By Lorrie Baumann
True story: Phil Gatto just loves making hams and sausages so much that a 40-year career with a major meat processor just wasn’t enough for him – he had to help start another meat processing company, where he and his four co-Founders are making antibiotic-free deli meats and organic sausages and hot dogs. “I didn’t think I’d done my best work yet, so I wasn’t ready to retire,” he says. “I’m probably more enthusiastic about good food and further processing than I ever was in my career.”
Gatto is one of the co-Founders of True Story Foods, a company they’re building around the idea that cured and processed meats can be produced with responsible husbandry and without antibiotics and that they can make their supply chain transparent from farm to consumer. “We work with farmers and ranchers who care for their animals and land the old-fashioned way –– with genuine respect, appreciation, and sense of responsibility,” Gatto says. “We believe it’s our job to support them every way possible. That’s why we pay better than market rate. By doing so, we not only build meaningful relationships with people who share our values, but also a model that is sustainable and attractive to farmers. This is critical to building a new generation of farmers for the future.”
True Story’s Black Forest Ham is Gatto’s personal favorite among the meats the company is producing because he likes knowing that he can go back to the farm where the pork that goes into it was raised, he says. That farm belongs to Russ Kremer, another of the co-Founders in the venture, a fifth-generation Missouri farmer who has been raising pigs since he was five years old. When he returned from college in the early 1980s, he adopted industry trends and started raising hogs in a conventional manner until his eyes were opened to the dangers of allowing antibiotics to infiltrate the human food chain after he contracted an antibiotic-resistant infection that was passed onto him from one of his pigs. That incident changed his mind about the best way to raise animals for human consumption, and in 2001, he founded a cooperative of farmers who shared his new beliefs about raising livestock without antibiotics, growth enhancers or hormones in an environment in which they’re able to express their natural behaviors. “Russ is growing heritage-breed hogs, Berkshire, Tamworth and Duroc. He has oversight of the pork supply for True Story,” Gatto says. “He knows what he’s raising. If you go back and pick the very best breeds and you raise them in the best environment, and you’re conscious about the feed, you’ll end up with a very good quality pork…. Pork is going to make a resurgence as a very delicious meat that has red color and marbling.”
While pork is the protein that’s dearest to Gatto’s heart, True Story’s line includes a range of deli meats that are Non-GMO Project Verified, organic deli meats made from chicken and turkey as well as pork, organic chicken and pork sausages and organic pasture-raised beef hot dogs. The company was founded in 2011 and made its national launch last March at Natural Products Expo West.
The quality of the products is a direct result of the care with which the animals are raised, according to Gatto. “We have a community of people involved all the way from the farmer. People start to get excited about their food and what it should taste like. A ham should taste like a good holiday dinner,” he says. “When you get everybody in the supply chain around the same table, it’s interesting how excited everyone gets. When you see people enjoying the food… There are consumers who ask where their food came from, and we’re proud to tell them.”
Once the meat leaves the farm, it’s harvested humanely and then processed in the San Francisco Bay Area with traditional methods that protect the flavors of the meat, according to Gatto. “A lot of the meats we eat today have been more industrialized, and we felt that if we went back to traditional practices, we could get meat that was more like we ate a couple of generations ago,” he says. “We go back to the old recipes, and we find consumers who are not concerned so much about cost as where they can buy it because of how good it tastes. A lot of times, that’s in the texture of the meat and the bite of the meat and how you can appreciate that in a sandwich.”
Gatto hopes that after the True Story products leave the processing facility, they’ll reach consumers who care enough about their food to take the time to enjoy them. “Food should be fun, shouldn’t it? At the end of the day, we’re in the food business. We want to sit around the table with a ham sandwich and a salad and share some good stories. Is that too idealistic?” he says. “Consumers are looking for this kind of food. We’re asking consumers if you believe, and want to have transparency, then go to your local supermarket and tell them, ‘We’d like to have True Story.’… When you put food on the table, differences disappear, and it’s the food that brings you together.”