Salami Time

“I really love food history, and the perspective it brings to identity and what identity is,” says Jonathan Roberts of PigWizard. He grew up preserving food.

This salami is not just a salami.

This salami is the product of 30 hours in a fermenter and then six to eight weeks of drying time. This salami is the result of eight months of work since PigWizard’s Jonathan Roberts first asked customers to help raise the necessary funds to convert the interior of his sandwich shop at the Coast Guard Pier into a space fit for making cured meats. This salami is the upshot of 20 years of wanting to sell charcuterie legally, but not having the time or resources to tackle the bureaucratic process. This salami is the culmination of a lifetime philosophy that being a generalist is valuable, questions are more important than answers and feeding people, no matter what, is essential.

So when I called Roberts to talk about the salami, we didn’t just talk about the salami.

“I was basically raised to be able to feed my family in any situation,” Roberts says. “I was gardening and winning awards for canning as a pre-teen at the county fair. Preserving food is something that I just grew up with. I got into butchery as an extension of that. And it’s one thing to cut a steak, it’s another thing to be able to hang onto it for an extended period of time.”

All this prompted his “natural evolution” into charcuterie, he says. That, plus a 10-month honeymoon in Europe, during which he traveled around Spain, Portugal and Italy and gathered flavor inspiration. Roberts has gained experience, over the past 20 years, making charcuterie – but that was all unofficial, blackmarket stuff, an enterprise he categorizes as not that much fun.

Ironically, the pandemic created this opportunity for expansion from bacon, sausage and sandwiches, into legal cured meats.

“When we realized that we weren’t going to shrivel up and die last year, and I also realized how much I loved not cleaning up after people inside, I basically just decided one night that we were going to convert most of our dining space into production space,” Roberts says. “I don’t think I would have had the courage to do it otherwise.”

In January 2021 he reached out to his customer base to raise money – kind of like a Kickstarter without the platform service fee. Those customers, now “members,” will get first dibs on his creations as they become available.

Next, he set about tackling the “bureaucratic headache” necessary to become a legal producer and seller. This includes, as a non-exhaustive list: water testing, documentation and approval of the physical layout of the space, filling out a whole lot of forms, reading a “horrible” training manual and submitting all recipes for approval. “It’s a boatload of stuff,” he says.

And while PigWizard is now official, Roberts still thinks about the people the process excludes. The end result for customers, he says, is less variety and creativity on the market. There are lots of people out there who have the skills and knowledge, but have decided it’s not worth it. “It really shouldn’t be this hard,” he says.

As soon as the salami reaches its designated shelf-stable level of dryness, his pre-sale customers will be notified and will have access to the starting lineup: five flavors of salami, a hot coppa, lemon rosemary lonza and pancetta. After meeting demand from members, the cured meats will be available to customers at the PigWizard sandwich shop as well. And there will be more – he hopes to have charcuterie plates and boards ready to go before the holidays, for example.

It’s been exciting for Roberts to see his customers excited. To take them into the drying room to smell what he has coming. But this salami represents something deeply personal too.

“While everyone has been waiting a few months for this,” he says, “I’ve been waiting two fucking decades to do this legally.”

PIGWIZARD is located at 32 Cannery Row, Suite G (on the Coast Guard Pier), Monterey. 641-7316, pigwizard.com

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