Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Making Magic

Every animal deserves a good farmer, a good butcher and a good chef. 
The hand and knife belong to James Naquin-chef, butcher, caterer, friend-a food rock star among chefs and butchers and all things meat.  The beautifully marbled cut of meat belonged to a carefully raised Duroc/Hampshire pig.  The setting is our farm kitchen.  And when all of these elements come together, I can promise you, magic happens.
The very best food, with the very best flavors, cannot be rushed.  Good food starts with the soil.  Rich soil produces nutrient dense food-grass for the animals, fruits and vegetables for us.  Our pig breeds are selected for their hardiness, grazing abilities and exceptional flavor.  A sow carries her piglets for 115 days- three months, three weeks, three days.  
Once the sows farrows, the pigs are raised on grass in family groups.  They are fed whey from a local goat dairy that is leftover from cheese making plus pasture and hay, extra milk from our goats and barley.  We don't just feed them the cheapest feed we can find.  We feed them the best feeds that produce healthy animals and flavorful meat.  The baby pigs come out onto the pasture the day that they are born.  They only pick at the grass when they are small, but pasture will make up more and more of their diet as they grow.
We raise Heritage breeds of pigs like Gloucestershire Old Spots, Herefords and Kune Kunes that are known for the exceptional flavor of their pork as well as for being able to turn grass into meat and fat.  The flavor of meat is developed through a combination of genetics, feed and time.  Cheap, poor quality feeds and fast growth produces pale, tasteless meat.  Our Heritage pigs take from 10 months to over a year to grow out, but the taste is worth the wait.

I love the saying above and everything that it encompasses-humane farming, a carefully butchered animal and thoughtful preperation (and this is another local  rock star-Ross Flynn).  Ah, and this is where the magic happens.  When you take that carefully grown animal to an artisan butcher and they handle the meat and cuts with as much care as you put into growing the animal.  We have turned the words " butcher and butchering" into something negative in this country.  Believe me, when you see this old art performed the right way, it is nothing short of amazing. 
Then an equally thoughtful and talented chef, takes that meat and creates a dish that is enjoyed slowly, shared, written about, photographed and shared again.  Every piece of the pig is used, not just the tenderloin or the other prime cuts.  Smoky pork shanks in a rich broth with greens, melt in your mouth charcuterie spread across a crusty chunk of bread, Jambalaya, with all of its layers of flavor, simmering in a huge cast iron pot on the stove-now you are getting the picture!  Friends farmers, chefs and butchers coming together in every step of the process over a shared love of exceptional food, animals, farming, drink and community-now that is truly magic and the very, very best part of this old profession of farming for me.
Pork shanks over polenta with tomatoes and lemon zest

Sunday, January 19, 2014

New Year, New Life

The best days on the farm are "new baby days".  Warm, sunny days when you walk out to check the animals and find a cow licking her new calf, a wet lamb struggling to stand and nurse or a sow having pigs.  You feel blessed to be a part of such a rich life.
Most people do not think of January as warm and sunny, but we have had several nice January days with today being another one.  The new babies have a much easier go of it when they are lucky enough to be born on a warm day.
Rosie, a Gloucestershire Old Spot gilt, had her pigs in a sunbeam in the doorway of the barn.  She is a young, first time mom and just had four pigs.  The next time she farrows, she will probably have eight or more and the bigger she gets, the more pigs she will have in each litter.  She is being a good mom and all four pigs have survived and are thriving.
Pandora, an American Guinea Hog, had her pigs in another barn, out of the wind, in a big pile of straw.  While being a good mom is mostly instinct, the ability to care for offspring does not always come to every animal. 
Pandora had her first litter in a puddle after breaking out of her farrowing pen.  Needless to say, none survived.  Her second litter, she had out in the woods (after yet another breakout) and came back with only one surviving pig.  She immediately pawned her one offspring off on another mom and went about the business of getting bred again to a boar that was on the other side of the farm. At this point, my faith in her mothering abilities was pretty non existent.  Pandora was looking like a good candidate for sausage.  The time came for the trip to the processor and I could tell that she was starting to get milk.  A look at the calendar and spreadsheets told me that she had to have gotten bred immediately after dropping her second litter.  Bad little piggy.  So she was spared and locked in a pen that would hold a buffalo=or so I thought.  After a week or so in that enclosure, she started to tear things up.  In frustration, I let her out and back into the pasture, figuring that I would never see this litter either.
The next morning, on a rainy Saturday, complete with thunder and lightening, she had made a nest in the old barn.  She popped out seven black pigs and was the model pig mom, lying down carefully and grunting softly to them while they nursed.  She runs to the feed trough , eats, and runs back to her babies.  She takes them out to sun bathe when it is cold under the eves of the barn.  I swear she smiles and winks at me when I go down to check on her and the babies.  She knows that she is not going anywhere now.