Jonathan Christopher Roberts began learning butchery at Monte Vista Market in 2000 after moving to California from his home state of Georgia at 19 years old. He had dropped out of high school at 16, began working in kitchens, and quickly realized that to be a better chef, he would have to learn butchery. As a kid growing up, his mom and grandparents always had gardens, and canned and preserved fruits and vegetables, but lacked the same kind of early experience with meat.
"My family did a lot of fishing, but no one really did any hunting when I was growing up, or raised animals. So I felt my foundations for understanding cooking were lacking in the meat side of the kitchen the most. After a couple of years as an apprentice metal sculptor, I found myself in California, and shortly after moving I was breaking down sides of beef and whole lamb. I loved it."
The Roving Renegade
Another influential player in the local charcuterie market is John Roberts, affectionately known as the “PigWizard.”
Roberts, who works out of rented kitchen spaces throughout Monterey County, began studying butchery 13 years ago, making sausage and doing whole-animal processing at Monte Vista Market. “I basically just started reading everything I could find on the subjects of curing and aging, and quickly discovered I had a real passion for charcuterie,” he says.
“It’s a meticulous process that takes a lot of work—discovering the proper cure durations, what herbs and spices work best, and so on. At the beginning it was a lot of trial and error—you can’t cure meat around any other produce or it will absorb unwanted flavors, for instance—but I really believe the quality we’re able to achieve indicates what a bad job the huge meat-processing plants in this country are doing.”
On a rainy day in Sand City, Roberts works a slicer, shaving his custom-recipe Italian-style salami—a favorite of his customer base— and coppa cured with coriander, mustard seed and anise. “Growing up, my mother always had hundreds of jars of canned vegetables on hand, all of it bought locally and preserved in her kitchen. I miss that, and it’s one of the main reasons I got into charcuterie.
“There’s such a huge awareness now of the importance of buying fruit and veggies from local, sustainable sources. That same awareness has not fully translated to meat yet, but I see it happening— people want to know where their food is coming from, and that’s a huge step in the right direction.”