Planning a holiday feast? Long gone are the days when you could throw some pineapple slices on a canned honey ham and call it a night. Especially in the Bay Area, where the pedigree of your meat is nearly as important as how you prepare it, you best come with your dinner party A-game.
Luckily we've done the legwork for you, hunting down the very finest meat options in the East Bay. Not only are these some of the most delicious cuts you can put on your silver tray this December, but they also come from California farms that are committed to ethical animal treatment. When you settle in for a long winter's nap, who wants visions of factory farms disrupting their sugarplum dreams?
Baron's Meats & Poultry
David Samiljan, owner of Baron's Meats in Alameda (1650 Park St.; 510-864-1915), is an unabashed master of hyperbole. Still, when anyone who's been working with meat this long says they have "the absolute best option in the Bay Area, hands-down," you might want to hear them out.
Samiljan has been dry-aging forty Niman Ranch prime ribs in his cooler since November 1, and he doesn't plan to remove them until a week before Christmas. Dry aging is often the provenance of the fancy, an elaborate multi-week procedure that reduces water weight, breaks down tough muscle fibers, and ensures peak tenderness and flavor. Many shops offer a three- or four-week dry aging, but Samiljan isn't impressed. "That isn't dry-aged; it's just old," he scoffs.
At $21-$22 per pound, the dry-aged prime rib isn't cheap (Baron's wet-aged prime rib is $15 per pound), but think of it as a present to yourself.
Belcampo Meat Co.
When was the last time you made it up to Gazelle? Yeah, us either. Lucky for you, the meat-masters at Belcampo Farms (started by Eat Real Festival founder Anya Fernald) like to grace Oakland with their presence around the holidays. Similar to their Thanksgiving "meat up" in Jack London Square, they'll bring a range of grass-fed happy meats for pickup on December 22 and 23.
At the very high end is the Wagyu "platinum cuts" beef box, for those who like their cattle to receive long, full-bodied massages, bubble baths, and periodic trips to France. This one will run you, gulp, $350, but you can get a five-pound box of ground Wagyu beef for $45. Belcampo also offers Angus platinum-cuts and ground-beef boxes, for a bit less loot ($250 and $35, respectively).
The other big-ticket item is Pekin duck, pasture-raised on Belcampo's ten-thousand-acre ranch. For $45, you get four vacuum-sealed confit duck legs, or you can get one pound of duck terrine for $18.
Bonus: Belcampo's pickup days are parties, with live music, games of Cornhole, and take-away treats like pastured egg sandwiches and corn dogs. Visit BelcampoMeatCo.com to pre-order.
Local Butcher Shop
Newcomer Local Butcher Shop in Berkeley (1600 Shattuck Ave., Suite 120; 510-845-6328) has already developed a strong following since opening earlier this year, and with reason. Not only do they get their top-shelf meats from a mix of small, local farms, but they also practice whole-animal butchery, ensuring no scrap of carnage is wasted.
Head butcher John Hogeland says that home cooks tend to cluster around the same cuts of meats at holiday time, like the beef rib roast or the rack of lamb. But unless you want to buy from massive feedlot farms, this type of cooking isn't sustainable. "Every lamb has sixteen ribs," said Hogeland. "You're going to need three whole lambs just to feed a dozen people."
He suggests a little out-of-the-box thinking: opting for less-popular cuts like lamb legs, pork loins, top sirloin roasts, or even a goat leg. Not only are you eating more sustainably, but you'll be able to fill up more guests (one leg of lamb can feed twelve).
If you aren't sure how to prep an off-brand cut, ask Hogeland for recipe tips; in his past life, he was a chef at haute mainstays One Market and Campton Place in San Francisco. Not to mention Local Butcher Shop owner Aaron Rocchino is a Chez Panisse alum. And they're nice guys.
Prather Ranch Meat Co.
Hey ham fans, we hope our earlier jab didn't strike a nerve. We have our own fond memories of ham feasts at Grandma's house (with potatoes au gratin, natch), but sometimes it seems like Hormel and its ilk have a lock on this holiday staple.
Never fear: The sustainable superstars at Prather Ranch are selling uncured whole hams, smoked and maple-glazed, from Berkshire heritage pigs raised on a diet of fruits and veggies in Capay Valley. Prices are $9.99 per pound.
Prather will also offer whole bone-in legs of lamb and three types of beef roasted for the holidays. Pre-order by calling 415-391-0420, then pick up from the Prather Ranch booth at either the Grand Lake Farmers' Market (Sat. 9 a.m.-2 p.m.) or the Temescal Farmers' Market (Sun. 9 a.m.-2 p.m.). They'll start taking orders on December 1, after the dust settles from Thanksgiving.
For the Vegans in the House
No, we didn't forget about our holiday-loving vegan brethren and sistren. We consulted Oakland local Laura Hooper Beck, managing editor of Vegansaurus.com, for a few tips on vegan meat alternatives for the holidays.
Much-loved vegan soul-food joint Souley Vegan (301 Broadway, Oakland; 510-922-1615) will offer special Christmas options on the heels of its November "Anything but Turkey" meal deal. Final menu options haven't been hammered out at press time, but if Thanksgiving is any indication, think Southern-fried tofu, raw-veggie plates, and okra gumbo, all sold in bulk for large holiday parties.
Andronico's and Whole Foods supermarkets also offer holiday faux-meat dinners, with Field Roast whole-grain "meats" and a bevy of veggie sides. To order from Andronico's, visit Andronicos.com; to order from Whole Foods, visit WholeFoodsMarket.com/shop.