Anya Fernald worked with dairy farms and artisanal producers in Europe before launching Slow Food Nation and building Belcampo Meat Co.’s vertically integrated meat empire from the ground up. Located at the foot of Mt. Shasta in Northern California, Belcampo is 20,000 acres of farmland and a slaughterhouse. The company is known for its high standards of traceability from field to fork. The vertical integration enables Belcampo to maintain control over every aspect of its supply chain. Chickens, pigs, sheep and cows roam freely from one pasture to the next, grazing on a customized nutrient-rich mix of grasses, grains and legumes. When it’s time for them to meet their makers, the animals are harvested humanely, according to practices recommended by Temple Grandin, and all meat is packaged and labeled before being distributed to seven butcher shops and restaurants in the San Francisco and Los Angeles areas. Fernald has also just published a new cookbook, “Home Cooked,” in which she shares recipes and the story of how Belcampo was born.
KCRW “Good Food” host Evan Kleiman: Take me back to starting the company. How did it start and how did you know you’d be able to carry it through?
Anya Fernald, co-founder and CEO of Belcampo Meat Co.: I had become a passionate home charcuterie maker, I had been messing around with meat. It had been obvious you could buy great produce in California and that had been really figured out, but meat was a hard thing. I didn’t feel like I could buy quality meat at Whole Foods and the best way for me to get the quality I wanted was to buy direct from farmers, which was logistically very complicated. There were some producers at the farmers’ market but it was like buying a frozen, bloody bag … I was mystified and I also sensed that there was a lot of money in meat, people were willing to spend for quality. It was a really intriguing nut for me to crack … I came up with the concept for the business in 2011 … and we spent an entire year fleshing out scenarios, figuring out the nuts and bolts of the slaughterhouse financials, the retail restaurant financials. And we’ve actually stayed within 18 to 20 percent of that initial business plan back from 2011. When that was signed off on within 6 months, I bought the land for the slaughterhouse and we began to execute.
EK: You’ve said that the company champions the re-professionalization of culinary and agricultural jobs. Could you expand on that?
AF: Think about it in [terms of] our slaughterhouse. Our pigs are seasonal. They have more fat in the winter. They have firmer flesh in different months depending on the feed and the climate. They’re outdoors. We do a three-species breed mix and they’re a slightly different expression of those breeds in different animals. Our sausage makers in our slaughterhouse, they’re dealing with a different substrate every month and they have to be intuitive and use their senses, not just follow a recipe. They have to look for signs in the meat. They have to test the quality of it and get the right emulsification-base on the different character of the meat.
EK: What are you looking for in a steak?
AF: Number 1 is marbling. Number 2 is fat cap. Number 3 is the rib size, the actual size of the ribeye. But the Number 1 thing is marbling and that’s the biggest challenge I have. Right now, I have my marbling dialed in 9 months of the year. We’ve been able to make our quality much better by leasing further field pastures around the state, where we lease land that has green high-sugar finishing pasture.
EK: What’s your favorite cut?
AF: I love flat irons — that’s probably my go-to steak. I also like Velvets and Denvers and Bavettes. Those are the more unusual ones. I love a good ribeye. I love a good New York as much as anybody. I always make a chimichurri or … an Italian salsa verde to go with my steaks. And I love a Flat Iron. Sear it, get it nice and medium-rare, then cut it against the grain and toss it with my salsa verde, making almost a little beef salad. That’s my favorite way to eat a steak.
EK: You try to eat offal once a week. For those who are resistant but willing to try offal, what’s a simple recipe?
AF: Chicken hearts in brown butter or in coconut oil. It’s a favorite of mine. I’ll just get butter smoking hot, browned a tiny bit and toss in a handful of chicken hearts and sear them until they’re medium-rare, which just means one or two tosses of the pan. I use a little cast iron pan, maybe a tablespoon of butter and 10 hearts, and then I put flaky salt on them, like the Maldon salt or Jacobsen salt and that’s just the best.