How did a couple of sociology majors who went to college in Montana end up running a charcuterie business in Placerville? It’s a love story, really. When Kara and Zach Taylor first met as college students, he was applying to graduate school and she was bound for the Peace Corps. They fell in love and, well, “We changed our plans pretty quickly,” says Kara.
The couple moved to Zach’s family’s farm in Apple Hill (they are the fourth generation to work the land) and decided to start an auxiliary business, Smokey Ridge Charcuterie, making artisanal sausage, bacon, prosciutto, rillettes and pâtés—all inspired by the seasonal ingredients grown on the farm. Springtime means lamb sausage made with tender grape leaves from the vineyard. Fall brings apple sausage and rabbit-chestnut pâté. They also make maple-and-thyme breakfast bacon and two kinds of duck sausage—garlic and dried cherry—among other delicacies.
Most of their products are sold through their charcuterie and sausage clubs, which lavish members with an assortment of handcrafted specialty items throughout the year. “We love the clubs because we get to know our regular customers and we get to make whatever we feel like,” says Kara. “We can be really creative that way.” Smokey Ridge products also can be purchased at select farmers markets or through special order, and you can spot them on the menu at midtown’s LowBrau Bierhall. Kara, who grew up in Massachusetts and has been cooking in fine restaurants since the age of 15, has long had an affinity for charcuterie. “I enjoy eating cured meats. I like the savory flavor of them,” she explains. “I just like the idea behind it: changing something so dramatically with some salt and some time. That’s what attracted me to it at first.”
A master preserver who never attended culinary school, she was influenced by the many locales where she has traveled and lived. “I’ve been exposed to all sorts of regional cuisines and have tried to learn the techniques of each region,” she says. The Taylors plan to grow Smokey Ridge’s catering business, which includes lunch at the farm stand during apple season, winery dinners, private events and special dinners hosted at the farm. Their five-course Valentine’s Day dinner, which starred dishes made with Mangalitsa hog—the breed prized for its intense flavor and rolls of fat—was a Lipitor-worthy sellout.