If you’ve ever found yourself waiting for the 16 Express on the corner of Fell and Gough, then it’s easy to bet you’ve swiveled around on that red bench to peer through the glass wall of the charcuterie and butcher shop behind, where ruby-colored sausages, pâtés, smoked ham, bacon and meatloaf show off their curves inside a refrigerated display. Unthinkingly, you’ll have walked in.
The Hayes Valley location of the Fatted Calf Charcuterie — the store also has a Napa outpost and a weekly presence at the Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market — sells a plethora of coveted artisanal delights as well, like hard cheese, house-pickled beets, dried beans, and impeccable pastas. Among the sandwiches, the coffee-bourbon barbeque pulled pork sandwich contains a moist piquancy, while the toasty Croque Monseiur, dripping of Mornay sauce and overlaid with squiggles of cured ham, is worth missing the next bus for. (Grab an extra napkin — these beasts invariably fall apart in your hands and lap.)
You can’t take the entire shop with you, but luckily owners Taylor Boetticher and Toponia Miller just published their first cookbook, In the Charcuterie (Ten Speed Press, 2013), which reads like a whole world of meat — one I’ve become enamored with, after making the Flaky Leaf Lard Biscuits. I caught up with Boetticher before the couple left on a promotional trip, asking him about their journey in charcuterie.
SF Bay Guardian What draws you to charcuterie in particular?
Taylor Boetticher I started making charcuterie when I began working at Cafe Rouge in Berkeley in 1999, and it drew me in almost instantly. I think a large part of what I liked about it was that I was doing this while working behind the meat counter, so I had a really good connection with everyone who was buying the food we were making. It's different in that sense than working in a restaurant kitchen, you never really interact much with the people you're cooking for even if you're in an open kitchen.
When you're getting feedback about a terrine or a new bacon cure two or three days after you introduce it, it enables you to really get a good sense of what's working and what isn't. What continues to draw me to charcuterie is that, at this point, I'm lucky enough to not only work with my wife but with a wildly talented group of individuals whose sole interest is in making the best food we can make... That and the growing interest on the part of the general public make what we do really rewarding. Not much feels better than when a customer comes back in and tells you that you had a part in one of the best dinner parties they've ever thrown.
SFBG In the Charcuterie is comprehensive, enlightening, and I’ll admit, a little daunting. Who did you write this book for?
TB Thanks! We wrote this book for anyone who's a little curious about making the most out of the meat they buy and cook, from enthusiastic novices to seasoned professionals. Our goals with this book are to inspire confidence in people when they set out to make something and give them a comprehensive set of basics which will make every bite count.
SFBG Where in your book do you recommend a new-to-meat home cook should begin?
TB I'd start with the 5 Spice Baby Back Ribs or the Gingery Braised Duck Legs. Both use relatively common cuts (chicken legs are just as awesome if you don't have access to duck legs) but with exceptionally flavorful treatments that aren't very complicated. They're both good examples of how to take a very straightforward cut and really make it sing.
SFBG The book mentions a trip to Spain, Portugal, France, and Italy. How does travel inspire your work?
TB A huge part of travel for us has always been about seeing what and how other people eat, and the role that food plays in different cultures. It's one of the few things that everyone does and shares. Travel for us is both relaxing and invigorating, just like it is for most people. Wherever we go, we try and keep open minds and eat what everyone else is eating. It's good to just go with the flow. A lot of time we'll try different versions of things we've been making already, which is always cool. It doesn't necessarily mean you have to go back and change it immediately when that happens.
I think one of the most exciting things in food right now is the idea that it's good to know how something is made in its place of origin but not have to be a slave to authenticity. Like with our pulled pork sandwich — I've had a lot of them, all over the country. Some are better than others, but I have zero interest in arguing with anyone about the "right" way to do it. Is it tasty? Do you and your guests like it? Those are more important than any pedigrees, in my opinion.
SFBG What is your favorite aspect or variety of charcuterie to make?
TB Tough choice. Right now it's our brined and smoked meats — we've been playing around with a couple new holiday hams that I'm really enjoying. I'll just say this — when your big experiment of the week is getting a bourbon/honey/gelée glazed smoked ham nailed down 100 percent, it's a pretty good job overall.
SFBG What is your personal favorite recipe in the book — or what do you crave for your next meal?
TB Errr, it's probably the meat loaf. I really love that damn recipe.
SFBG Do you have a personal philosophy on eating animals?
TB My personal philosophy on eating animals is pretty simple: make it count. There's no such thing as cheap meat, and we have a responsibility to make the most out of anything, especially something with a heartbeat, that's grown for food. I'd love to completely get away from factory farms in this country and have meat animals be more a part of where they started — on farms as part of a program of crop rotation and land management.
Lots has been written about the politics and money involved that make it hard for farmers to do just that, but anything that grows with fresh air, sunshine, room to move around, and good food and water is going to be healthier. And tastier. This is indisputable.
SFBG What is your number one, most essential advice to home cooks on charcuterie?
TB Start small.
SFBG What’s next for the two of you?
TB We're doing some travel to promote the book on the East Coast and through Texas, then holiday madness will be upon us. In January, we're hoping to take a vacation. It's been a pretty busy year.
FATTED CALF (Hayes Valley location)
Open daily, 10am-8pm