The Fatted Calf charcuterie and butcher shop–with locations in Napa and San Francisco–is famous for it’s housemade charcuterie and impeccable, ethically-sourced cuts of meat. Husband-and-wife team Taylor Boetticher and Toponia Miller opened the shop in 2008, and have just released their first book, In the Charcuterie. We talked to Taylor and Toponia about their culinary beginnings and their tips for making and serving charcuterie at home.
Q&A with Taylor Boetticher
How did you become interested in charcuterie?
I started working at Cafe Rouge in Berkeley in the summer of 1999. I wanted to work someplace small that was focusing on really good ingredients and changing their menu up frequently. I thought that I was going to be applying for a line cook or a sous chef position, but she actually needed someone to work in the charcuterie that’s attached to the restaurant. That was where I started to see that charcuterie was a really important part of the culinary world, and that not that many people were doing it. After being there for about four and a half years, my wife Toponia and I started to talk about doing a business of our own.
And you trained in Italy?
I met (famed butcher) Dario Cecchini about a week after my wife Toponia and I got married in 2001, at the Chez Panisse 30th anniversary party. We made arrangements to visit his store, Antica Macelleria Cecchini in Pansano, in Chianti and ended up working there for about few months. He’s larger than life, a very talented, very sweet man.
Tell us about the beginnings of the Fatted Calf.
When we came back, we hooked up with a buddy of mine who had a retail kitchen in the Dogpatch (district of San Francisco). We were sharing it with two caterers, a baker and a private meal delivery service. This was in 2003; we were doing a little bit of catering, and recipe development, and then we started doing the Berkeley Farmer’s Market, and then later, the San Francisco Ferry Building Farmer’s Market. I would drive from my house in Berkeley over to the old Niman Ranch plant in Oakland and pick up what we needed for the day’s production, then I would spend the rest of the day making terrines, bacon and everything else.
At a certain point, we were doing well enough to leave the kitchen, and we started talking about what was next: opening a store. Right around that time, the Oxbow Market got in touch with us, and we became part of that public market. It was one of those things–I hired on a production manager and partner, and he agreed to help us open the store and get it off the ground, and when we finally did open–6 months late and over budget, like every restaurant project–it was the same week that the economy just took a nosedive! It was terrifying, but we just dug in and did everything we could to make it happen.
Why do you think making your own charcuterie is gaining in popularity?
I think there’s a big disconnect between a lot of people’s jobs and what they really are interested in. I think a lot of people have a deep-seated desire to make something that they can see the results of. Especially something that isn’t necessarily business-related—something that is strictly designed to make other people happy. A lot of the recipes are projects that you can do with other people, so it fosters a sense of community. Everyone likes to be involved, and people like to make things with their hands.
It’s also about the way it tastes in the end, too, right?
Absolutely! The kind of thing that you’re going to end up with—if you’re starting with really good raw ingredients, and you’re peeling your own garlic, and if not growing at least using fresh herbs—the difference is huge, you can taste it immediately.
What would you recommend as a “starter project” for someone that has limited experience with meat, pork or poultry?
I would start with roasts, to get an idea how garlic, citrus, salt and heat and how they affect different proteins.
Sourcing is really important to the Fatted Calf–where do you get your meat?
Everywhere that we get our meat, everyone else in this entire country can get their meat (in the lower 48, anyway) can get via mail order. We work a lot with Heritage Foods USA, which is based out of Brooklyn but most of the farms they work with—at least the pork farms—are in Missouri, Kansas and Idaho. They work with small farms that have been raising these heirloom breeds—bred for fat and flavor. I’ve gone to about a dozen of these farms at this point and they’re great—it’s a really good symbiotic relationship. The processor that they use in Missouri is run by a wonderful family, really good people, and it’s all certified humane by a third party. From start to finish, everything is handled really well and that’s a big part of it. The whole chain with Heritage Foods really works.
Do you buy beef from them too?
Beef we buy from 5 Dot ranch which is out in the Sierra Foothills.
Do you have any wisdom from your years of making charcuterie that you can pass on to home cooks?
Most of it is really in the planning. If you’re going to have a bunch of people come over on a Friday, and you want to do something kind of big and spectacular, like a skin-on porchetta-style pork shoulder, the first thing you want to do is make sure that you can find (the cut) and make sure you order it and pick it up a few days ahead of time, because if nothing else, you at least want to get some sea salt on it a couple days in advance. The bigger the cut is, the more time it needs, and the more it’s going to benefit from having that seasoning on it. Think of it in terms of a project that’s going to be a few days long instead of something you can pick up that day and toss in the oven. All the flavor, even garlic and rosemary, when it sits on the protein for a couple of days, it infuses the rest of that meat with a lot of flavor. That doesn’t mean it’s a week-long project, but it’s something to think about a little bit ahead of time. And then it’s a lot less stressful. By the time you cook it and people come over, they’re going to be freaking out because it’s so good. They’ll ask what’s your secret, and you’ll just say, I made a plan.
Also, work with what you got. I’ve worked in really tight spaces, but you can finagle it if you make a plan and don’t take on a project that is going to require a lot space. If you only have 6 square feet of counter space, you probably don’t want to make a fresh pasta and a porchetta and a duck liver mousse for your dinner party! You can definitely get creative—one of the things we always tell new cooks, especially in our SF store, where the kitchen is the size of a ship galley—is that if you can’t go out, you can go up.
Q&A with Toponia Miller
Tell us about your culinary background. How did you get your start?
I started cooking at a small family run restaurant in Hoboken, NJ when I was in college. Preferring the constant thrum of the kitchen to the monotony of poli-sci lectures, I decided to enroll at the C.I.A. in Hyde Park, NY.
Have you always been interested in charcuterie and butchery? If not, what drew you to it?
I was not always interested in butchery and charcuterie. I was actually a vegetarian for about ten years, up until the time I enrolled in the C.I.A., where I was first introduced to the craft through a seven day charcuterie course. I was fascinated to learn that you could make your own ham and sausage. And while I didn’t immediately run out and join a bacon of the month club, the seed was planted. Later, Taylor wound up working at a charcuterie and then we traveled to Italy where we both worked for a butcher in Chianti. Working and living in Italy pretty much sealed the deal.
Who are some of your culinary influences?
I am a voracious reader of cookbooks and have certainly been influenced by Georgeanne Brennan, Paula Wolfert, Anne Bianchi, Naomi Duguid and Jeffrey Alford, and countless others.
How did the Fatted Calf get its start?
We started the business in a collective commercial kitchen in San Francisco’s Dog Patch neighborhood in 2003 where we produced fresh sausage, terrines and salami to sell at the Berkeley and Ferry Plaza Farmers markets.
What is like working with family? What are the benefits, and the challenges?
Taylor is the best partner a girl could ask for and while we don’t always see eye to eye on everything at work, much can be resolved over a glass of wine at the dinner table.
What are some of your favorite Fatted Calf recipes? What do you find yourself never getting tired of?
We have so many recipes, it would be hard to choose a favorite but I never tire of our duck liver mousse.
Describe a typical day at the Fatted Calf.
There never seem to be any typical days at The Fatted Calf and that might be what I enjoy most about it. My favorite days are just before the holidays when we the store is bursting at the seams with special roasts, terrines, sausage, gift baskets and customers and we are madly trying to keep up with the pace. I like to man the phones which never seems to stop ringing. Many clients call needing holiday cooking advice and I am happy to be able to walk them through the process.
What is your cooking philosophy? Where do you find inspiration?
Cooking is a lifelong process of learning. I am always inspired by travel and have been lucky to find time, even with the business, to visit Vietnam, Italy, France, Mexico, Spain and other places with rich culinary traditions. Living in Northern California, where some of the best produce in the world is grown, also provides endless inspiration. We work with about fifty small, local farmers to keep the two stores supplied with everything from duck and beef to figs and wheat berries.
After a long day of work, what do you and Taylor cook at home?
We keep a kitchen garden and whatever needs to be harvested often becomes dinner. We also keep chickens that produce an abundance of eggs so omelets are often on our dinner menu.
What’s for dinner tonight?
Today we have a lot of tomatoes to harvest from our garden, so tonight we might have bucatini all’amatriciana or maybe just a good old B.L.T.