There is too much delicious food on the table. I’m having lunch at Milktooth with George Turkette and Troy Reed, the guys behind Indy’s newest charcuterie spot called The Pig’s Tale. We have ribeye, chicharones, sour cream biscuits, and a mess of four other dishes. We didn’t order all of this, many of them are gifts “from the kitchen” as the waitress points out. They aren’t gifts for me, they are for George and Troy, two highly respected characters in Indy’s food scene. I must admit I’m enjoying the spoils of their popularity.
“We have a place,” Troy says, “it’s a 4,000 square foot empty warehouse in a small industrial park.” The industrial park is on 65th street, near Bier Brewery and Great Fermentations, an area the tenants are now calling Sector 65. It’s been a crazy ride for these two.
Troy has been in the food industry for going on 15 years, and his passion for charcuterie goes back to a young age. “When I was reading my first Italian cook book, I was maybe 14 at the time, I was like ‘What’s a prosciutto, I’ve never heard of the kind of cheese,’” he laughs at his childhood ignorance. It took him a few years to get to taste the gloriousness that is prosciutto.
He recounts his first taste, “The fact was, it wasn’t available to us in South Bend, so I had no way of knowing. So, when I turned 16, I got in my car and drove to Chicago and bought my very first prosciutto and some real parmesan; not that stuff in the green can, but real, authentic cheese. I must’ve spent over a hundred dollars. I wanted to share it with my friends and family. But, over the two hour drive home I literally ate all of it, I couldn’t stop eating it and I got home and had nothing to show, nothing to share. But, I did have a learning experience.” From there he began reading and years later he started curing his first prosciutto in his parents basement.
His business partner, George had a completely different path into the world of charcuterie. He first found his passion for cured meats during culinary school in Fort Wayne. Then, when he moved to Indianapolis three years ago and took a job at Neal Brown’s Pizzology, he was able to turn that passion into a real world skill.
“I opened the downtown location [of Pizzology] as executive chef. From that point on, every restaurant I’ve worked in I’ve let them know of my interest in charcuterie. At Cunningham [Restaurant Group] I took over their pancetta program and had some fun with it. Then I went over to Mesh and Cerulean. From there I knew what I wanted to do, so I started my apprenticeship at Smoking Goose. I signed up for an 18-month charcuterie apprenticeship and only did 10-months there.”
Of his time at Smoking Goose, George has nothing but great things to say, “My time there was so rewarding and taught me so much. Molly and Chris [Eley] are both incredible people to work for and to work next to. It was a great learning experience. I got to learn an entirely different side of things. I have done it in a restaurant where I’m hand-cranking salami and even stuffed salami before with a piping bag,” he and Troy both laugh, “it was absolutely terrible. Smoking Goose was completely different and it was wonderful to see the operation and what it’s actually like to produce the high volume of high quality product.”
This time at Smoking Goose granted George the opportunity to start the charcuterie program at the newly opened Vida. “And now, here I am 5 years after this all began and I’m getting ready to open my own spot. It’s crazy!”
It isn’t as crazy as George may think it is, it is precisely what he and Reed need to be doing. They have a clear vision for their company, a market that could benefit from diversification in product, and an insatiable passion to create quality cured meats. The crazy part is how they came together on this project; it is one of those moments where you realize fate was at work.
George explains their initial meeting, “I had broken my collar bone in a bike accident and I was off work fo four weeks. I was sitting at home, immobilized, my mom was in town helping me and I get this message from someone I didn’t know on Facebook.” Troy points out he had seen a post about George a few months before where he was working at Smoking Goose and he noticed they were in a lot of the same online forums.
“I thought, well here is a guy that is doing charcuterie here in Indianapolis,” says Reed, “I had already started the process of making this company back in February and I knew I was going to need some help. Then I saw his collar bone was broken and just thought, well now is my chance.”
Troy reached out to George and asked if they could meet and talk about opening a place, George figured it couldn’t hurt and so they met. “He talked about his philosophy,” George recounts, “and everything he has been working on for the over the past year and it was pretty much instant, like I felt an immediate connection because here was this guy doing this craft that I’m doing and feels the same way I do about it. He pointed out everything I care about, the pigs, the process, the product, supporting the farmers, educating the community, and it just came full circle at that moment.”
From that moment they began working through every step of creating a business. The fact that they have that same vision just makes it that much better. Each step of the way the two of them are in sync on the factors they find important. “We’re going to focus on whole animal only. We will be breaking whole pigs down and turning that into our products, whether it’s salami, or whole muscle charcuterie, or bacon. That’s our philosophy, we want to use the whole animal, it’s very important to us,” says Reed. Not only is whole animal important, but so is the source of the meat. It matters to them and it should absolutely matter to us as consumers.
Turkette explains why: “Where the product comes from, how its raised, what it’s fed, it all makes a major impact on the quality of the meat. Literally every aspect of the pigs life is just as important to us as the process of making a great product. Even the selection process of which farmers has been pretty strict, and thought-out. We knew we needed farmers that met our criteria,” Troy jumps in and adds, “We don’t want pigs that are raised in crates and that are being fed the usual feed operations, so that was our number one priority. A pig that lives a better life produces a better quality product.”
Because of this philosophy, The Pig’s Tale will be working closely with three local farms, Hayden Family Farms in Fishers is the main supplier, but they will also be getting Berkshires from Arick Landis of Shamrock Showpigs and Large Blacks from Alan McKamey of Heritage Meadow Farm.
The pair are excited to be working with a specialty heritage hybrid of Gloucestershire Old Spot, Berkshires, and Mangalitza. George excitedly describes the idea behind this breed, “It’s like a triple genetic combination of these awesome, heritage breed pigs to make this one awesome, super pig for charcuterie. He wants to breed these pigs specifically for charcuterie.”
The use of Hayden Family Farms came pretty much out of the blue for the team and they are running with the opportunity. They found the farm through an event Hayden Family Farms is doing on second Sundays this year called, The Table. The farm is working in conjunction with some of the best restaurants in the city to bring a meal complete with beer, wine, cheese and charcuterie (made by none other than The Pig’s Tale).
Not only are George and Troy working during these events, but on August 20 and October 14 they are hosting their own event. The event ties in their desire to educate the public through a series of classes, the first two will be held at Hayden’s Family Farms and they will teach people how to butcher a whole hog through a hands-on approach. “We will demo the whole hog breakdown, and people will get the opportunity to do some hands-on stuff curing prosciutto, lomo, and coppa. Just kind of curing out whole pig,” explains George. “The second one will be the same at the beginning, but instead it will be a salami and sausage class. So we will show how you break the whole pig down and turn it into fresh sausage and salami.”
This will be just one way they will be sharing their product with the public before they have a fully-functioning operation. They are still waiting on all of their investment to come through, and once it does the building will be fully operational within six weeks. For the time being, they are working to get permitting to make their product in a certified kitchen that is already open, so they can sell at farmers markets to get their name out into the community. It will be four to six weeks before they are in any farmers market.
Once the building is ready, it’s only a matter of time before they are going at it full-bore (or should it be boar in this instance?) They will start out with six different types of salami, which will be their main focus at the beginning since it takes about five weeks to cure a salami. Then they will be doing the coppa and pancetta, which can run about 100 days to cure. They also have plans to eventually get into prosciutto and a couple other things that they are keeping to themselves for the moment. “We can’t give away all of our secrets,” Reed says, giving a sly smile. From talking with the both of them, I can tell it’s going to be something unique.
It’s hard not to be unique in the world of charcuterie. Troy makes it pretty easy to see why, “If you think about wine, you could have the same grapes growing in America, France or wherever and they’re going to taste vastly different because the terroir where they’re grown is different. So, in the same way, we could have the same recipes as Goose does — which we don’t, we have no reason to do that — but, the hogs are different which changes the flavor, and then we have the interior terroir which is going to have a different microflora floating around, and then with a different source for the spices it literally will be an entirely different product. It is impossible to duplicate anyone's product. I mean, like with wine, year to year our product will even taste differently based on a hundred different factors.”
They believe the favorites will be the spicy calabrese salami and the hunter’s salami, know as cacciatore. The calabrese will be unlike many made in the United States because they are working with a spice purveyor who has the ability to source directly from Italy. “All of our really bold Italian spices are coming directly from the source … we want to make sure we are getting the highest quality spices and casings. Why get high quality pork and ruin it with low quality ingredients?”
George and Troy have a simple idea for their business, and George puts it matter-of-factly, “All we want to do is educate people, help the farmers, help the community, help local restaurants and grocery stores, and share our product.” Sometime before the end of the year we will all be happily sharing the The Pig’s Tale.
For more info and updates, keep up with them at: pigstale.com
Many of the food and drink markets in Indianapolis are quickly growing to be highly-saturated. With over 40 breweries in Central Indiana, hundreds of restaurants, food trucks popping up all around the city and more and more distilleries opening everyday, it can be a headache trying to pick through and find the worthwhile stops. For nearly a decade though, there has only been one name in the Indianapolis charcuterie business, Goose the Market and its wholesale component, Smoking Goose. That is all about to change.