Thistle Meats, a new butcher and charcuterie in Petaluma, is the brainchild of Molly Best, a stay-at-home mom with a passion for raising sheep, and Lisa Modica, a former environmental consultant. Their new shop on Petaluma Boulevard opened a few weeks ago, following a year of planning and renovations. The women, each of whom has two young children, might also have the best possible partnership: Best is energetic and lively, while Modica exudes a calm, Zen-like aura.
Best, a breeder of Dorset sheep, once contemplated starting up a sheep dairy to become a cheese-maker. She'd long fantasized about running her own butcher shop, but with young kids, felt it was at least five years from reality -- until the stars began to align. Best's new neighbor (now mentor) turned out to be Francois Vecchio, a Salumiere, Charcutier & Wurstmeister with over 50 years' experience. Meanwhile, Modica left her job in San Francisco to consider her next steps.
The two women started brainstorming with friends in January 2013. "We knew we wanted to do something, but we weren't quite sure what it was going to be," says Modica. "Initially, we were going to create a magazine for the local community," says Best, "but there came a point where I just couldn't picture myself doing it."
So why butchery, typically a male domain? "We looked at what the Petaluma community needed --- definitely not another antique store," says Modica, "and what the local area could offer us." Surrounded by local farmers, many who are raising organic, grass-fed animals, combined with the town's complete lack of a meat store and Best's butchery interests, it was a no-brainer when a storefront became available on the town's main street in February of last year.
"We knew we wanted to create a whole-animal butcher shop," says Modica, "and we were confident we could do it really well." The minute you walk into Thistle Meats you get a strong sense that you're in a place where quality matters.
The interior was designed by Wylie Price, who was behind State Bird Provision's recent remodel. Glossy white subway tiles line the walls, and there's an open butchering area in the center. Gleaming, stainless-steel-and-glass chiller cabinets create a clean and fresh look. Acknowledging how meat-processing in the U.S. frequently happens far from sight, Best says: "We didn't want to hide what we do, so we butcher all our meat right there, where everyone can see."
Equal amounts of real estate are dedicated to the local, fresh meats on display -- goat, beef, lamb, chicken, duck and rabbit -- as to the cured and house-made deli items such as mortadella, pepperoni, rillettes and chicken liver pâté. The house-made fresh sausages, including a spicy Merguez, are not to be missed. These offerings are rounded out with local vegetables, eggs and dairy, and wonderful bread, from local baker, Della Fattoria, which can be had if you get there early enough.
Excluding themselves, Best and Modica already have five employees, including three male butchers: a head butcher, a head of cured meats, and a third butcher who focuses on fresh sausage and their popular "Sandwich of the Day."
There's no doubt that Thistle Meats is a boon to the local community and visitors alike, and because of its focus on using the entire animal, there's a cut of meat available to suit anyone's budget. "We really want to break down the belief that people can't afford to eat healthily," says Best, "and based on our customers' reactions, I think we're being successful."
Thistle Meats, 160 Petaluma Blvd. North, Petaluma, (707) 772-5442, closed Tuesdays.