so a couple weeks back a few pounds of sausage links arrive in my walk-in at work, 1.5 pounds of mild italian sausage and 1.5 pounds of spicy italian sausage. there’s a paper with pricing and info about the farm. minimal info but clear.
i bring it home and a couple days later we have my mom and my in-laws over for sausage on the grill. these links were great! i had a couple spicy ones and the meat was tasty, lean, and really good. so much so that the next day i called the number on the attached card. brian. pig farmer.
with a brief conversation i learned that brian had recently moved from california to start this pork operation and he said his pigs were roaming free in a wooded copse. i wasn’t even sure i knew what the word copse meant but in my mind i saw pigs in the forest, and it all sounded like bacon. i decided i should plan a field trip to the farm and see this for myself. while i know very little about pig farming, i never imagined pigs in the forest roaming free. i mean, this sort of thing seemed natural but i just thought pig farming as a smelly, crowded, thick and depressing environment. brian seemed enthusiastic about his endeavor and eager to have me visit his operation. we settled on the following sunday and he said to bring the kids.
when i got up sunday morning it was much later than i usually wake up and i was feeling really well rested as i stumbled out of bed just after 8am. it was after 9 when my wife and son emerged and almost 10 when i had to go and look at my daughter to make sure she was still there. as i stepped softly into her room and approached her bed, her eyes opened slightly and she smiled.
at some point in my fog i put the farm address in my phone and noticed it was about an hour and a half drive. yikes.
since our very usual routine is to soak up the minutes like paint drying on sunday mornings and stretch out breakfast into lunch and lunch into dinner…… it was a bit challenging to rally the troops and get out by 10:45. i had at first said “10 or 11am” to brian via email and he responded with “see you at 11.” when i realized we would be quite behind schedule i texted him, and my 11am arrival was off by an hour and a quarter. i am not usually one to be late but in this case i was amazed i was even able to get the whole family in the car and on location without at least a couple defectors. somehow this fact negated my usual stresses about being late.
the day was bright and pretty comfortable. brian welcomes us from overalls, a straw hat and red beard. the kids petted the dog and quickly found a climbing tree. brain showed us his keyhole beds and fruit trees and blueberry bushes. my wife is so up on gardening and plant names and she and brian were over my head in a minute, talking peach trees and asparagus, and before long we met brian’s wife, angela at the back door and decided to go see the pigs before lunch.
a golf cart carried the 5 of us… brian and i in front and caroline and the kids on the bench seat facing back. we learned a bit about brian’s interest in permaculture, in the natural order of things, and that he had been in the marine corps. soon we arrived to find some eager pigs. my kids were excited. the pigs had been trained to an electric wire and were cordoned off in an acre of forrest. i lifted my daughter over and my son jumped and they were entranced for a spell as they tried to “pet or touch” a pig.
so cool! these were a young bunch and we learned that as they forage and dig and burrow, they regenerate vintage greenery, and help in keeping the forest healthy. brian tells us after a while when the pigs have cleared an area he wires off a new spot and they all head right over to eat and enjoy the next patch of green. he’s been given 60 acres of forest to use and the land owner basically just wants a percentage of the profit in exchange.
soon we’re back on the golf cart and deeper into the woods. we find the pack of pigs that is a week from slaughter. big fatties. they look about as happy as pigs could be. they bury their snouts in the dirt, rub their butts on a tree as a scratching post, and grunt and lay around and nap. we learn that pigs are smart and social and usually follow the leader pig.
close to these big ones are the litter of babies. brian says because they don’t have as much fat they get out of the wired areas easier and don’t feel the shock as much. he ends up chasing them down and trying to train them to the wire. it sounds like hard work but somehow a bit of fun too, running around the woods chasing baby pigs….
we walk a few hundred feet to another group. he knows they are out in the woods nearby so he calls for them …”PIG PIG PIG PIG PIG PIG PIG PIG PIG”
and here they come put of nowhere….. striped ones and spotted ones, pink ones and brown ones…. a whole mess of breeds. maybe 15 or so pigs come running through the woods to see us.
by this time my kids were both hungry. they wanted to get back to whatever mystery lunch these farmers had prepared for us. and so we hit brian with more questions as we made our way back to the farm house. who does this sort of farming? where did he learn? is this a common way to do things? we learned that this is NOT a common way to raise pigs for food. this is something he is learning and inventing and innovating. brian is full of excitement in his monotone marine corps way. brian is perfectly suited to this line of work. he’s smart, methodical, dedicated, and interested in being in touch with the food he eats. he’s not interested in growth hormones, pesticides, steroids and industrial farming. he easily expresses his love for what he does and his strong conviction that it’s good for us and the earth to farm organically. it made so much sense. here’s the kind of person it takes to do this: a smart, young, disciplined marine from california. i don’t know. it’s hard to put the pieces together with words here on the internet, but there on the golf cart and in the sunshine and copse, the whole thing just seemed right. like this was the only way anyone should ever raise pigs.
back at the farm house, angela had a spread waiting for us. the house was IMMACULATE. the floors were all tile and we took off our shoes before entering. since i only had on my sunday birkenstocks, i was able to feel the cool tile with my bare feet. i can tell you now there was not a speck of dust or sand in the place. the house was neat as a pin and the lunch was delicious. there was a gallon of fresh cow milk on the table and sausage links and pulled pork. salad and rice and some slaws. my son was so happy about the milk. so creamy and raw. after lunch angela busted out homemade angel food cake, whip cream and berries. oh man. all those farm fresh egg whites and wheat flour…. the whip cream…. so good.
after lunch we got a brief tour of the rest of the farm. we learned the farm has another family that runs the dairy cows and meat cows, laying chickens and meat chickens. we saw the cows out in 2 separate pastures, meat cows in one and dairy cows in another. we saw the meat chickens which must be the definition of free range. they had a huge coop that got moved around the farm. we saw several small sinkholes in the fields as we passed, and i could’t help but wonder if they might swallow us up at any minute.
we saw the laying chickens under their coop in a field. brian said they never go more than a couple hundred yards from home during the day. he said they get 80 or 90 eggs per day…
and as we talked a bit of shop arriving back at home base, we discussed the tenderloin, the ribs, the pork belly and the pounds of sausage we could buy for pizza topping. we talked about potentially needing a pig a week and how we might be able to start experimenting with seasoning the sausage ourselves and crumbling the fresh pork on the pie instead of dicing linked sausage like we do now.
brian gave me a couple dozen fresh eggs, more links of sausage, some unseasoned and unlinked sausage, and a small pack of bacon. fortunately my wife thought to bring a cooler.
my daughter decided she wants to stay out there and live. she wants to be a farmer and take care of pigs and chickens and climb trees. we stopped at the itchetucknee spring head on the way home. the water was cold but also refreshing. we all swam a while then laid in the sun on a towel.
we had to get back for a dinner with family. my in-laws were about to leave for seattle and my wife’s aunt and uncle were in town too. my mom also came and we all met up at southern charm.
monday morning i was too tired to make the bacon so it was tuesday before i put three pieces in the pan. thick stuff. thick enough that one for me, one for my boy and one for my wife was enough. my daughter is not a bacon fan so i am trying to find her real father now.
that bacon was the best ever. wow. what can i tell you? how do you describe the best bacon? think about the best bacon you ever had. now think about that times 3.
the sausage we got is not enough to make a lot of pies at work but i’m thinking it will be enough to take with me to mississippi for the SEC pizza bake off. i wish i had more to experiment with before i go but honestly i may have just enough to eat a bite and pack up for travel. that’s another story i plan to bring you here. the trip to mississippi for a pizza competition. i haven’t done this sort of thing so it might be interesting. it also might be boring but either way i hope to tell you way too much about it here.
i think we have some really excellent sausage already at satchel’s, and i know some people might be really sad if we replace it with this new sausage, i hope to explore this option and see how it tastes and works on a satch pie and am interested to see if it is just hands down better or up for debate among sausage lovers. the diced link sausage we do now does have a nice crispy-ness to it when it heats up just so. brian is gonna have me a big batch of sausage to try when i get back from my pizza contest trip. he’s got to get the pig slaughtered with USDA standards and inspectors before it can be sold to a restaurant. the next batch of pigs will be coming my way soon.
so, i will keep posting about it if i can find the time. i love finding folks like brian who love what they do and are so well suited to their job as well. we all have a way to fit into the system and it revives my interest in my own profession to see someone thriving in theirs.
and finally, i must admit, the only reason i have pictures and can post again is because of my new computer. the macbook air was a dud and after calling more 800 numbers i was told to take it in to a best buy and exchange it. i doubted this would work but it actually did. and so this new macbook air seems to be in perfect working order so far. no funny speaker sounds, no moving cursor…. and this allows me to upload my pictures and also type away for entirely too long. do not consider me a snob though because i still prefer my chrome book.
i am yawning big yawns now. it must be past midnight. tomorrow i hope to seriously do all the things on my list that i missed today.