Local meats you can’t find at the grocer

SILVANA — Even if they weren’t on strike, Hollywood writers couldn’t concoct a better setting for Silvana Meats Inc.

In the real world, you get off I-5 at Exit 208 and head west on the Pioneer Highway through a series of well-kept farms. Pass the sign that says “Entering Silvana, Our 4-H clubs welcome you.” Then drive by the big red barn on your right, continue past the flock of sheep, cross over the river and look for the business with the cows painted all along the front. Hint: It’s on your right across from the aging grain building and silo.

John Kalberg didn’t concoct this setting. He bought a meat packing business there in 1985 with his father, who’s since passed away. Since then, Kalberg has added a retail and online sales operation and a smoker, but the business still carries the feel of an old-time butcher shop.

Kalberg and his employees cut their own meat, any way you like it, and make their own jerky, sausage and other meat products. They also smoke their own turkeys and dry-cure their own hams rather than inject them with brine and spices.

Kalberg said he and his father operated under three rules still at use today. “Honesty, quality and giving the customer something they couldn’t get at the grocery store.”

“We’ve made ourselves unique,” he said. “More and more grocery stores are going into all prepackaged meat. Wal-Mart gets all their meat from the Midwest.”

All Silvana Meats products come from Washington state. The beef “is naturally grazed.” None of the products contain hormones. “A lot of people are interested in the health issues of meat,” he said.

In addition to custom cutting the meat, the company will even make sausage from a customer’s old family recipe. “People will come in and say, ‘My uncle used to make this in Wisconsin,’ ” Kalberg said. “I’ll make it and if it’s good, I’ll keep making it (for other customers).”

Don Bayes, who grew up on a farm and taught agriculture in Stanwood schools for decades, remembers taking his students into Silvana Meats to show them how beef or other farm-raised meat is prepared for the table. “It beat my reading something to them for a week,” he said.

Today, he drops in regularly for a ham or a half slab of bacon. His wife is partial to their roasting chickens, which Bayes said are “bigger than usual” and “not raised in a box”.

A fundraising auctioneer for a variety of nonprofit groups, including many sporting clubs, Bayes regularly takes Silvana bacon to his auctions, asking people to play dollar poker for a chance to win it. “People go crazy over that,” he said. “Everybody pulls a dollar out.”

November is a busy time for Kalberg. He expects to sell 600 to 800 hams during this holiday season. He said he already has 100 orders for smoked turkeys for Thanksgiving and expects to sell 800 prime ribs during the holidays.

While nearly every community used to have its own meat packing house, Kalberg says he’s one of the few remaining and perhaps the last in the area to make its own dry-cured hams.

Asked about the reasons for Silvana Meats’ success, Bayes said the sales numbers speak for themselves.

“If you saw their list of clientele, you’d see this is not just a local place,” Bayes said. “On the weekends, people come in from all over. It’s good to see a little private enterprise surviving against the Wal-Marts and the Safeways. They’ve got their product and nobody’s going to crowd them out.”

Bayes also likes the service.

“If you had a fancy party coming up and you wanted 12 nice steaks, you’ll wind up at Silvana Meats if you know your way around,” Bayes said. “You just go in there and you tell them what you want.”

Pat Maher of Everett agrees.

“We’ve been going there for years and we love it,” he said. “Last time we had a relative dropping by and we went up and got a nice T-bone, extra thick. You just point at the thickness you want and they’ll cut it for you.”

Maher said he also finds “old world” products at Silvana Meats, that he can’t find elsewhere. “My wife and I Iove their smoked chipped beef,” he said. “It’s a Pennsylvania Dutch affair where you make up a little gravy and put it on toast.”

Tomorrow, Maher plans to head out to the shop to pick up the Thanksgiving turkey he has on order.

“It’s a lot of fun,” he said. “It’s a nice drive in the country — just 16 miles from our front door.”

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