Shortly after we returned from that trip to Europe, I started working at Pig-by-the-Tail, an American charcuterie in Berkeley. They made and sold various pâtés, sausages (I still miss their Champagne sausages, spiced lightly and flavored simply with Champagne), some cured hams, and a beef tongue vinaigrette I loved. Salamis draped along the back wall (I have fond memories of one co-worker hanging her arms into them and making a face at a particularly tedious customer). Each day we sculpted the pork rillettes into a pig, with parsley tucked in its ears.
I sliced salami, and learned to perfectly eye and cut whatever weight slab of pâté a customer requested, or wedges of the duck and chicken liver mousses, which seemed trapped under the jeweled (really, parsley glistening like emeralds) aspic that covered it. I wrestled with the unwieldy turkey galantine, a turkey skin re-stuffed with a forcemeat made with the turkey and sausage. I sliced bunderfleisch very very thinly for the exacting elderly German woman. I did my best to avoid the headcheese, as it made a horrible squeaking sound on the slicer. I even served a friendly woman who always struck me as a bit scatterbrained. Ten years later she, a judge, would marry Pavel and me. I'll leave it to you to wonder if she really was scatterbrained after all.
But one of my favorite things was making sandwiches. We sold sweet and sourdough baguettes there, they were baked, I think, somewhere in South Bay. Imagine that, a time when you had to go so far for baguettes. We cut off about a third of a baguette, split it down the middle, and then spread it with dijon mustard, and mayonnaise (which was made in the shop). A slice of pate, or some salami, or a bit of ham went next. With the pâté I would fan a few cornichons and lay them across the top. That was all. No lettuce, no tomatoes. And no cheese--you went to the Cheeseboard, four doors down, for that (The Cheeseboard's pizza collective now occupies Pig-by-the-Tail's old space). Finally, we rolled the sandwich up in white butcher paper, and fastened it with a piece of tape from the dispenser with a well full of water to activate the adhesive.
I still think the perfect sandwich is a simple one. Excellent bread, a light coating of butter (my favorite), or mayonnaise, and a thin layer of meat. Mustard is especially nice with pork pates and ham. That's really all it takes to make me happy at lunchtime. Or, truth be told, even dinnertime.