LINCOLN, Maine — Vacuum-packed in plastic and colored a very light red, the 3 pounds of marbled meat sitting on the steel cutting table will be a very fine filet mignon, Errol Libby Jr. said — if it’s handled properly.
“It’s from the back of the steer. It’s the muscle that runs along both sides of the spine,” Libby explained. “What makes it really tender is that it’s not the ‘working muscle’ like you find with the shoulder.”
When it’s taken from Libby’s small walk-in refrigerator and freed of its packaging, the cold but not frozen beef will “bloom,” turning a deeper, richer red as it’s carefully cut into steaks and wrapped in paper, Libby said.
That’s when the clock starts to tick, and the difference between the meat Libby will sell at his Lincoln Lakes Olde Tyme Butcher Shoppe and that found in grocery stores will become apparent, he said.
“The ideal time to eat it is in a day or two after it’s opened, when it darkens up a little more,” Libby said.
If the meat were kept frozen instead of refrigerated, it would be somewhat drier, tougher, more faded in color, and would taste a bit more bland, said Libby’s 26-year-old fiancee, Angela Corrado. The freezing process, she said, dries it out somewhat and, when thawed, the meat fails to recapture the moisture that contains much of its flavor.
“When it’s fresh like this,” Corrado said, “you can cut it with a fork.”
It will also cost, Libby said, $11.89 a pound.
Having opened on Friday on Kelley Avenue, Libby’s shop is one of the few in northern Penobscot County that offer fresh meat and deli from Maine distributors and also accept fresh game meats — typically deer, moose, bear and turkey — from hunters for processing, he said.
The shop, which is an addition to his family’s home, represents a gamble and the culmination of a decade of full-time work and apprenticeship for the 34-year-old Lincoln man. He said he hopes that his being a small — 480-square-foot — family business, with contributions from several members and low overheard, will allow him to buy higher-quality meat and charge slightly higher prices for it and still compete as a standalone, specialty operation in an area where food is sold almost entirely by general stores.
His store will offer as many as 60 cuts of steak, ground beef, chicken, lamb, and pork, plus deli meats, several types of sausages, and bacon by the slab, said Libby, who worked in the meat departments of the Hannaford Supermarkets in Bangor, Farmington and Lincoln, at Gutter’s Meat Market in Gorham, Orono Thriftway and Steaks N’Stuff in Lincoln as a deli clerk, apprentice meat cutter, meat cutter and department manager.
“I am not going to have many of the items that they [supermarkets] will carry,” Libby said, “but we’re going to specialize in fresh meat and poultry and maybe seafood. We’ll get whatever people want.”