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Family Behind Petaluma Duck Farm Pivots, Turns New Vision Into Cookbook

The Reichardt family's Liberty Ducks are served at high-end restaurants. Now, they're also selling directly to home cooks and have launched a new cookbook, "The Whole Duck."

The ducks go marching one by one, hurrah, hurrah…OK, make that thousands by thousands, strutting in their barns on the scenic Liberty Duck ranch in west Petaluma. They’re beautiful creatures—fluffy golden peeps as babies, then sleek, buttery yellow juveniles, and finally, snowy white, elegant adults.

They nest on comfy straw litter in an open environment, free to live their lives without interference, except at feeding time, when they receive nutritious meals of corn and other whole grains.

And after they’re humanely harvested, their rich, deep pink Liberty Duck meat is listed by name at dozens of high-end restaurants, including John Ash & Co. in Santa Rosa, Barndiva in Healdsburg, Della Fattoria in Petaluma, Terrapin Creek in Bodega Bay, and The French Laundry in Napa.

When Jim Reichardt founded the family-owned company in 1992, it was all about serving restaurant clients. Chefs were asking Reichardt, a fourth-generation duck farmer who had just split away from his family’s Reichardt Duck Farm, for a larger, more flavorful bird. He introduced Liberty Ducks, a breed developed in Denmark and suited to a slower, less stressful style of rearing.

This slower pace of growth results in a meatier bird with exceptional flavor and a distinct layer of fat under the skin—just enough to keep the meat succulent but still lean.

Diners loved the duck, but when the pandemic hit two years ago, many restaurants closed or turned to more casual options. So the Reichardt family—Jim, daughter Jennifer Reichardt, and son Eric Reichardt—launched a new retail website and started selling their duck meat directly to home cooks. As the business pivoted, the team all pitched in to make deliveries. “We saw parts of the Bay Area we didn’t know existed,” Jennifer Reichardt jokes. “So many houses, with stairs climbing to the tops of mountains.”

Siblings Eric and Jennifer Reichardt prepare Duck Sugo Cavatelli at their father’s home in Petaluma on Tuesday, September 20, 2022. (Christopher Chung/The Press Democrat)

The Reichardts found sustainably minded foodies are increasingly eager to cook with locally raised duck as an ingredient for home meals. That demand in home kitchens quickly led to the launch of a new cookbook, “The Whole Duck,” which came out last month.

Written by Jennifer Reichardt, the book includes original family recipes plus contributions from more than 50 chefs and butchers showcasing marvelous ways to prepare Liberty’s smoked duck breast, duck legs, ground duck meat, and specialty duck chorizo.

The book encourages even beginner cooks to master the secret to crispy bronzed skin, make impossibly rich bone broth, and render duck fat for frying exquisite latkes. And then, there’s this: Cabernet Sauvignon chocolate cake laced with silky duck fat and slathered in duck fat chocolate frosting, from Kendall-Jackson pastry chef Alexa Sayad.

Some of the recipes feature fancy restaurant dishes, but others are simply personal favorites. Restaurateur Ken Frank of Napa’s Michelin-starred La Toque perhaps wouldn’t serve duck chili at his restaurant—but he’ll share his recipe with readers, noting it’s perfect for a big party.

“I think most people only think of duck a l’orange, and we do have a recipe for that, but it’s a modern take, not so sickly-sweet sugary,” Jennifer says. “And we have duck nuggets, and sliders, and Sichuan pepper duck tongue: fun, versatile stuff that’s more than just duck confit legs, but not complicated.” In the book, Jennifer also leans into her other career as owner/ winemaker at Sonoma County’s Raft Wines to recommend drink pairings.

Duck has long been seen as intimidating chef food, Jim says—something you’d order in a French restaurant but not necessarily cook at home. “The older generations would try to cook it like chicken at home, and it didn’t work,” he says. “They’d overcook it, fill the house with smoke, and end up with this burned mess.”

But anyone can succeed with duck, he insists. Son Eric, while away at college, received care packages of duck meat from the family back home and made all kinds of dishes for his buddies, some avid cooks and outdoorsmen. “Most of my friends had only eaten (wild) mallards they’d shot,” Eric recalls. “They were like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is such a different, richer flavor, more like steak.’ And I didn’t do anything special to it… just salt-and-pepper roasted the legs or made tacos on the stove.”

The Reichardts credit longtime restaurant clients that have supported the family-owned business for the last three decades. “We’ve never asked any restaurant to put our name on their menu,” says Jennifer. “It’s an honor that they decide to do it and believe in our product so much that they’re willing to tell everyone, ‘This is what we’re serving to you.’”

Duck Sugo Cavatelli prepared by siblings Jennifer and Eric Reichardt, from chef Tony Ferrari’s recipe, in Petaluma on Tuesday, September 20, 2022. (Christopher Chung/The Press Democrat)

Chef Tony Ferrari’s Duck Sugo Pasta with Herbs and Orange Zest

From “The Whole Duck” by Jennifer Reichardt

Jennifer Reichardt of Petaluma’s Liberty Duck family business says this dish yields twice the amount of sugo (Italian for “sauce”) that you’ll need to serve four people. Freeze half of the sauce for another meal—or double the amount of pasta to feed a holiday crowd. “I am the first to say that there’s nothing better than a bursting-at-the-seams table, as it’s always full of love,” she notes.

Ingredients

2 pounds ground duck meat

1 large yellow onion, finely chopped

2 medium carrots, peeled and finely chopped

2 celery stalks, finely chopped

4 garlic cloves, minced

3 tbsp. red wine vinegar

1 can (28 oz) diced tomatoes with juices

1 can (28 oz) tomato sauce

1 to 2 tbsp. finely grated orange zest

2 bay leaves

1 tsp. dried thyme

1 tsp. dried oregano

1 tsp. dried basil

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 pound cavatelli, rigatoni, or other short, ridged pasta Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

To make the sugo, place a large cast-iron or other large, heavy frying pan over medium heat. Crumble the ground duck into the pan and cook, stirring occasionally and breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon, until the meat is browned, about 15 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the meat to a bowl.

In the same pan over medium heat, add the onion, carrots, and celery and cook, stirring, until the onion is translucent, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender and golden, about 3 minutes.

Return the meat to the pan, add the vinegar, and deglaze the pan, using the wooden spoon or a spatula to dislodge the crispy browned bits from the pan bottom. Add the diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, orange zest (to taste), bay leaves, thyme, oregano, basil, and 1 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Stir to mix well and bring to a gentle boil, stirring occasionally.

Turn down the heat to low and simmer uncovered, stirring every now and again, until the meat is very tender and the sauce has thickened and reduced, about 30 minutes. (You can instead cover the pan and simmer the sauce over low heat for up to 2 hours.)

Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper if needed. You will have about 8 cups sugo. Transfer half to an airtight container, let cool, then cover and refrigerate for up to 4 days or freeze for up to 2 months. Leave the remaining sugo in the pan and cover to keep warm.

Cook the pasta in salted water according to the package directions, then drain, reserving a little of the cooking water.

Just before the pasta is ready, reheat the sauce over medium heat. Add the drained pasta to the sauce and toss to coat evenly, loosening the sauce as needed with the reserved pasta water. Transfer to a warmed platter or individual bowls, sprinkle with plenty of Parmesan, and serve.

Celebrating with the Reichardts

To purchase the family’s new cookbook, “The Whole Duck,” ($35) or to buy Liberty Duck for the holidays, visit libertyducks. com. Check the website, too, for a calendar of upcoming chef dinners featuring recipes from the new book.

At the website, you can order ground duck meat for the warming duck sugo recipe on the following page. Liberty Duck products are also carried at many local grocery stores, including Oliver’s Markets and Sonoma Market.

Ironically, you may not necessarily wish to take holiday menu cues from the Reichardt family themselves. After filling special seasonal orders, there usually isn’t any of the prized poultry left over for the family’s own holiday meals. “We do a lot of Dungeness crab, we’re involved with the (annual Sonoma County) 4-H Heritage Turkey Project, and we’re suckers for big, juicy steaks,” says Jim.

And yes, he once tried making a turducken, but says he never will again. “Why would you want a chicken stuffed inside of a duck inside of a turkey, and the skin never gets crispy?”

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