The Problem with Boccalone
I suspect this is sure to raise some strong opinions, but I have tried to like much of their product only to be consistenty underwhelmed or disappointed. Finally, I assume that either I am not getting it or the product is over-hype and over-rated but obviously, well-marketed.
After trying many of the various salumi, I have not found any that would make me purchase it again. Only today did I purchase some of the coppa di testa which I found to be unusual and superior to much of the other competitive product out there.
Perhaps most discouraging were the fresh sausage that I purchased at the Boccalone store at the Ferry Building. I purchased one package of the traditional Italian sausage and one package of the spicy Italian sausage. The Italian sausage had a flavor suggesting the inclusion of cinnamon, mace, allspice, or nutmeg. The strength of this flavor created an overly sweet flavor which diminished from pork flavor of the sausage. Perhaps this is stylistic but certainly like no other Italian sausage I would consider to be superior. It had that "one or three ingredients too many" characteristic.
Even worse yet was the spicy Italian sausage which had a real strong funk flavor - almost an artificial flavor or quality. Needless to say, I would not purchase either of these again, especially at a price of $8 for 12 ounces of sausage.
By comparison, I frequently purchase fresh sausage at Little City in North Beach and find the sausage to be superior in terms of taste, texture and performance. In fact, I would probably consider New York Style, while seemingly pedestrian in nature, to be superior to Boccalone. I recognize that Boccalone probably uses superior hogs, probably utilizes more humanely raised hogs, but that should not translate to inferior preparation.
Perhaps I am missing something as Boccalone seems to be well-liked and well-marketed, but in terms of product, it seems like has a long way to go to achieve the stature that many have associated with the product.
For fresh Italian sausage, I like either the short, fat Gloria sausage links that are available at Sorrento Deli in the Excelsior (I still miss the old Gloria Deli in North Beach,) the Molinari sausage that they also carry there, or the 3 kinds of sausage that are sold at Lucca Ravioli on Valencia.
I've tasted some of the new "artisan" salumi and like some of the Fra'Mani products, particularly the Salame Rosa and the Salame Toscano. I didn't like their mortadella -- too bland and no pistachios. I still prefer the imported Italian mortadella with pistachios that Sorrento's sells.
I've only tasted a couple of Boccalone products. They seemed pretty bland to me and they were very expensive. I guess that I like fattier, saltier, more flavorful salume than I've so far tasted from Boccalone.
And I'm proud to say that I still like Molinari's regular and hot Salame and Coppa very much. I truly miss the Coppa Veniciana that they stopped making a couple of years ago. It was Coppa stuffed with Genoa Salame and it was great in sandwiches. There was a production problem (the salame separated from the coppa and created air holes in the interior) and I haven't seen Coppa Veniciana in any delis in over a year.
My only experience with Boccalone products was ciccioli i bought from the Pasta Shop. It had a very strange hard gelatin texture, much different from ciccioli at Incanto or, my favorite, at A16.
That said, I buy the artisan salumi and pates from Fatted Calf and others for the naturally raised meat they use. I prefer no hormones, antibiotics, etc. in all the meat I consume.
If you can get to Cafe Rouge, I find their housemade pates and sausages to be excellent and a better value than some of the others.
Interesting question...now that you mention it, the allspice in some of the items on the salumi platter at Incanto can be a bit overwhelming, to the point where I have to balance it with a fair amount of mustard, pickled vegetable, or bread in my bites.
I've been a big fan of Boccalone, but the products I've had were the special easter hams, mortadella, and lardo from DeLessio. Haven't tried any fresh sausages, guanciale, or coppa.
I love the lardo, the mortadella, the coppa di testa, and the pepato salami. The pepato salami has to be sliced paper thin - I've tasted it sliced more thickly, and the flavor completely died. Sliced thinly, the flavor seems to blossom (it has a subtle white wine note that's really wonderful), and the texture improves (coarse and fatty when sliced thickly, ultra-silky and luxurious when sliced thinly).
I randomly walked by Bi-Rite one day when Cosentino et al were there handing out samples, so I got to try the fennel and orange and the brown sugar and fennel (I think), neither of which had any strong defining characteristics.
Anyway, the way you feel about Boccalone is sort of the way I feel about Fra'Mani and Fatted Calf - aside from FC's fresh sausages (which I find too salty to eat alone, but great when cooked into dishes) I haven't found anything that's made it into my regular salumi rotation;
rworange has said several times that the new artisan salumi are not as good -- or no better and much more expensive -- as the old fashioned offerings from Molinari, et al., and I tend to agree. I do like the introduction of products -- like lardo -- that were not really available in the past, but salami-to-salami, I'm underwhelmed.
I had a salumi selection at Boccalone a couple of weeks back, and I thought it was only okay (even the much-touted Mortadella), especially for the price. I was especially disappointed in the pancetta piana, which I'd had before, which wasn't as sublime as I remembered. It was greasy and seemed not as well cured, and I wondered if, among other things, the change in their marketing has led to some slippage in quality. When they were selling primarily to subscribers they had a lot more control over how much they made and the timing for producing each item. Now that they have a retail location, they may be under a lot more pressure to keep it stocked and rushing some things through.
re: Ruth Lafler
To my taste:
- Molinari's hot coppa is great but most of their stuff is just OK
- Columbus's regular stuff is just OK but their Artisan Collection is first-rate
- Fra'Mani's fresh sausages are just like in Italy, and after a variable start their salumi are first-rate
- Fatted Calf's sausages and salumi are generally great, some of my favorites are the andouille, hot Italian, merguez, fresh chorizo, dry chorizo, saucisson sec
- Some of Boccalone's stuff I've loved, some has bored me; their mortadella's the best being made locally
re: Robert Lauriston
To me Molinari's Italian sausages are what these sausages should be.
I was so underwhelmed by Fra'mani and qute a bit of Fatted Calf that I have yet to try anything by Boccalone. If they are like Fra'mani in the beginning, forget it. I'm sorry ... but at those prices practicing on the customer is inexcusable. The moldy, under-cured salami from Fra'mani was not right.
Fatted Calf's fresh chorizo is good, but one dimensional compared to some nothing Mexican carnecerias in the East Bay that charge a third of the cost.
I really think it is using some of that fancy meat that screws up the taste somewhat. One would think that the meat of those pampered piggies in a sausage would be amazing ... but they are not.
I've tried all the Fatted Calf sausages mentioned and there is not one I can remember without looking at notes or would buy again ... which is the reason I keep notes ... so I can remember what I tried and not buy it again. They did have something nice with greens in it though. Taylor's sausage in Oakland does a better job at some of these, to my taste.
The only thing I'm interested in as far as Boccalone is if they ever make liguica. They are located in an old Porutugese linguica company and supposedly they bought the recipe.
Reading this thread, I'm glad I haven't rushed to buy Boccalone. They can practice a while on others.
re: Robert Lauriston
Robert- you and I must have similar taste:
- Molinari's hot and mild coppa are appealing in my opinion
- Columbus requires a good bit of knowledge as their Artisin line is top notch but their Ticino line promises to sicken you. Don't ask the people at Say Cheese in Cole Valley as they struggle to know the difference.
- Fra'Mani did have some difficulty at the outset but without a doubt, their salumi probably ranks the best in the bay area - cleanest tasting and purity second to none.
- I am not famliar with Fatted Calf's product so cannot comment.
- Boccalone - way over-hyped and under-delivered. I want to like it but other than the fact that it is local, cannot find a reason to like.
Some of the salumi are OK, but I do like Fra'Mani's and some of Fatted Calf's better. What I do like is the lardo and the mortadella. Nothing can compare with either of those products. The sopressata is pretty good also.
I haven't yet tried the guanciale to compare to Fatted Calf's, but will do so soon. The other nice thing about Boccalone is that they will slice the products thinly and their staff is properly trained to do so. That is nice if you want to serve the salumi at a party.
We subscribed to a few months of box pickup at Incanto. I enjoyed it for the most part, but my husband liked almost none of the salumi or sausages. He felt everything was overwhelmed by too much cardamom or allspice. There is definitely some type of odd and off-putting spice mixture in almost everything, even the breakfast sausages. I do have quite a bit of lardo in the freezer that I need to do use. Not complaining about that. I agree with augustiner's mentioned of the mortadella--we did like that.
i like the orange and fennel salami, and their mortadella. the fresh sausages are kind of weird, though i like them well enough, just not enough to make them part of my routine. one of the strange flavors you mentioned tasted to me like white pepper. fragrant, bitter, sharp, and a flavor i associate with chinese food more than anything.
actually the first time i had the orange and fennel salami, i didn't like it at all. tasted bland and flat, with no hint of orange or fennel. but this was when they were being sold at bi-rite, and was some time ago. i think i might ignore boccalone for a couple months and go back again. at least for mortadella. although i am curious about their blood sausage and headcheese.
Bland and bitter are both good ways to describe what I've tasted as well. The dull Mortadella was all texture. no flavor but with an after taste I couldn't place. Everything I've sampled was sweating grease that was too reminiscent of spoilage. Admittedly I'm not an Incanto fan, but I still had such high hopes for Boccalone. If they felt it was ready for a retail store, they probably don't think of the product as being flawed. I really would love to buy into this romantic notion of superior artisan salumies, but I find myself still ordering Columbus or Molinari Coppa as my preference.
You've tried more than I have, but so far, I've only liked the lardo.
I'm a fan of Little City's sausage too. I've taken them to two pizza-making parties at homes with wood-burning ovens in the backyard, and they've always been well received.
Little City Market
1400 Stockton St, San Francisco, CA 94133
Boccalone Factory - Not Open to Public
1924 International Blvd, Oakland, CA 94606
1 Ferry Building # 21, San Francisco, CA