Joys of Jerky: Producers like Angelo’s in Petaluma popularized this salty treat
Long before Thomas Edison, Louis Pasteur, Prometheus, and the advent of fire, there was jerky. That chewy, dried hunk of meat coveted by cavemen and truckers alike.
From paleo moms to hiker dudes and their ravenous kids, the salty tang of cured meat has come a long way over the centuries.
Today, thanks in part to high-protein diets like keto and paleo, the jerky industry racks up more than $1 billion in annual sales, according to the industry market research group IBISWorld.
From the truck stop to Whole Foods, there are so many choices — teriyaki, salmon, buffalo, grass-fed, even mushroom jerky — it’s hard to know where to begin. But in an age when Jon Sebastiani has sold his Sonoma-based Krave jerky to the Hershey company for a reported $220 million, a pair of local, small-batch jerky purveyors — each with their own methods of flavoring and drying raw meat — seems a good place to start.
“This is the secret,” says Angelo Ibleto, 85, as he walks into the smoky backroom of Angelo’s Meats in Petaluma, where he’s drying a 200-pound batch of jerky.
The former Italian policeman, wearing a tattered Greek fishing cap, smiles like a kid on a scavenger hunt as he points to a large bowl suspended a few feet off the ground. “It’s my special Italian creation, also known as a cement mixer. I just put in a stainless steel pot, and now I can put my meat in there with the spices and enough moisture depending on the quantity of meat.”
It’s where the jerky takes a quick bath, mixing and tumbling for about 10 minutes before spending the next seven hours drying on racks at around 150 to 160 degrees.
Ibleto has just finished prepping a batch, something he does three times a week, mostly to supply his Sonoma store — Angelo’s Wine Country Deli, which sells as much as 30 to 40 pounds of jerky a day. Originally experimenting with American beef, Ibleto now uses only grass-fed New Zealand flank steak for all his beef jerky.
After 47 years in the meat business and 27 of those making jerky, Ibleto swears by the taste test as the only way to truly appreciate his jerky.
“They say one picture is worth a thousand words,” he said. “But if you put it in your mouth, you know there’s no B.S.”
One of his employees brings over a few pieces of jerky, cut into bite-sized chunks, and we sample the goods.
A little on the dry side, the plain jerky is still the best way to appreciate the unadulterated taste of the grassfed New Zealand flank steak. But the savory Teriyaki Pepper might be the most complex, packed with a moderate spicy pepper bite and the syrupy moisture of teriyaki.
Ibleto makes nine types of beef jerky, including Cajun and VIP (flavored by the Wine Country fire-and-ice combo of hot pepper and white wine), and two kinds of turkey jerky.
At some point during the tasting, his daughter Angela Dellinger, who is co-owner and manager of Angelo’s Meats, walks by and chimes in, “I’ll buy jerky anywhere — at Trader Joe’s, at Costco, wherever — and I’ve never seen another jerky that actually looks like ours, like a piece of steak, dried.”