When Shelby Jordan was looking to change her career, she came across an idea that piqued her interest.
“I’ve always wanted to learn a trade. I like working with my hands and with food, and I like being creative,” says the long-time Dawson resident.
“At one point, I read a book that had an old butcher in it, and I thought, I could do that.”
Jordan decided to quit her job and enroll in Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, B.C, for a 10-month retail meat processing program.
“It’s longer than most courses because it teaches the intricacies of butchering the whole carcass, not just bits and pieces for grocery store sale,” Jordan says.
“It’s old school that’s kind of gone away – you learn how to cook and use all the parts.”
Jordan was the only female in the course. She says her classmates were cool with that, on the whole, and were even impressed when she had to carry a 183-poundide of pork over her shoulder from hook to table.
“The men offered to carry it for me. I said I didn’t need help, but maybe a spotter in case I fall over,” she says with a smile.
Jordan also learned about charcuterie – a French word for any smoked, dry-cured or cooked meat – and received instructions in how to run a business. Upon returning to Dawson, she was ready to start working on opening up a butchery.
She and her partner sold their off-grid house and moved into town in order to have running water for the business. She spent the next year building the facility she would need in their new back yard.
Jordan found the name BonTon while researching Dawson meat shops during the Gold Rush.
“There used to be a store named BonTon Meat Shop for Ladies,” which intrigued her, she says.
“[The expression] bon ton is associated with something stylish, upper class. That’s the style I was looking for, to present something on a higher level.”
BonTon Butcherie & Charcuterie opened in June of this year. Jordan is quick to note, however, that BonTon is not a store. Rather, it sells direct to the customer, as well as holding occasional “pop up shops”.
“I like engaging with customers about cooking and trying something new, but I’m not into retail,” she says.
She sources and buys only Yukon raised meat, processes it and, when it’s ready, lets people on her mailing list know what she has and when it is available.
She also does custom orders, rents out her kitchen to caterers, and her hanging cooler to hunters.
Traditional methods of curing and preserving meats and wild game have always interested Jordan. In order to learn properly, she went to Italy for a week to take part in an industry course at the Italian Culinary Institute, along with top chefs from around the world, on how to make salami the traditional way.
Hers is now the only facility in the Dawson area producing in-house smoked, cured and dried meat products.
Jordan says there has been a lot of trial and error since she started her business, but she remains passionate about bringing locally-sourced meats to Dawson and offering a variety of traditionally-made products.
“I always thought, ‘How can I get what I want?’, then realized that others think that way too,” she says. “The demand is starting – people are wanting to eat local and better quality foods.”
But passion for the traditional ways requires commitment.
“Making salami takes a lot of work,” she says. “You have to check the aging room three to four times a day for humidity, temperature and air exchange levels,” she explains.
Then she adds, with a grin, “Now, if I want to go on holiday, I need a house sitter, a dog sitter and a salami sitter.”