I've been waiting for this my whole life. Or at least it feels like I have because after many, many, many delays Mike Phillips’ Red Table Meats is finally launching
If you’re not sure what the big deal is, it’s this: A long, long time ago, a local chef launched a beloved local restaurant called Chet’s Taverna. It was careful and skillful and much-loved, but, sadly, closed. Then, in 2004, that chef went on to open the Craftsman, and blew the whole town away with his incredible small farm, local hog, from scratch charcuterie skills. Then, in 2010 successful serial super entrepreneur Kieran Folliard—founder of Kieran’s, The Local, Cooper Pub, and such, midwife of the food-shelf supporting beer label Finnegan’s, and hitter-out-of-the-park with Irish whiskey brand 2 Gingers—swept him away from all that, with the vision of starting a Minnesota farm, top-quality charcuterie company. And all of Minnesota has been patiently waiting since. Well glory be, the day has arrived.
What was the hold up? A little thing called mitigating the potential disaster that is food-borne illnesses. Which is to say that basically, in order to prevent food-borne illnesses the USDA has general guidelines that more or less stipulate that you to add a catastrophic amount of salt to your salami, or heat it to a catastrophically high temps. This, Phillips explains, is generally why American charcuterie is so much worse than the Italian, French, and German equivalents.
If you don’t want to follow those guidelines, you have to come up with a HACCP plan, which provides the steps toward and theoretical basis for why your product will be safe, and then a ‘validation study’ to prove it. For the validation study you make your product the way you say will be safe, and then innoculate it with various pathogen-surrogates. Then, when that's all finished you get a lab to tear it apart and prove that the pathogen-surrogates were in fact all killed by your process.
As you can imagine, if it takes you six months to make your ham or salami or similar, it will take six months to make your validation-study batch, and then some number of weeks to make it through the lab of the sole University of Minnesota employee who analyzes these things, and then some amount of time for the USDA to green-light your now validated process, and only then can you start to make the product in question.
That’s a long time and we would've been waiting even longer if this bit of serendipity hadn’t occurred: A long long time ago when Phillips was working at Craftsman a Culinary Institute of America-trained cook showed up looking for a job. They worked together for a bit, but eventually the cook moved on. When the lone and sole University of Minnesota employee in charge of evaluating pathogens for validation studies told Phillips that she couldn’t get the studies done faster because she was overwhelmed with the volume, she added that if he could find a microbiologist at the U who could work as her assistant, she could work faster. Phillips got a list of the microbiology grad students and—you guessed it—on the list was the one guy in the world who was qualified and willing to spend his summer looking through microcscopes at potential salami pathogens.
“People tell me I should write a book about all this,” Phillips told me. “The serendipity. The craziness.”
With any luck, the craziness is behind him, and we’re all going to be seeing Red Table meats everywhere, everywhere, everywhere in Minnesota starting now. This is going to be a very good thing. (Check out the photo gallery and drool yourself silly.)
For retail accounts, expect to find the biggest selection of Red Table Meats first at the Seward Co-Op, France 44 and St. Paul Cheese Shops, plus The Wedge and Wheel in Stillwater ( where you can sample the wares and chat with Phillips at a Meat the Maker event on Oct. 21). And then it's on to local restaurants.
Red Table’s first ham, a smoked and fermented beauty called the Royal, will be found at the Modern Café shaved on top of an omelet and at the Birchwood on a turkey burger. The first coppas went to Restaurant Alma. How did Red Table end up on the top tables? Because everyone in Minneapolis has been waiting for this since 2010. And it’s not going to stop at Minneapolis.
Peter Ireland recently signed on with Red Table as a salesman, local foodies will know that name because he was the well-reviewed chef and owner of the recently-closed Lynn on Bryant—and former cook in the kitchen at Chicago’s Blackbird and New York’s Café Boulud. “When we fully get up to speed we will have 3,000 pounds of meat a week coming out of here, can the Twin Cities support that?” Phillips asked, rhetorically. “I always thought I wanted to do one thing: To have a regional identity with the meat. If other places taste it and say: That’s Minnesota, that’s what we want. And I think we have a great product, I think it stands up with anybody’s, so I don’t see why it won’t go everywhere.”
But we’re going to get it first. As the next few months unspool, we Twin Cities residents should see an ever-increasing array of products, as various types of charcuterie have their HACCP plans and validation studies green-lighted. First will come guanciale and pancetta, then different salamis, we should have speck around Christmas, and fermented hams like prosciutto by—God willing—next Christmas. Till then, if you’re any kind of charcuterie head, get ready: Everything hammy and salami around here is about to change, starting now.