Heather Bailie—widely known as Bailie—is a Bay Area charcuterie and meat expert via her work as a butcher, operations manager and partner for Fatted Calf, the meat emporium with shops in Napa and San Francisco. Fatted Calf sells meat from smaller family farms, alongside handcrafted (and delectable) pates, beef jerky, terrines, sausage, bacon and salumi (pancetta tesa, salame Toscano, and a personal favorite: an herby roll of cured pork belly).
Bailie currently lives in Napa and has a meaty side project called Pig + Woman + Knife, which has two components. The Pig + Woman + Knife blog demystifies meat buying and butchery, and has photos and tips. She also takes the Pig + Woman + Knife meat knowledge directly to people by giving butchery classes and hands-on demonstrations for smaller groups. Yes, women can take her classes, but she also teaches groups with both genders. Baile told Bay Area Bites that she helps at “Pig Parties” for her friends, and will bring her hacksaw and knives to break down a pig and, say, help the group make sausage.
Her reasons for creating Pig + Woman + Knife:
“Stemmed from my experience working with the "fathers" of the Bay Area butchery and charcuterie scene. During my culinary upbringing, I was fortunate to work alongside some very talented meat masters, all of whom inspired me to keep a knife in my hand. This interest in butchery, paired with a background in animal right's activism, a degree in Women's Studies and a strong urge to do something creative, led me to create Pig + Woman + Knife."
"What started as a simple blog to share knowledge with other women cooks and build community through cutting meat, eventually evolved into an educational site to reach a much broader audience—from home butchers to professionals alike. This website is devoted to showing people how buying whole animals (or rather large pieces of one) and learning a few skills will save money and time and can be a fun hobby! Going whole animal also supports local family farms and small businesses. I hope viewing this site helps to take the intimidation and confusion out of buying meat, clearly demonstrates what to do with it and inspires you to learn some traditional preparations and cooking techniques.”
Baile has a degree from the California Culinary Academy and did restaurant work at Acquerello and Ubuntu before “stalking” Taylor Boetticher and Toponia Miller, the husband and wife team behind Fatted Calf. Bailie has an animal activist background and was a “card carrying PETA member and vegetarian.” Her gateway meat to break her vegetarian diet did eventually come: a late night drive-thru meal of a Jack in the Box hamburger caused her to indulge a strong meat craving with a friend. Bailie now eats slices of mortadella for breakfast daily and samples meat freely for work and pleasure. Bay Area Bites caught up with Bailie recently while she butchered at the Fatted Calf Butcher's Happy Hour on a Wednesday night with Ren Rossini in San Francisco. We first talked in Napa at the Oxbow Market. Her comments have been edited for clarity and grammar.
Bay Area Bites: What’s the biggest challenge in your work at Fatted Calf?
Bailie: In my position, I’m dealing with people, products and things changing all the time. Examples: a pig that I ordered two weeks ago will arrive thirty pounds smaller. Or a lamb I need is one day late. Or someone forgets to communicate a special order. There’s also business stuff and situations like staff turnover to handle. I try to deal with things, be a leader, not get pissed off and act with a level of coolness.
Bay Area Bites: You’ve taught classes for Fatted Calf and CUESA, work the Fatted Calf Butcher’s Happy Hour and do butchery demos at both locations. Did Pig + Woman + Knife grow out of those experiences?
Bailie: It is a passion of mine teaching women. There are a lot of women in the industry who will come to me and say things like, “The guys don’t let me break down lamb.” So I will show them how. As much as I can, I give back. There are women who taught me all that stuff and it’s fun.
Bay Area Bites: The Fatted Calf has a cookbook coming out in September. What’s that like?
Bailie: It’s been a good ride. There will be a book tour in the East Bay, in California and New York. We’re all really excited about that.
Bay Area Bites: You have mentors that have helped you. Teaching classes for others, have you become a mentor yourself?
Bailie: It’s been fun and I’ve mentored Ren. I don’t just help females, I’ll help any employee or person who may not have known they have a flair for knives and butchery. When that shows up, it means they’ve got a knack for breaking things down.
It can be the opposite, too—when people are not good behind the knife, we find something else for them.
Bay Area Bites: Like what?
Bailie: Usually it means they are good at talking with the customers and describing the product, or passionate about farms and sustainability. It could be that they can be the person who wraps the beef jerky (laughs). Or that sign you’re looking at, that details the specials, I could never do that. But someone who is an art major is good at that.
Bay Area Bites: Do you find that someone who is good with butchery has a certain strength, or maybe height? Or some sort of personality skill set?
Bailie: You’ll see they have a natural intuition and an understanding of how to look at muscles and seams. Ren was really good at watching what we did. People like that do well because they are perceptive. We can train and show them. When people come here from somewhere else, they may have training, so we’ll need to show them our way of doing things. That transition is fairly easy.
Bay Area Bites: What is it like to make salumi at Fatted Calf?
Bailie: A lot of the salumi has been here two to six months. The small guys in the middle usually cure in two months. The larger ones usually take anywhere from three to four months. It all depends on temperature and humidity. When it’s hotter, we notice a fluctuation. The process is monitored day by day. I come in here and I spray and move things around and feel it. If it’s too dry, I’ll spray with water to get moisture. Or if it’s too moist in here, I’ll open the door. We do have it regulated with a machine but sometimes I like to be in here and know what’s going on -- feel it, taste it, know what’s going on.
There has to be quality control and mold has a distinct flavor. You can sometimes smell if there’s something ‘not awesome’ going on -- a bad mold or ammonia smell, something like that. You want to stop that when it happens. You have to smell it, taste it and see it and use your olfactory senses to keep everything going.
Bay Area Bites: What role can Fatted Calf play in the consumer marketplace?
Bailie: Compared to other meat markets in the Bay Area, we’re really on the lower end of things, price-wise. That’s because we can get away with a high-quality product and not gouge people. We maintain our inventory and our costs. Ideally, I don’t want Fatted Calf to be seen as the place to go for a special occasion purchase. I want the market to be an alternative to shopping at Safeway and buying a pork loin for $1.99. Instead the customer is going to get something really nice from Fatted Calf and they will spend a little bit more but they will know that they're supporting a different system and going against the grain. There’s just more awareness about knowing where your meat comes from these days. Eating a little bit less meat while being more conscientious—knowing where you spend your dollar—that right there, is a political act. I’ve definitely seen a change.