There is a story behind every hamburger, every steak and every piece of chicken or sausage you eat. More often than not, however, it’s a story we don’t want to know, best sanitized into neat, impersonal shrink-wrapped packages that sit obediently in our refrigerators.
It’s time to know the stories of our meat in all its raw, bloody glory.
Traveling cross-country to interview 50 of her cleaver-toting idols — from Michelin-starred chefs and high-profile meaterati to small family ranchers — Sonoma County’s own Marissa Guggiana is the voice behind Primal Cuts, Cooking with America’s Best Butchers (Welcome Books, $37.50).
As a third-generation butcher, owner of Sonoma Direct (a butcher-shop and wholesale meat processor in Petaluma), Slow Foods advocate and leader of the national butchery renaissance, Guggiana speaks not as observer, but as both peer and admiring fan of these worship-worthy boucher.
Many of the Bay Area’s meat superstars may be familiar: Taylor Boetticher of Fatted Calf; David Budworth (aka Dave the Butcher, a native of Santa Rosa); Christian Caiazzo of Osteria Stellina; Chris Cosentino of Incanto and Boccolone; Ryan Farr of 4505 Meats; Tia Harrison of Avendano’s; Morgan Maki (Bi-Rite); Jim Reichardt of Liberty Ducks; Ari Rosen of Healdsburg’s Scopa and Gerrit Van Den Noord of Sonoma Direct. Not surprisingly, the Bay Area has been a hot-spot for this re-emerging art, with the perfect storm of young chef talent, local ranchers and an ever-growing demand for humanely-raised, sustainable meat.
“There are four things an animal must have: A good life, a good death, a good butcher and a good cook — someone who can dignify the animal and all those whose labors led it to the table,” says Dario Cecchini, considered the godfather of the current butchery renaissance, who wrote the forward to the book. Andrew Zimmern (Bizarre Foods) writes in the introduction, “The book you hold in your hands is one of the keys to de-codign, understanding and preserving culture on our planet as we know it.”
But rather than preachy gravitas, Marissa’s ode to pork, lamb, beef, goat, duck and chicken is a can’t-look-away book filled with well-worn recipes, illustrations and unfliching images of raw meat and white-coated butchers. A primal look at the food that fuels us, and a story of where that food comes from in all its carnivorous glory.
As someone who spends much of her time at the altar of protein, it seemed fitting to ask Marissa about some of her favorite local meat hang-outs…
“I have to say that meat has a way of finding me. Charcuterie plates appear without an order and anything that represents the most meaty expression of meat. So, when I do seek meat out, it has to scratch a deep itch for me,” said Guggiana. Here are some of her favorites:
– Fatted Calf Charcuterie (Napa/Oxbow): Everything in their counter is made with such care, and bundled in white paper with red string. I’m a sucker for those details. And there’s the jerky at the register, which is definitely my idea of an impulse buy. 644 C First St., Napa.
– Bovolo has John Stewart’s Black Pig Bacon, which is totally right on. The bacon trend is officially over, but bacon is still great. I think the extra cost for the good stuff is worth it. I try to thin of bacon more as a seasoning than an entree. (106 Matheson St., Healdsburg, 431-2962).
– Scopa in Healdsburg pops into my mind first when I want to really have a meaty main course. I love Ari’s sensibility with meat. He appreciates slow cooking, which is very much up my culinary alley. Porchetta! 109 Plaza St #A, Healdsburg, 433-5282.
–Gleason Ranch chicken is a local treasure. You can buy them from Oliver’s, the Santa Rosa farm market or from Sonoma Direct, my business, which is wholesale but also doesn’t mind calls from curious carnivores. They have juicy fattiness that reminds you of fields and Sunday supper and sustenance and is a completely different creature than anything that comes in styrofoam from the poultry prisons. gleasonranch.com.
– Peter Lowell’s has great respect for meat. They didn’t serve it at all in the beginning, but everything they add to the menu is done with great care and respect. Fabulous lamb burgers. 7385 Healdsburg Ave. Ste. 101, Sebastopol, 829-1077.
– Fremont Diner is a great anachronistic little nook. I always stop when I am driving to or from Napa, even if it is only for a bottle of water, I love the swinging-screen-door feel of the place. They source fine local meat and make pulled pork sandwiches, bbq, burgers and the like. 2660 Fremont Dr., Sonoma, 938-7370.
– Osteria Stellina is one of my most cherished destination spots. I love Pt. Reyes on a Saturday afternoon. After eating many, many oysters at Drakes Bay or Hog Island, Stellina is the main event. Christian Caiazzo makes stew an elegant, special dish. Personally, I will take a perfect stew over steak any day, so my favorites are skewed in that direction. 11285 Highway 1
Point Reyes Station, (415) 663-9988.
– What more perfect iteration of stewed or braised meats is there in our county than the taco? I think El Molino Central (11 Central Ave (along Hwy 12), Boyes Hot Springs) the new spot in Agua Caliente is yummy. I love El Favorito for their green sauce and pastor (6466 Redwood Dr, Rohnert Park, 588-8013.
– Rosso Pizzeria and Wine Bar is a restaurant I can eat at almost any day. The menu changes little but I have a very long attention span for delicious. The meat really shines in their daily special, often a roasted or braised dish that is supple and welcoming. (53 Montgomery Dr., Santa Rosa, 544-3221).
– Sol in San Rafael is somewhere I will take any reason to stop and sit a while. Great Puerto Rican meat dishes of roasted chicken or thin thin thin pork chops. Plus its like youre on a tropical vacation that lasts as long as it takes you to eat a bistec encebollado. (732 4th St, San Rafael, (415) 451-4765).
Love the meaty stuff? Check out this article about SoCo’s last mobile animal slaughterer