Meet our Head Butcher Sam Campbell

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How did you get started in butchery and cheese making?

Sam Campbell: I started butchering a bit out of happenstance while living in New York City where I had been working as an actor for 4 years. I was gifted a sausage making class at a butcher shop called ‘Dickson’s Farmstand Meats’ and while there I learned about an internship program they offered. I started working a couple of days a week and very quickly fell in love with the craft of butchery. Dickson’s is exclusively a whole animal butcher shop, meaning that every piece of meat that we worked with, be it chicken, duck, lamb, pork, or beef, came in as a whole animal.  If we were wanting a couple more beef tenderloins in to sell, we had to also work with the other 600ish pounds of beef that came along with them. There was so much excitement on those Tuesdays when our truck would show up with 8,000 pounds of beef, pork and lamb for us to break down and utilize. I am a firm believer that butchery is an art form. It was so refreshing to find a craft into which I could throw everything I had to offer.

When my wife and I moved back to Toronto, I started working at Olliffe Butcher Shop and also began to find other outlets of creativity within the field. I began doing some custom breaking and charcuterie for hunters that I have met. I also started teaching classes with an old friend, Matt Gibson, from the craft beer industry and Craft Beer Spoke was created.  We pair beer tasting with sausage making at different breweries all over Toronto. I also have a passion for cheese making thanks to David Asher of The Black Sheep School of Cheesemaking. Needless to say, I always have some tasty treats in the works at home.

People sometimes find it strange, but I have found that there are many similarities between acting and butchering and I love the creativity it has to offer.

Can you tell us a little about Avling’s in-house butchery program?

S: I am thrilled to be taking on the challenge that Avling is addressing with our in-house butchery program. We will be practicing whole animal procurement and will be tackling all the challenges that this brings. The process of breaking down each animal in-house will allow us to work with smaller, more diverse farms that are producing some outstanding animals.

This presents perks as well as challenges. The quality will be above and beyond what most people are used to seeing, and tasting, but everything must be balanced and attention must be paid to all of the lesser known cuts. This has led to the charcuterie program, which will ensure that as little as possible will go to waste. This is the challenge I most look forward to taking on. After all, without struggle, creativity cannot thrive!

What can you share about the future of Avling’s cheese program?

I have been extremely lucky thus far in my cheesemaking. I had David Asher’s book ‘The Art of Natural Cheesemaking’ on my shelf, or in my hands, for a few months when I happened to meet David walking down my street! Getting to speak with him about the craft, taste some of his cheeses, and get some private classes was an amazing start to my cheesemaking. I began experimenting with different styles and techniques at home while learning as much as I can from the readings and research that I do in my spare time.  

I was also fortunate recently to get to visit Jeff Fenwick for a day of cheesemaking at Back Forty Artisan Cheese. He is making some incredible raw sheep’s milk (and water buffalo!) cheeses and was open to answering any and all questions I had been amassing along my journey. It can be both daunting and invigorating to be entering the world of cheese - there is a literal world of knowledge, history, technique, and styles out there, but that just means there will always be more to learn, which I am looking forward to.

You mentioned that Avling would be sourcing an abundance of products from local farms. Can you share some insight on this exercise?

Having a relationship with the people that are growing and producing the foods I enjoy has been important to me since the moment I first began to learn about our food systems. I have been fortunate enough to make some great connections with some outstanding farmers while I have been a butcher. I have developed a serious eye for quality, so when I spot something outstanding, I have to follow it back to the source!

This also allows us to somewhat customize the product we will then be working with. Having a reciprocal relationship with the farms we are sourcing from allows us to give direct feedback about the animals in order to tweak the process to get the animals that work best for us. We will be sending the spent grain from our brewery back to the farms as feed for some of the animals, as well as getting animals that are raised to a specific age and size that works best for our purposes.

What does Avling mean to you and what do you think it will come to mean for the local community?

Avling has provided me with a wonderful opportunity. I am a very eclectic person, and I have been given the chance to pursue many of the things I am most passionate about within one space. I am looking forward to embracing it as a place to learn, explore, and create. I think that pairs well with what I think it will come to mean to the local community as well.

I hope that everyone who comes through Avling’s doors takes the opportunity to learn more about the food they eat, where it comes from, and what has gone into getting it on the plate in front of them. I hope the local community explores new dishes, styles and tastes that they are not necessarily used to, but trust us enough to know that there won’t be a wrong choice.  Most of all, I hope that they allow us to create a space that is truly unique to the Toronto food scene.