There’s cooking food, and there’s making food. We’ve all scrambled an egg, grilled a steak, and stir-fried some veggies. We have not all dry-cured specially sourced cuts of pork for two years to create melt-in-your-mouth Spanish-style prosciutto. Or collected local honey from more than 100 hives scattered across the Bay Area. Or restored century-old dormant Mission olive trees—and planted thousands more—to produce 100 percent extra virgin California olive oil.
These are processes that require skill, dedication, and patience. Lucky for us, the East Bay is a hub for passionate makers who exhibit all three of those qualities in creating uniquely delicious and deeply personal food. We highlighted three of them—and tapped area experts to compile the ultimate East Bay charcuterie board full of products with local ties.
The Cured-Meat King: Tony Incontro
Tony Incontro’s earliest food memories are of making fresh sausages with his Italian American family in preparation for the traditional Christmas Eve dinner of sausage and stewed peppers. Later, when Incontro became a professional chef, that humble custom bloomed into a lifelong love for cured meats—specifically, salumi made from Mangalitsa pork, a breed known for its thick, luxurious fat caps and its clean, beef-like flavor. He’s been producing salumi with Mangalitsa pork from Sonoma County’s Winkler Farms for nearly 10 years, but he kicked up the scale of his operation several notches two years ago by teaming with Jimi-Z Offenbach, the owner of Golden Gate Meat Company. As the company’s head salumiere, Incontro develops the recipes for its in-house San Giacomo brand of dry-cured meats. The gig has also given him the opportunity to pursue his own passion project: a high-end, small-batch Incontro Cured label that specializes in Mangalitsa pork salumi. It’s the first dedicated Mangalitsa cured-meat wholesale operation in the country.
Golden Gate’s facility in Richmond is state of the art, but Incontro describes his approach as fully "old-world." That means he wouldn’t make ’nduja, a spreadable salumi from Calabria, without real Calabrian chilies. It also means a leg of pork gets salted in a room that emulates the Italian winter, then hangs for several months in a drying chamber before its long "summer" dry-aging period. Each step happens at a milder temperature and over a longer period of time than at a commercial salumi company, which allows more flavor to develop and avoids an acidic tang in the salumi. "Slow and low, man," Incontro says. His crowning glory is a Spanish-style Jamón Mangalitsa that Incontro believes will someday give Jamón Ibérico a run for its money.
For now, the only places in the Bay Area you’ll likely find Incontro Cured products are at a handful of high-end restaurants (e.g., Manresa in Los Gatos), but customers can buy direct from the source at Golden Gate’s Richmond warehouse. Big spenders can even reserve one of those precious legs of Jamón Mangalitsa, the first batch of which will be released next summer. It’ll only run you about $800. goldengatemeatcompany.com, incontrocured.com.
Olive Oil Impresario: Charles Crohare
The Crohare family didn’t set out to go into the olive oil business when they bought their property in the Livermore Valley’s rolling golden hills. Charles Crohare notes that when his great-grandfather purchased the land in the late 1930s, it already had about 150 Mission olive trees, planted in 1881 but long neglected. The family wound up mostly raising cattle. For years, though, Crohare and his father, Charles Sr. (pictured at right, standing next to his son), would talk about how great it would be to do more with the land—"because we’re in this beautiful Mediterranean climate," Crohare explains. In the ’90s, they finally took the plunge, restoring the old olive trees back to health and planting thousands of new ones. Their business, Olivina, had a new beginning.
These days, the Crohares have about 11,000 olive trees, of six different varieties, that yield about 300 tons of olives a year. That’s quite a haul for a boutique operation like theirs, but a drop in the bucket compared to the biggest olive oil companies in California. ("They spill more than we produce," Crohare quips.) Part of what makes their olive oil so good is simply Mother Nature, Crohare explains: Livermore’s hot days and cool nights are more similar to the climate in, say, Spain than what you’ll find in Napa or the Central Valley. That means the olives ripen more slowly and have a chance to develop deeper flavors—which pay off later, whether in the form of Olivina’s mild, buttery Arbequina olive oil, which Crohare likes to put on popcorn, or the slightly peppery Lucca variety that he says is especially good drizzled over goat cheese.
At a spry 87 years old, Charles Sr. still works the orchard every day, but the task of turning the olives into oil falls to the younger Crohare. One of the keys, he says, is that they have an olive mill on-site, allowing them to press their olives within hours, capturing the taste when it’s freshest. It’s an automated process to an extent, but one that still requires a keen eye and a deft hand—to be able to judge how long to crush the olives, for example, and how long to keep the olive paste in the malaxer that warms it up to help separate out the oil.
"I’ve been at it for 10-plus years now, and I’m constantly learning," Crohare says. "No year’s the same as the previous. There’s always some variable." theolivina.com.
The Honey Wizard: Khaled Almaghafi
The first thing you notice when you walk into Oakland’s Bee Healthy Honey Shop is a photo of its owner, Khaled Almaghafi, looking nonchalant while the lower half of his face is covered with thousands of swarming bees. It makes sense, then, that Almaghafi comes from a long line of beekeepers in Yemen, where raising bees is a popular hobby. Before he moved to the Bay Area in 1986, Almaghafi learned the trade from his dad, who was an amateur beekeeper. So was his grandfather. In his native country, Almaghafi explains, "if there is a swarm [of bees] in the street, people will go chase it" to try to claim the bees as their property. "Here, they will be running away."
In the United States, Almaghafi started a bee-removal business, fielding calls from panicked homeowners desperate to get rid of an unwanted hive. He’d hoover up the bees with a special vacuum and transfer them to hives he had set up around the Bay Area. Before long, he’d established a thriving honey business, selling several varieties under his own Queen of Sheeba brand name at local farmers markets and his Telegraph Avenue shop. Today, Almaghafi maintains more than 100 hives at sites in Oakland, Pleasanton, El Sobrante, La Honda, and Santa Clara. Many individual hives are populated by 50,000 to 60,000 bees, which seems inconceivable—but it’s not all that many compared to commercial honey manufacturers who work on a scale of tens of thousands of hives. Where Almaghafi has the edge is in the quality of his honey, which is sweet without being cloying and comes in varieties that taste wildly distinct from one another: light star-thistle honey from his hives in Pleasanton and Vallejo; delicate, citrusy orange-blossom honey from Fresno; and, most memorably, a chestnut honey from La Honda with a tangy, rich fullness of flavor that’s a shock to the senses.
Like other local small-scale honey producers, Almaghafi sells his honey raw and unfiltered to maximize its taste and nutritional qualities. There’s an art to getting the honey to taste its best, from hive placement and knowing when the honeycombs are ready to be harvested to just keeping the bees alive. Fortunately, Almaghafi—like his father and grandfather before him—has been doing this a long time. beehealthyhoneyshop.com.
Charcuterie Board Basics
A well-stocked charcuterie board offers a little something for everyone—or a little bit of everything for someone. Which is why Walnut Creek residents Carly Corippo and Leanna Gallegos started Butcher and Monger, a gourmet charcuterie board catering service.
"We have always shared a love for entertaining—and for cheese and charcuterie in particular," says Corippo. "After catering a few dinners where we provided the boards, we figured we might be onto something good."
Corippo and Gallegos did a beautiful job putting together the board pictured. You can do it too, they say, as long as you follow a few simple rules. Here are their tips:
Cheese: Typically, there are five options: Brie, Manchego, goat, sharp cheddar, and a seasonal pick. "Offer a variety of flavors and textures," Gallegos advises.
Meat: Prosciutto, salami, and soppressata provide a nice variety. You can also add a bonus selection, such as pâté or ’nduja. Corippo says to provide "at least three cured meats in an assortment of brands."
Fruit: Grapes and berries are crowd-pleasers, while local farmers markets are great for sourcing more seasonal produce, such as figs, persimmons, or peaches. "We try to find a pop of color," Corippo notes.
Breads/crackers: Provide two to three varieties with an additional gluten-free option if needed. "We always have sourdough crisps," says Gallegos.
Extras: Herbs (such as rosemary, cilantro, and thyme) and greenery (such as eucalyptus and flowers) are welcome touches. Also, olive oil is "a great pairing with a baguette," Corippo adds, and "honeycomb goes well with figs and goat cheese. We like to make a ‘Brie crème brûlée’ by torching honey on top of a wheel of Brie."
Design: "We arrange the board using our own flair," explains Gallegos. "We make sure all options are accessible from all angles and that the best-paired products are close to each other."—E.F.
Looking for more locally made deliciousness? These food producers in or just outside the East Bay all come with the Good Food Foundation’s seal of approval.
Local Butcher Shop
This Berkeley spot makes all its own pâtés, sausages, and deli meats—and even offers classes in butchery and charcuterie-making. thelocalbutchershop.com.
Good Food Award selection: Coppa di Testa, Italian headcheese.
Head butcher Susannah Schnick and business partner Leslie Nishiyama sell sausages, salami, country pâté, and other homemade specialties out of their stall at the Kensington farmers market. They also have plans to open a retail shop in Albany. picnicrotisserie.com.
Good Food Award selection: Chicken liver mousse.
The Fifth Quarter
Butcher Scott Brennan helped to build up the famed meat program at Berkeley’s now-closed Café Rouge. He currently runs his own shop in Montclair, where he makes everything from pâtés, bacon, and meatballs to smoked meats and prepared foods like duck confit. thefifthquarter.co.
Good Food Award selection: Smoked beef tongue (won by Brennan while working at Café Rogue).
(There aren’t many cheese-makers in the East Bay, but nearby Marin and Sonoma are home to ample award-winning producers.)
The artisanal products from this celebrated Petaluma cheese-maker are practically a Bay Area institution. cowgirlcreamery.com.
Good Food Award selection: Red Hawk triple-cream cheese.
Nicasio Valley Cheese Company
Based in western Marin, this company produces authentic, traditional recipes from the family’s ancestral homeland in the Swiss Alps. nicasiocheese.com.
Good Food Award selection: Nicasio Square cheese.
Tomales Farmstead Creamery
Owners David Jablons and Tamara Hicks bought their 160-acre property outside of Tomales in 2003, converted it to a goat and sheep dairy in 2007, and started making award-winning cheeses in 2012. tolumafarms.com.
Good Food Award selection: Atika sheep/goat–milk cheese.
Akka’s Handcrafted Foods
This Fremont-based operation makes all-natural Indian chutneys, sauces, and relishes. myakkas.com.
Good Food Award selection: Eggplant relish.
Owner Dafna Kory churns out a remarkable array of foods—from jams and syrups to salts and snacks—from her small production kitchen in Emeryville. innajam.com.
Good Food Award selection: Pretty Spicy Fresno chili jam.
The small Oakland-based food producer focuses on making Japanese preserves in small batches, using traditional and artisanal methods. yumeboshiplum.com.
Good Food Award selection: Ume plum jam.
Jackrabbit California Olive Oil
This Berkeley company’s olives are grown on owner John Di Ruocco’s transitional organic farm in the Capay Valley of Northern California. jackrabbitoliveoil.com.
Good Food Award selection: Frantoio Variety olive oil.
Miss Bee Haven Honey
The bees in this operation’s 100-plus hives forage from cherry trees, peach trees, blackberries, and star thistle fields in and around Brentwood to make a diverse array of honey. missbeehoney.com.
Good Food Award selection: Star thistle honey comb.
Tsar Nicoulai Caviar
Based in Concord, Tsar Nicoulai produces sustainably cultivated caviar from American white sturgeon, in addition to smoked fish. tsarnicoulai.com.
Good Food Award selection: Estate smoked sturgeon caviar. —E.F.