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Let's eat.

From Big Sur's killer cliff-clinging eateries to Salinas' unparalleled produce, this blog aims to sniff out all things Monterey County can stomach, via picture and prose, curiosity and appetite, hand and mouth.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Pig Wizard's Sausage Sorcery

It went down like some kind of cloak-and-dagger drug deal. He told me the description of his truck, and asked me to meet him in the parking lot of a shopping center.

I brought the cash. He brought the sausage.

The payoff was profound. The goods he produced from an ice chest in the bed of his truck—one-pound packs of chicken-artichoke heart-manchego and lamb-black currant-cumin sausage ($8 each)—made me a hero at a birthday barbecue. Turns out they could be classified as a drug. Either way, his name now made more sense, because the Pig Wizard's sausage work was magical.

I first uncovered evidence of Jonathan Roveto's existence at a coffee shop in Seaside that shall remain unnamed, where the underground-adept owners had arranged a sign-up-for-sausage situation. Drop some money and a request, return to pick up tubed treasures.

Self-trained Palo Colorado resident Roveto has shared his secrets at Mary Pagan's Culinary Center on Cannery Row and butchered for a while at Monte Vista Market when it was a proud community pillar, and dismantles whole pigs himself (and intructs people how). I've since tried his "orange poppy" sausage—candied orange rind, poppy seeds and chicken. It made Christmas breakfast sacred. The "Sicilian," meanwhile, with pecorino and romano cheeses, parsley, basil and wine cooked in, is an offer that can't be refused.

Only I couldn't write anything about it, because, though he made his sausage at a USDA-inspected plant in San Leandro, he hadn't cleared the extensive permitting of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration required to do his own product there.

Now the time has come. The paperwork should be in place soon, though progress remains stuck in government time. In the interim, the Wiz took Most Creative and Best Presentation (trophies below) for his wildly bizarre and tasty pork-wine-wild-mushroom-chanterelle sausage pinwheel (above right) at the Big Sur Chanterelle Cook Off not long ago (and smoked up the whole room with his hibachi).

He'll be at the Monterey Beer Fest serving the orange poppy, artichoke heart-chicken-manchego, the Sicilian and a hot Sicilian. And he's scheming on acquiring a food truck that he hopes to park in Sand City (because he says leadership there seems most amenable) while he waits final USDA approval.

He's also been working with wizard-in-his-own-right Craig von Foerster of Sierra Mar at Post Ranch on the art of dry salume, fermented salame, dry curing copa and all kinds of other Euro-style aging, and soliciting no small amount of overtures from area restaurants hoping to arrange a supply line.

After today's rendezvous I have reloaded my fridge with two magic tricks: his "Meguez," born of lamb, salt, paprika, garlic, harisa, black peper, lemon juice, sumac powder and cumin in his standard-issue hog intestine casing (rather than the chewier, harder-to-digest collagen wrap). I haven't had the Meguez, but a French friend of mine says not only can he rarely find the South France-North African flavor in this Yankee land, when he has it wasn't remotely this good. Trick number two: some more of that "Sweet Morrocan Lamb" with pomegranate juice, dried currants, salt, white pepper, thyme, cinnamon, curry, cumin and ground ginger.

More magic at or 236-1844.