Chez Panisse chef Aaron Rocchino and his wife Monica are bringing artisan meat to the heart of the Gourmet Ghetto with the opening this summer of The Local Butcher Shop on Cedar Street in the old Red Hanger Kleaners space.
“We think there’s a void in the market for restaurant-quality, sustainable meat for home customers,” said Monica Rocchino, who is setting up the new retail operation with her husband.
“It’s an idea whose time has come. I’m looking forward to having this shop in the neighborhood,” said Michael Pollan, who lives in north Berkeley and has done much to champion the consumption of responsibly sourced meat.
The butcher shop will feature whole animals sourced directly from farms, none of which are further than 150 miles from Berkeley. The emphasis will be on grass-fed, sustainably raised meat, and the butchering and cutting will be to order.
“We won’t have a sea of chops and cuts in cases,” said Monica Rocchino, who sees part of their role as taking the intimidation factor out of shopping for meat. “We hope to have real dialogue with our customers — about the different parts of the animal and how to prepare them.”
Aaron Rocchino will be leaving Chez Panisse after five and a half years as one of the restaurant’s chefs. Before that, he worked at Oliveto. Although, like all Chez Panisse chefs, Rocchino worked across the food lines at the Alice Waters establishment, he has always been passionate about meat, and sees it as his speciality.
The Local Butcher Shop will join Berkeley’s two other independent procurers of meat, Magnanis on Hopkins and the Café Rouge butcher counter on Fourth Street. It will also compete for customers with larger retailers such as Berkeley Bowl and Whole Foods, not forgetting Andronico’s one of whose four Berkeley locations is across the street from the new store.
Monica Rocchino said theirs will be the only store which focuses on whole animals. And the intention is to use every last scrap of the beasts. “We’ll be selling stocks and soups, demi-glace, sauces and rendered fat, less common cuts, as well as a meat sandwich of the day,” she said. She adds that they will not sell frozen meat, unlike what is often on offer at farmers’ markets.
Construction on the new store began just over a week ago. The couple will be installing a full kitchen — demonstrations and butchery classes are on the agenda — as well as a walk-in cooler with windows. The style will be “retro meets rustic” Rocchino said, with a lot of reclaimed wood — and, befitting a butcher shop, it will be “very clean”.
For the foodies out there for whom provenance is paramount, Rocchino’s current list of farmers who will be supplying The Local Butcher’s Shop is: Mac Magruder of Ingel-Haven Ranch in Potter Valley, Moira Burke of Agricola in Dixon, Jack Rasmason of Weeks Ranch in Santa Rosa, Joe and Julie Morris of TO Ranch in San Juan Bautista, Hudson Ranch and Don Watson, both in Napa, Phillip Paine in Sonoma, Bill Niman of BN Ranch in Bolinas, Brent Wolfe of Wolfe Ranch in Vacaville, Mark Pasternak of Devil’s Gulch Ranch in Nicasio, Jim Reichard of Sonoma County Poultry in Penngrove, and Gleason Ranch in Bodega.
It remains to be seen whether Chez Panisse will source some or all of its meat order from its former employee.
The arrival of the store comes in the wake of a renewed interest in the provenance and break-down of meat — evidenced by the rise in butchery classes, blood-spattered feature articles in the New York Times, and even Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s recent declaration that, this year, “The only meat I’m eating is from animals I’ve killed myself.”
Monica Rocchino believes it’s all part of an increasing awareness of where one’s food comes from (thank you Michael Pollan for highlighting those corn-fed cows in their feed lots). “People want to feel good about what they are putting in their bodies,” she said.
Follow the progress of the new butcher shop, which hopes to open in August, on its Facebook page.