For far too long, the excellence displayed by talented women who’ve devoted their lives to the food industry has gone relatively unrecognized. Unfortunately, that slight has been tactical, resulting in vast numbers of difference-makers being made to feel as though they’ve been wrongly relegated to the periphery of their chosen profession. At FoodSided, we’re determined to change that narrative by celebrating women in food or, as we’ll refer to them going forward, Fierce Female Foodies.
Our ongoing Fierce Female Foodies series will shine a well-deserved spotlight on women who continue to leave their imprint on the industry and, in the process, bring their vast contributions out from the wings and place them in their rightful place at center stage.
Fierce Female Foodies: Cara Nicoletti
Who better to introduce as our inaugural Fierce Female Foodie than Cara Nicoletti? As a fourth-generation butcher, Cara has not only succeeded in a field that’s even more male-dominated than the food world as a whole, but she’s leveraged that expertise and bloodline in building her company Seemore Meats & Veggies.
With her grandfather Seymour as her inspiration and mentor, Cara Nicoletti created an innovative product and a company that has a conscience. Seemore’s sausages “value the entire ecosystem of food production.”
I took the occasion of chatting with the charismatic entrepreneur to learn more about her aforementioned culinary roots, journey, and vision.
How did your grandfather’s example influence your decision to become a butcher?
“I really grew up in the meat industry, obviously watching my grandfather, but I’m also fourth-generation, so I also watched my great-grandfather. It was just part of my upbringing. I never thought that I would pursue it, but when I found myself working in restaurants, it turned out to be the thing that I gravitated to and couldn’t get away from. It was very familiar to me. And right away, I was very disillusioned with the amount of waste that I was seeing because that was also a big part of my upbringing. I was taught that you don’t waste any part of the animal, so I wanted to find a way to help people eat meat a little bit more carefully and more responsibly.”
Your grandfather Seymour said that you revolutionized the sausage business.
“Well, Seymour speaks in hyperbole, but I’ll take it. If you think about sausages, they’re one of the oldest human-made food products. It’s literally mentioned in The Odyssey, it’s been around for like 4000 years, and there’s been very little innovation with it. But it’s also one of the original sustainability-minded foods. Sausages were invented so that we could make whole animal butchery viable. So when he says that I revolutionized the sausage industry, I would say that the bar was kind of low.”
Cara says that women make really good butchers despite working in a male-dominated field. As Exhibit A, Cara shared her thoughts on that assertion.
“I grew up witnessing butchery. I was in the meat industry, but I didn’t have any female role models in it. So I knew going into it sort of what the tone would be. Over the years, I worked with some really incredible men, and I also worked with some really bad ones, and it was very hard. I think in the end, it made me better at my job in a lot of ways because I felt such a need to prove myself. I had to just put my head down and work.
I spent a lot of time in my off-hours reading about meat science and just dedicated a lot of time to be as good as possible. And I found over the years that when I would train women to be butchers, I just had an easier time because they tended to listen and ask questions a bit more. They weren’t afraid to ask a question before messing up instead of messing up and then saying I don’t know what I did wrong. A big part of being a butcher is very careful, sort of meditative movements, and I think women, in general, tend to come at meat from a more emotional perspective. I personally think meat is emotional. It’s an emotional thing to eat, and it’s an emotional thing to cut meat, so I always found that that was something I had to explain a little bit less when I was training women.”
Needless to say, when someone tells you that being a butcher is meditative, the follow-up question almost asks itself.
“I think one of the things that I love most about it is that it is like you’re focusing on the usage of scraps. So you’re turning all of these undesirable things into something really beautiful and compact and edible. And when I say undesirable, I just mean tiny pieces of scraps, tiny pieces of meat that otherwise wouldn’t get used. So I find sort of the puzzle of using all of those things that maybe wouldn’t have been used, and I find that very meditative. But I also find the process of butchery itself meditative, the process of breaking down a pig or a chicken or whatever. And then you’re mixing it, and then the stuffing and the linking is really what relaxes me the most because it’s just repeated muscle movements that you aren’t even thinking about; your body just does it. I find it very pleasurable to see them all in a row, and mine are sometimes beautiful colors. I just think the whole thing is a great meditative process.”
Seemore Meats & Veggies doesn’t include the latter in its name as superficial window-dressing. Instead, vegetables are a vital component in its product line, with each of its unique flavors including up to 35% of the fresh ingredients. With reducing meat consumption being one of Cara’s core values at Seemore, I asked her how creating a vegetable-forward product helps fulfill that goal.
“A lot of people might think of it as eat less meat, but really what we do is get that really beautiful, good meat that we’re cutting to more people at a price point that made sense. I was frustrated early on with selling meat to the same demographic of people over and over again and that those people could afford to care where their food came from. I really wanted to widen the net. Sausages are one of the least expensive things in the case, and adding tons of vegetables made the meat stretch further. It’s scientifically a very difficult thing to put that percentage of vegetables into a sausage. When you see spinach and something sausage in the store, all of those ingredients are dried, and they generally make up like one to two percent of the total.
So we’re using up to 35% in Seemore’s sausages. The reason that that’s hard and the reason that people don’t do it is that water is the enemy of protein extraction, which is meat-binding. So if you think about sausages, they’re a bound-meat product, so when you cut into them, they’re a solid piece. When you’re adding vegetables, you’re adding water in that percentage, and it’s interrupting that bind, and you get kind of a crumbly, icky experience. So it took me well over a decade to kind of crack the code on that in a natural way. It has to do with the temperature it’s mixed at, how big the vegetables are, what the vegetables are, and what their water content is. We have seven flavors now, and I’m very proud of that. They eat like a normal sausage, but they have about 35% veggies in them.”
Some examples of those flavors are Chicken Chili Verde, a delicious sausage comprised of chicken, spicy green chilis & fresh cilantro, Loaded Baked Potato, comprised of pork, potatoes, cheddar, uncured bacon bits & chives, and La Dolce Beet-A, a vibrant-colored sausage made with pork, fresh beets, garlic & fennel. Frankly, Cara’s on to something here because Seemore’s sausages are delicious.
Cara Nicolette launched Seemore Meats & Veggies just two years ago, coinciding with a global pandemic and the accompanying obstacles that should’ve brought the company to its knees. Instead, Cara forged ahead, building on the tasty strength of an innovative product to form a partnership with Whole Foods. The retailer’s belief combined with consumers’ devotion to Seemore laid the foundation for an exciting future.
I asked Cara about Seemore’s early success and her vision for the company.
“We launched literally two weeks before the world shut down. So we have never had an experience as a brand. That was our normal. We were never allowed to go to trade shows or demos or do any of that. It’s made our first two years so much harder than I could ever communicate. Every single day has been a challenge, and I’m just so proud of us that we’ve made it for two years in this totally new landscape that nobody had any kind of playbook for. We’re still here, and we’re still growing.
In the short term, we have two breakfast sausages that should be coming out soon, which is very exciting to me. And then, in the long term, the hope is to expand beyond sausage, as we’re developing our first non-sausage product. We really want to be in every area of the meat section where you could get a fully meat product and offer a blended product like patties, nuggets, and the like. We can’t ever replicate a steak or anything obviously, but we can put our spin on all kinds of value-add foods, which is very exciting to me.”
While it would be easy to label Cara Nicoletti an overnight success in the food universe, that would be grossly inaccurate. She has persevered for over 12 years, embracing her meditative process en route to becoming an inventive pioneer. In other words, she’s a Fierce Female Foodie, the first of many whose stories we’ll be sharing here at FoodSided.