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On the Farm: Local Chefs Raising Their Own Meat

<br>Chef Eric Skokan

Chef Eric Skokan
Photo courtesy of Black Cat Farm

A farm-to-table philosophy is frequently touted in restaurants, but how many chefs can lay claim to the table and the farm? When it comes to sourcing meat, the three chefs featured here have taken the concept a step further and are raising animals on their own farms. From chickens to cows, here's the breakdown on the fruits of their labor.

skokan2.jpgBlack Cat Farm
Eric Skokan, Black Cat and Bramble & Hare
Where: Outside of Boulder
The farm crew: Eric and his wife Jill; three full-time, year-round employees; five additional in the summer; plus frequent volunteers, especially on Fridays for harvest days.
Animals and breeds raised: Through the last eight years Skokan has dabbled in trying different animals to find the best fit for his restaurants. One of the first animals was duck because it's his favorite to cook, but found it to be too difficult to raise. Currently the farm boasts roughly 120 pigs in Hereford and Mulefoot breeds (the black hair and skin of the Mulefoot means they won't burn in the Colorado sun), about 100 Tunis and Karakul sheep and more than 1,000 chickens of various breeds like Freedom Rangers, Orpington and Araucana, which produce different-colored eggs. There's also geese, heritage turkeys and a current experiment with Highland cattle.
How long they're raised: The shortest time is 12 weeks from hatching for the broiler chickens. Hogs run approximately 10 months, sheep for one year and the breeding stock is kept for seven or eight years.
How the meat is used: The farm supplies all the pork for both restaurants, used in dishes like roasted pork loin at Black Cat to head cheese terrine or country pate at Bramble & Hare. There are also sausages, meatloaf, homemade prosciutto and house-dried ham—with nothing going to waste. Lamb can be used for Merguez sausage, braised shoulder with polenta and more.
Eric on how the farm has changed the dynamic of his restaurants: "The restaurants are both whole-animal restaurants, meaning that we're not for six weeks going to run pork chops and then for six months run pork shoulder, and you buy one cut. We start with whole animals that come off of the farm and you start at one end and you work your way through to the other. So for the cooks it means that you're cooking in a Rubik's Cube kind of environment where you're twisting and flipping over the different cuts and working them out in a system so that we use up 100 percent of every animal. What that means for the customer is that every single day we change the menu."

alexseidel.jpgFruition Farms
Alex Seidel, Fruition and Mercantile Dining & Provision
Where: Larkspur
The farm crew: Steve and Ilse Anderson grow all the produce; dairy partner Jim Warren; a cheesemaker; Fruition staff typically spends one day a week at the farm.
Animals and breeds raised: East Friesian sheep serve as a milk breed, which some are then crossed with a Dorset meat breed to raise lamb. The farm is also home to heritage pigs in breeds of Wild Russian Boar and certified Berkshire.
How long they're raised: The milk sheep are raised for six to eight years, and the lamb are sold between six months to a year old.
How the meat is used: The milk breeds of sheep produce high-quality milk, which is used to make cheeses like ricotta, cacio pecora and shepherd's halo, a soft-ripened bloomy-rind variety. Coming soon is also a sheep's milk cheese made in the style of yogurt. Lamb is used at Fruition and also sold to other restaurants such as Table 6, ChoLon and Lower48 Kitchen.
Alex on the best aspect of raising the animals: "Just the complete understanding of what it takes to produce food and artisanal products. I think that's probably the most valuable lesson in raising animals—once you raise them you have to do something with them."

blackbellyfarmphoto.jpgBlackbelly Farm
Hosea Rosenberg, Blackbelly Catering
Where: Eastern Boulder County
The farm crew: A husband-and-wife team lives on the farm and does most work; cooks spend time helping out; Hosea personally takes animals to the slaughterhouse.
Animals and breeds raised: The main stock is lamb in the namesake Blackbelly breed, which are hair sheep and don't need shearing. The herd numbers about 40, with 25 lamb that will be harvested soon and the rest retained for breeding. Berkshire pigs make up about 50 percent of the swine inventory; Red Wattle, Large Black Duroc and Hampshire breeds round things out.
How long they're raised: Lamb takes between six and nine months to reach market weight and the adult males and breeding females are kept as long as they'll produce.
How the meat is used: The catering company can make use of the lamb and pork in ways ranging from a spit-roasted whole animal to fresh cuts in catered dinners. Currently Blackbelly is making plenty of fresh sausages, and a curing program and facility is planned for Blackbelly Market, with a current target opening date of mid-September.
Hosea on his most challenging day of farming: "This was last winter, and my sous chef and I went out to load up a couple pigs into the trailer, so we could take them out to the slaughterhouse. And there was snow on the ground and we had lowered the ramp down and backed up the trailer but we had this piece of fencing that was kind of loose. And we got one pig on the trailer and then the next pig broke free, and he started running down the road. And then the other one got free. So it was just two of us chasing around two 300-pound pigs in the snow and mud….It took us probably an hour and a half to finally get those two pigs back into the trailer and lock up the door, and we were just covered in mud and so distraught. It was a big lesson in farming for me."

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