Years into a nationwide culinary movement that has seen countless producers returning to craft and traditional goods, Los Angeles boasts its own brands of locally roasted coffee, handmade chocolates and new school food trucks.
But not until Angeleno Matt Lauster decided last year -- with flavors like Korean BBQ, Sriracha-Lime and Garlic Habanero in mind -- to start cutting and drying his own beef, did this city acquire its own artisan jerky company with Venice-based Dried and True.
For anyone whose jerky experiences have been relegated to gas station purchases of additive-laced Jack's Links "nuggets" and Oberto's "hickory-flavored" strips, the idea of nitrate-free, hand-crafted jerky might sound like an oxymoron. Pit-stops at various rural roadside jerky stands, however, (think Alien Fresh Jerky in Barstow or Gus' Olancha Jerky off the I-5 in Central California) give glimpses to how a jerky Renaissance has grown out of this time-tested method of meat preservation.
"All-natural, artisan jerky is not a new concept, but it's definitely gaining momentum," says Lauster, a former corporate manager who started selling his handmade Dried and True jerky last August. "The vast majority of people, when you say beef jerky, they give you a funny face because they're used to having stuff from grocery store that's got all the chemical preservatives and it's gnarly and hard or doesn't have a lot of great flavor."
Dissatisfied with the selection of mass-produced jerky on shelves across the city and taking nods from companies like New York's King's County Jerky Co., avid home cook Lauster bought a commercial dehydrator and decided to start making his own. He found a local meat supplier that sells him six-to-eight-pound roasts, which he cleans the fat and gristle off of before slicing thin and marinating in a variety of custom sauces concocted out of fresh ground spices and other natural ingredients.
Korean BBQ and Sriracha-lime flavors take direct influence from Lauster's L.A. food adventures (he makes his own Sriracha), while classics like "peppered" and "original" are spins on traditional soy-and-Worcestershire-sauce recipes. He experiments with new flavors and ideas constantly; a lemon pepper marinade is in the early developmental stages and he has dabbled in grass-fed beef and gluten-free varieties.
"I'm already doing jerky in a different way that's kind of unique, but I think the flavors as well are a big contributor in the attention it has received," says Lauster. "They're not flavors that you're used to hearing. They have some flair and a little more personality."
After selling out during its official debut at the Abbot-Kinney Festival ("It reinforced that it wasn't just my friends and family saying it was good," Lauster says), Dried and True hit up a few farmers markets before retreating to focus on online and jerky-of-the-month club sales.
Lauster hopes a major retailer like Whole Foods or Bristol Farms will be willing to pick up his lean, hand-crafted beef jerky, but without nitrates, its shelf life is far less than that of his mass-made competitors. Still, Dried and True appeals to both jerky fans and the health-conscious -- the product is raw and paleo-diet friendly.
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"Between the store-bought stuff being expensive and it just not being that good, I realized I had an opportunity to make some kick-ass beef jerky," Lauster says. "We're taking the time to make what I consider to be a high-quality product that's more artisan and more gourmet than those other companies. I want people to feel good about what they're eating."
For more information on Dried and True beef jerky or to order packs online, visit driedandtruebeefjerky.com. Dried and True is also available for purchase at Bellissimo Venice, 68 N. Venice Blvd.
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