Praise the Lard

Fatted Calf makes bacon so good it's a spiritual experience

There are tales of a place in Napa where the bacon is legendary and the prosciutto appears for only a few days before it vanishes. Meat seekers from across the land journey to this porcine palace in search of salted secrets of untold power. It is called the Fatted Calf, and the rumors of its power are undeniably true.

Fatted Calf manager Ryan Harris speaks like a sage of meat wisdom, wasting no words and cutting to the very core of why his meat is so delicious. “The most important part of what we do is the sourcing of the pigs,” he says.

Their pork comes from Heritage Foods, a co-op of small farms offering heritage breeds from across the country. “Being that they are heritage breeds, they’re pasture-raised and humanely certified. That trumps the locality for us,” says Harris.

The milk-fed pigs have fat with a bright white color and a sweeter flavor than your garden-variety hot. “When you have something that good,” says Harris, “the best thing to do is stay out of the way.”

That’s the mantra behind the Fatted Calf’s legendary bacon. “I grew up in Tennessee eating bacon, like, every single day, and I’ve never had bacon this good,” says Harris. “The quality of the pork we use—it’s just the best pigs you can get a hold of.”

It doesn’t take a curated cured-meat palate to know this is special bacon. The $12 per pound price tag is worth it. This bacon is pure. It has no gimmicks, no flavoring agents—it doesn’t even have a label on the package. So when I try it, I already have high expectations. What I thought I knew as bacon has been obliterated.

Visually, it’s the perfect ratio of fat to meat, and the thick slices don’t shrink much after cooking, since it’s dry-cured. The smell is ridiculous and every bite explodes like a pig symphony playing Porkovsky’s 1812 Overture in my mouth. It’s so intense I have to stop talking and close my eyes. This is more than just eating—this is a spiritual experience.

Many have traveled to unlock the secret of this experience. “Every two weeks we have a ‘stage,'” says Harris, referring to an unpaid intern of the culinary world. “We only take one at a time, and they have to commit to a minimum of two weeks.”

As for their cured meats, all are delicious, but the rarest gem is prosciutto. “We make prosciutto; we just cant keep up without he demand,” says Harris. “We’ll have another one pulled in August. We’ll sell out of it in three days, and we won’t have another one for two years.”

The company began as a weekly stall at the Berkeley farmers market 11 years ago, and though there are locations in San Francisco, Fatted Calf’s first brick-and-mortar store opened in Napa over six years ago.

“The popularity of the whole local movement has allowed people to step outside of the supermarket,” says Harris. “When you do that and you find a local butcher, you find things you really like and you tell your friends.”

The Fatted Calf now offers a happy hour with drinks, snacks and a whole-animal butchering demonstration the first Thursday of each month (the next one is Aug. 7) at the Fatted Calf. 644 C First St., Napa. 5:30–7pm. 707.256.2384.

Sonoma County Library