For 18 years, CJ’s Custom Meats in rural Wapato, WA, has provided quality meat packing, butchering and smoking to Valley farmers and local customers. The owner, Michael Rockholt, went straight through 4-H and FFA in high school, butchering school, and working in retail meats to opening his own business. Rockholt's business of butchering is steadily becoming a lost art across the industry. CJ’s Custom Meats butchers cows, pigs, and wild game such as deer and elk. He even has a small retail area — now an unusual practice among butchers.
After raising beef and lamb in his high school National FFA Organization program, Rockholt developed an interest in meat.
"I just enjoyed raising the animals. It did give me the education to know how to raise the animal -- and my future career, as it turns out,” he says.
At age 16, he landed a job cleaning the meat room at Safeway.
"And I noticed that the highest-paid guy was the meat cutter," he adds.
So, after graduating from high school in Northern California, he went to meat cutting school in Toledo, OH, where he learned how to butcher an animal carcass from top to bottom. Laid off by a California grocer, he came to the Yakima Valley to visit family and decided to stay, and eventually opened his own meat cutting shop.
He's among only a handful of butchers left in the Yakima Valley who possess such skills. When he first opened his business, CJ's Custom Meats on Jones Road west of Wapato in 1994, there were 10 custom meat cutting operations in the Yakima Valley. Now there are five.
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