This season we’re going back to our roots in California’s wine country, where the first Williams-Sonoma store was opened. Along the way we’ll be spotlighting the local chefs, artisans and producers who have made the region a top culinary destination and continue to inspire us, in the kitchen and around the table.
When you walk into the Fatted Calf charcuterie and butcher shop in the Oxbow Market, the first thing you see–and smell–is The Cuban, Taylor Boetticher’s delicious take on the stuffed, rolled and roasted pork classic, porchetta. Surrounding The Cuban are deli cases stocked with housemade charcuterie, bacon, sausages and pates, as well as impeccable, ethically-sourced cuts of meat.
In addition to their retail store locations in Napa and San Francisco, the Fatted Calf also offers classes on whole animal butchery and salumi crafting, and will release their first book, In the Charcuterie, this fall. We talked to Taylor about how he got his culinary beginnings, how he and his wife and partner, Toponia Miller, started the Fatted Calf, and tips for making and serving charcuterie at home.
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.
What is in your refrigerator right now?
I have some leftover grilled chicken that I made last night from a Charles Phan recipe from his new book. There’s some leftover rice, a slew of condiments, a lot of different pickles, hoisin sauce, and Scrimshaw Pilsner.
What about your freezer? Any giant cuts of meat?
That’s why I have two meat shops! If I need something, I’ll just bring it home. But I’ve got a bunch of homemade broth. Whenever we roast a chicken, we use the bones to make broth for soup. Sometimes in the morning I’ll heat up a little broth and toss an egg in it.
That sounds delightful.
That’s the thing about charcuterie. You make the most of out every little scrap. It’s about being an economical cook and paying attention and focusing on the important things. These meals came from living animals, so you want to do it right and use every single scrap.
What are some of your favorite charcuterie pairings?
Pickles, olives and mustards–the classics. Pickled wild mushrooms. Things that will be bright, a counterpoint to the rich, fatty meat. I love Castelvetrano olives. They’re gorgeous and brightly flavored.
What about drinks?
“When in doubt, drink Champagne.” I got that from my Dad.