Local News

April 18, 2014

Butchers to bone up on skills

Man hopes to bring meat-cutting competition to Dalton

Leon Wildberger has watched as the meat cutting industry has changed during the last several decades.

He believes it’s important to “pass the trade on to the youngsters.”

“I’d like to show them how to cure ham, bacon and make sausage. It’s a lost art,” said Wildberger, who worked as a meat cutter for several grocery stores during his 51 years in the business. His last job before retiring was at Save-A-Lot.

Now that he’s retired, Wildberger runs an online community, the Meat Cutters Club (meatcuttersclub.org), to help pass the trade down to the next generation. Since 2002, the club has grown from four members to more than 1,000 in several different countries, he said.

Wildberger has plans to expand the club and offer workshops and competitions in the Dalton area.

He hopes to see a large statewide meat-cutting competition, with the finals held in Dalton, later this summer. The winner of the competition will be named Georgia Meat Cutter of the Year. There is also a competition for apprentices.

Competitors must work as a professional meat cutter to enter, and Wildberger believes spectators will enjoy watching the competition.

The state will be divided into regions where competitions will be held at that level beginning June 1. Then region winners will come to Dalton for the state finals tentatively set for Aug. 26. Wildberger hopes to eventually expand the competition to the South, then the entire country, but for now he’s working to get it off the ground statewide.

“My goal is for it to go country wide, but I’m 70 years old now,” Wildberger said. “I don’t know if I’ll see it.”

Competitors will be given a set amount of time in which to prepare several cuts of beef, and they can also “merchandise it,” he said.

“I liked to merchandise meat, take it and make something new out of it,” Wildberger said. “Being a merchandiser, you might take a rib roast and make a crown roast out of it — stuff it and arrange it and put booties on it.”

Having a competition is a way to promote meat cutters, honor them and show the public what it is all about, he said.

The winner will receive a $2,000 cash prize and $850 worth of meat-cutting supplies, he said.

There will be a sausage-making class at The Chop Shop in Bry-Man’s Plaza on Tuesday. Jason Davis of Ellijay, who has more than 18 years in the business, will conduct the workshop.

Wayne Sosebee, who cuts meat for The Chop Shop, is glad to see an organization geared toward meat cutting planning events for the community.

“It gives these young boys an opportunity to show their art,” said Sosebee, who has been in the business for 33 years. “We’ve always had to work every day so we haven’t had time for the fun and games part.”

The Chop Shop is providing the “atmosphere, the product and display” for the sausage-making workshop. The public can come by to sample the products, Sosebee said.

Professionals participating in the workshop will be charged $30 to cover supplies, Wildberger said.

For more information on the sausage-making workshop or to register, visit tinyurl.com/nacp22o.

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