Silva the butcher emerges from his meat locker with a gnarled, intensely aged hunk of ribeye. It smells like blue cheese and looks like a fossil. It has been hanging for six weeks in near freezing conditions and a hard crust has formed on the outside. It is from an Akaushi breed of cow, originally from Japan but raised in Texas. While the Japanese will likely balk at the term, it is often referred to as American style "Kobe" or "Wagyu" beef. It is easy to see why when Silva cuts a steak from the sub primal with his scimitar—the meat is intensely marbled, clearly beyond Prime grade.
Steaks of this quality can command high prices in restaurants, and they are almost never dry aged. Silva will sell you his dry aged ribeye for $25 a pound at Heritage Meat Shop in the Essex Street Market, making it one of the best bargains in high end beef out there. And he is not just aging Akaushi; he also has Piedmontese, the famed breed known for leanness but also tenderness. In comparison to his Akaushi, the meat from Silva's Piedmontese beef contains only the faintest flecks of fat in the muscle. Yet because of the aging and the genetics of the breed it is almost as tender when cooked.
Dionisio Silva was born in Brazil but emigrated to the U.S. in the 1980's. He has been a butcher since 1986, working in Brooklyn before landing at the now defunct Jeffries Meats in the Essex Street Market. When Patrick Martins of Heritage Foods USA decided to set up a retail shop in the space that had formally housed Jeffries, Silva was his first choice to be his butcher.
The collaboration has led to some delicious results. Martins used his connections to small farmers and specialty meat processors to source rare and boutique beef breeds, and Silva took his knowledge of dry aging and went to town. He experimented with different breeds and aging times. He went as long as sixteen weeks on some cuts, but admitted the results where a bit too "funky." He has settled on slightly shorter aging periods.
While the shop is breed agnostic—in addition to Piedmontese and Akayushi they occasionally stock other breeds like Black Angus—all the meat is hormone- and antibiotic-free, pasture raised and grain finished.