Today was my first day of work for weeks, I was up at 6am to get to the plant for 7am. When I say work, I didn’t really do all that much, I spent most of my day distracting Mark Keller of Keller Crafted Meats while he did all of the work. It’s one of my favourite days yet on this trip, talking shop is one thing, getting my hands dirty and seeing how something is done is another. Having visited so many varying types of business on the trip I’ve been given a lot of different advice, but one thing that I’ve heard on a number of occasions is – “find somewhere with spare capacity to work from”. That’s exactly what Mark does – he processes from the Premiere Meats plant in Redding, CA. In theory it’s an easy thing to do, but Mark is testament to the fact, that if you want to do it, you may have to make some tough decisions. He moved from the Bay Area up to Redding just over two years ago.
Mark is very experienced in meat production having worked in varying roles both in farming, slaughter, production and consulting. He has an excellent personal view on food production; he’s all about family values. His pigs are his own, bred in Washington State to his own feed regime (no GM, no corn, no soya), his products are about good quality ingredients and although the products might not be organic certified, he does use a large percentage of organic meat, and all the dry ingredients that he uses are organic. His meat is also third party certified via the Food Alliance – similar to our RSPCA Freedom Food mark, it guarantees the humane treatment of animals but it also guarantees that the farms are managed correctly and that the staff on the farms are treated fairly. I’m mightily impressed with what they stand for.
Today’s production schedule involved making two types of bacon – a Rustic and a Maple Bacon. Bacon over here means something a whole lot different to what we think of as bacon – it’s always made from the belly, and more often than not it’s sweeter and it’s been smoked. Due to the way that the majority of it is processed here, using hot smoke, bacon is often a ‘cooked’ product, which gives it a much longer shelf life than our ‘raw’ bacon. Bacon production today was very similar to what I’d done on the Meat Science course in Iowa, only these machines were twice the size. I really enjoyed seeing machines made by AMFEC in use in the plant, it’s only a few days ago that I’d seen similar ones being fabricated back in their factory in Hayward, CA.
At lunch I got to taste some Mark’s product – his Hatch Sausages were incredible, flavoured with Hatch chilli peppers, which come from a small area in New Mexico. The sausages were meaty, succulent and fresh, with wonderful bright green herbs and chilli seeds dotted throughout. Although he sources some excellent seasonal ingredients for his products (like a traditional wild rice grown by the local Native population) Mark doesn’t market his products directly to foodie customers, he wants his food to be eaten by families. He uses the best ingredients possible to make an affordable quality product.