Roy’s Swiss Sausage Factory (674-2070) hides out deep down in South County, among the fields of broccoli and leeks, a half hour from Salinas. Even from the closest 101 off ramp, the Walnut Street exit in Greenfield, it doesn’t look like the GPS can be accurate. No way there’s an epic sausage shop out here at 40821 E. Cherry Ave. It’s nothing but flat fields running to the hills.
All that also means it can take a while to get there, even if you don’t get lost. But once there, it doesn’t take long at all to see what’s going on.
When I pull up, an old dog named Hope watches from a doghouse on a sunbaked dirt pasture. Lifelong owner-operator Roy Richina sits on the patio with his mother, not far from a grill built out of a converted 1950 Maytag clothes wringer. Inside the clean, cement, bare-bones meat hangar-butcher shop next to the patio, corkboards show family pictures and a list of meat leaps from the dry erase board – Ribeyes! Tri tip! Baby back ribs! Cornish game hens! Spicy chicken Swiss sausage! (Prices run $2.59-$15.39/pound.)
An enthusiastic young butcher is eager to show off the wares, including the chandelier of sausage hanging in the walk-in cooler (and pictured at right). A white-collar customer happily blows his budget on a bunch of skirt steak ($15.39/pound), New Yorks ($14.39) and house sausage ($6.89). A Greenfield city employee in a dusty jumper goes for some bacon ($7.19) and split chicken ($2.59). Roy and the staff know them by name; guys like this drive business that peaks at two tons of meat a week during deer season and right around now with the Fourth of July.
When Richina enters, he’s a whirlwind of activity – and information. As he slices and rolls skirt steaks, he discusses the Salinas River’s old glory (“Used to see tens of thousands of salmon,” he says, “full of roe and everything”), his recent double knee surgery (“Sixth best surgeon in the world”), his favorite kind of boar (“Dry barley-fed sows are the best”) and the good life (“Man, we’d go for clams in Pismo, have the best times and never use sunscreen”).
He might be so garrulous because he eats so well – while reminding his kids not everyone owns a sausage factory – but he insists that’s not it.
“Just born at the right time,” he says. “I didn’t have to go to Vietnam and see my friends slaughtered.”
The longer answer: Grandpa Raphael Del Martini immigrated from Switzerland at age 13 – alone – and eventually started up with a dairy. His son Henry Richina, Roy’s dad, ran his own dairy before switching to meat processing. They all made Swiss and Italian-Swiss sausage. (“Every Swiss knows how,” Roy says.)
Roy grew up on the property where the butcher shop sits and started cutting meat when he turned 7. (Now he’s 55.) His two sons started at 7, too. Today they also work the till.
“I was worried because the place is hard to find,” Richina says. “But the word got out and my business snowballed, and people started coming from all over and coming back again.”
Today shipping and wholesale help him keep eager customers satiated, as does the grill he fires up with frequency, fielding calls on an old-school wireless phone with a hard attenna.
“I don’t have a cell phone, computers, anything like that,” he says. “I just want my world big.”
On this Friday afternoon he loads up the grill with hot Italian sausages he’ll simply plop on corn tortillas for hungry-eyed customers (one of whom brings him an icy Coors Light). I admire the old tin storage shed draped with grape vines and vintage wagon wheels – check out a slideshow on the blog – while he continues talking and storytelling.
I ask his mom if he’s always this full of info.
“Always,” she laughs. “Like his dad.”
The family shop is a dream resource for Fourth of July, but the fireworks already went off in my mouth with Richina’s signature mild and spicy Italians, made with 75 percent pork and 25 percent choice sirloin tip he gets from Del Monte Meat Company. He adds Burgundy jug wine, salt, pepper, sugar, garlic and a few spices – “the exact formula is jealously guarded,” the brochure reads – to the tubing too.
“I want the good stuffing,” Roy says, “and I’ve got the best.”
The chicken-artichoke ($8.89), which he makes with Chardonnay, is insanely juicy, lively and balanced, while the jalapeño-jack, which I beer simmer and layer with grain mustard and slow-cooked onions, tastes even better.
It’s hard not to feel grateful for this amount of flavor. That fits with the theme.
“My work is a hobby,” says Richina, who’s been at butchery 47 years. “Every day is a holiday to me.” And particularly those that involve a grill.
~ QUICKBITES ~
• Big Sur Roadhouse (667-2370) celebrates a year in business this week with seductive new items like the chicken and biscuits bowl – “the best pot pie poured in a biscuit,” Exec Chef Matt Glazer says. More from Sophie Newman on the blog.
• Chef Aaron Haas’ poutine – fries bathed in indulgent gravy and studded with house-cured cubes of savory bacon ($10) – is comfort food dreamland. And great with a house double IPA atAlvarado Street Brewery and Grill (655-2337), which has been bustling my last two visits. (They sell 400 beers a day.) Other great flavors: the French onion beer soup ($7), butcher’s bacon-and-egg pizza ($14), duck ham pizza ($16), tender smoked mussels ($13) and Haas’ sly and vibrant bahn mi “bowl” ($11). And J.C. Hill’s first barrel-aged creation just debuted (it’s a cuvee de Monterey, $6).
• Mediterraneo Imports (393-1075) – a connoisseur of gourmet olive oils, vinegars, tapenades, mustards and dressings – may borrow flavors from its namesake region, but most of its products are born in-house. It just reopened this month in Seaside. Get more on the blog.
• Favaloro’s Big Night Bistro (373-8523) and Holman Ranch collab on a five-course wine dinner July 9. Homemade Italian like veal-and-beef cannelloni and braised pork medallions paired with several variations of Holman’s estate Pinot Noirs ($65).
• Figge (384-4149) has a zippy but limited supply release, 2013 Rosé of Pinot Noir, made with grapes from the Pelio vineyard in Carmel Valley ($18).
• @MontereyMCA just hit 2,000 tweets brimming with fresh food for thought.
• Dick and Bonnie Swank of Swank Farms team with Chef Matt Bolton for the latest “Meet the Farmer” lunch at Pacific’s Edge ($55, 626-1574) July 12 – bring on the roasted corn ravioli, Sonoma duck and blackberry financier goodies.
• Lavender stone fruit sangria, lavender cured king salmon and lavender créme brûlée are but the beginning as Cal Stamenov of Bernardus Lodge (658-3400) presents a lavender-inspired buffet July 12 as part of the Lodge’s lavender harvest celebration ($95).
• Good ol’ American Walt Whitman: “The beauty of independence, departure, actions that rely on themselves.”