Peggy Nauts, Jan Newberry, and Emily Kasier Thelin | March 22, 2012
For today's top small-batch food producers, the A-word is more than a label to slap on a jar of sauerkraut. Here are the ones who are making the products we'll stand in line for tomorrow.
1. JAMS A blogger making tree-to-jar marmalade
Inspired by local legend June Taylor and French preserving genius Christine Ferber, Pim Techamuanvivit, who writes the popular food blog Chez Pim (and who is the partner of star chef David Kinch), makes her own jams and marmalades in a French copper confiture pot. With rare exceptions, she picks all the citrus herself at a farm in Watsonville. (“Those trees are vindictive little buggers. Their thorns! ” she says.) The result is eyepopping fruit flavor. Though her customer base continues to grow, Techamuanvivit hasn’t changed her process, still cutting and cooking the fruit herself in those same sloping confiture pots, designed to promote quick cooking and evaporation. “When I say Chez Pim, I’m not joking—I do everything!” she says.
Available at Bi-Rite Market, 3639 18th St., S.F., 415-241-9760.
2. CHOCOLATES Two tech refugees bringing geek passion to chocolate
Lots of people like chocolate, but not many grow cacao beans in their apartment and roast the pods in the oven to make their own. But then, Cameron Ring and Todd Masonis (who sold their previous startup, Internet address book Plaxo, to Comcast) of Dandelion Chocolate don’t just like chocolate, they live it. Like a Candy Land version of Hewlett and Packard, the two got their start working in a garage in East Palo Alto, where instead of tinkering with computers they set about mastering the elaborate process of turning beans into bars. Their current line includes just three single-origin bars, sourced from Costa Rica, Venezuela, and Madagascar. Only sugar—no lecithin, extra cocoa butter, or vanilla—is added, to ensure a pure chocolate flavor. Later this year, Ring and Masonis will open their new chocolate works in a former auto repair shop on Valencia Street. The factory will be fronted with a small café where chocolate lovers can enjoy hot cocoa, brownies, and chocolate bars at the source.
Available at Fog City News, 455 Market St., S.F., 415-543-7400, and other
3. BUTCHERY Butchers giving meat the boutique treatment
One of the first things customers notice at the new Local Butcher Shop in Berkeley is that the display cases are very small. Meat spoils faster when it’s exposed to oxygen, so co-owners Aaron and Monica Rocchino cut only a small amount at a time. It’s a practice that forces customers to ask for what they want. “We really value having that conversation,” says Monica. “They can tell us, ‘I’d like beef, lean, something I can grill,’ and we can tell them what cuts would work. All of our butchers are also trained as chefs.” And one of those butchers brings 40 years’ worth of experience to the job. The Rocchinos work with a network of about 20 local producers, all of them within 150 miles of the shop. They buy only whole, pasture-raised animals that have never been exposed to antibiotics or hormones. Everything that can’t be sold as a standard cut or ground meat is turned into something else—pâté, stock, or rendered fat. And if you want an unusual item, such as pork belly with the skin on, just ask for it.
A pasta maker extruding authenticity
Renato Sardo knows a bit about food. OK, make that a staggering amount. A native of Italy, Sardo was a longtime director of Slow Food. His wife, Anya Fernald, runs Belcampo, a ranch and abattoir in Mount Shasta. Now Sardo has cofounded his own small business, a pasta company called Baia Pasta, based in Oakland’s Jack London Square. Using organic domestic flours, an Italian extruder with brass plates, and a small-batch dryer, he’s turning out deliciously fuzzy shapes with whimsical names like accordions and nutshells—and superior flavor and texture to match. “The brass scratches the surface of the pasta a little bit more, so it holds the sauce better,” Sardo explains. He plans to play with heirloom grains like spelt and Kamut; a semolato, or semi-whole-grain durum; even a gluten-free rice flour. But he draws the line at quinoa. It only grows in Latin America—not nearly domestic enough.
Available at Bi-Rite Market, 3639 18th St., S.F., 415-241-9760.
A Cabbage lover pushing a culture of kraut
If Kathryn Lukas had her way, Americans would do as the Koreans do and eat fermented cabbage every day. And if more people knew about Lukas’s Farmhouse Culture sauerkrauts, they might start doing just that. Lukas makes her krauts with local green cabbage—it stays crunchier than the white variety—and, in the time-honored way, uses salt rather than vinegar or heat. The fermenting process kills off harmful bacteria but leaves the hardier lactobacilli, which devour the sugars in the vegetable, creating acidity and a sour flavor. Fermented in barrels for four weeks and never pasteurized, the krauts are crisp and boldly tart. Flavors include a classic caraway; others go further afield with the addition of smoked jalapeños or apples and fennel. A hot dog never had it so good.
Available at Rainbow Grocery, 1745 Folsom St., S.F., 415-863-0621, and other locations.
A charcutier cooking from his gut
Scott Brennan first started making charcuterie when he was working in the kitchen of a private country club outside of St. Louis. Members would bring in game that they had shot on hunting trips and request a meal for a small group. One of the sous-chefs, who was also a hunter, taught Brennan how to skin and butcher venison and wild boar. The meals they prepared rarely required the entire beast, so the two cooks would stay after their shift to make jerky, fresh and smoked sausages, and pâté from any unused meat. Now, following in the footsteps of so many successful artisanal food businesses (Blue Bottle Coffee, Blue Chair Fruit Company, and Tartine Bakery, to name just a few), Brennan has set up a stand at the farmers’ market, where he sells freshly cured meats. Everything in the barnyard is fair game—goats, ducks, rabbits, chickens, sheep, and hogs all end up in his crépinettes and galantines. As the name of his business, the Fifth Quarter Charcuterie, suggests, Brennan focuses on offal, so there’s always something made with liver, blood, or tongue.
Available at the Saturday Berkeley Farmers’ Market, Center St.
7. CHEESE A cheesemaker channeling her Basque grandfather
You could say that Marcia Barinaga has sheep’s milk in her veins. Her grandfather was a shepherd in the Basque region of Spain, her father tended a flock after the family came to America, and now Barinaga has picked up the staff, managing 80 fog-loving ewes on her 100-acre ranch in the rolling hills of Marshall, near Tomales Bay. Milking begins in April, after the ewes have given birth. The first cheeses are available in June, and Barinaga continues to make them until October, when the milking season ends. Her raw-milk baserri is a tomme-style cheese with a deep, earthy flavor like fresh hay scattered on a wet hillside. (Baserri means “farmhouse” in Euskara, the Basque language; the cheese also comes in a oneand- a-half-ounce wheel she calls txiki, which means “little.”) In just a few years, the cheese has found many fans. Thomas Keller serves it at the French Laundry, and Michael Tusk put it on the menu at Quince last February when President Obama came to dinner.
Available at the Pasta Shop, 5655 College Ave., Oakland, 510-250-6000, and other locations.
A pickle maker getting the snap down pat
Fat Kirby cucumbers drowning in a garlicky brine, cauliflower stained amber with turmeric, green beans that take on a spicy blast in their chili paste–and–vinegar bath—the pickles that Emmy Moore makes are classics of the genre. Moore started making pickles when she was a college student in rural New York. “There were a lot of farms around, and I was drawn to preserving as a way of supporting their work,” she says. In 2010 she took the leap from hobbyist to artisan and launched Emmy’s. Now she shops the farmers’ markets for produce that she hauls back to a shared commercial kitchen in the Mission. Crunchy and refreshing, spicy and sweet, her pickles were quick to draw notice. This year, thanks in part to the Good Food Award she recently took home, Moore expects to sell about 9,000 jars of pickles, up from 3,000 last year.
Available at Little Vine, 1541 Grant Ave., S.F., 415-738-2221, and other locations.
A master roaster making a bold statement with her beans
Trish Rothgeb started roasting coffee long before many of today’s scenester baristas were even born. When she began in 1990, dark French roasts were the popular style, and coffee’s third wave of subtler roasts (a term that Rothgeb is credited with coining) had not yet begun. “Every day, I begged my boss to let me roast a little lighter, but he always said no. Roasting really dark forced my particular point of view,” she says. Twenty-two years later, Rothgeb ranks among the world’s most respected roasters. (The New York Times recently called her a legend.) For her new Wrecking Ball Coffee, Rothgeb and her partner, Nicholas Cho, roast just one day a week in a borrowed space in San Jose and sell their beans through their website. Wrecking Ball’s carefully executed light roast makes a clean, delicate coffee that stands out for its clarity. “The trend now borrows from the farm-to-table movement in that most roasters try to do as little as possible in order to let the bean express its essential flavors. I’m old-school enough to know what it takes to transform a coffee, and secure enough in my own skin to put my brand on a roast,” says Rothgeb. “Coffee should shine.”
A baker taking bread back to the town square
Plenty of food artisans start out small but get drawn away from their ideals as the demands of real life take their toll. Mike Zakowski’s career took the opposite course. A professional baker for over 15 years, he had moved beyond daily production to management when he decided to chuck it all and get back to doing what he had wanted to do in the first place. He calls his business Mike the bejkr, and he makes bread just one or two days a week in a converted shipping container in his backyard in Sonoma. After years of relying on spiral mixers, he’s gone back to kneading and shaping his loaves by hand. And every Friday morning, Zakowski hitches his handmade clay oven to the back of his van and makes the short trip from his home to the nearby farmers’ markets, where he bakes pretzels and schiacciata on the spot and sells his bread. Zakowski’s farmers’ market customers are not the only ones to have recognized his talents. The 42-year-old baker was one of three members of Team USA who took the silver in the Coupe de Monde de la Boulangerie 2012 in Paris last month.