Wednesday May 22nd was a beautiful day to be visiting Firefly Farms in North Stonington, CT for an exclusive butchering workshop. Firefly Farms is a Certified Humane animal farm located in the South Eastern most point of Connecticut that specializes in rare breed animals that are pasture and forest raised. The farm is fairly new and is currently specializing in raising Mulefoot hogs which are the only hogs to be considered a breed and Mulefoot hybrids as well as chickens and cattle.
Mulefoots were likely brought over to the Gulf Coast via the Spaniards and since the early twentieth century their population has been in a decline. I had a rare opportunity to be apart of this butchering workshop at Firefly Farms to further hone my skills in butchering and learn about modern breeding techniques. What makes this more unique is that Mulefoots thrive on pastures and open land, which Firefly has plenty of and can tell you all about on their website.
Prior to this event I made the trek out there to visit their farm and get the full tour, their property is small by the standards of pasture raised animals but they have adequate land for what they are currently raising. Dougan, one of the family members that owns and manages the property, was my first contact a few weeks prior to my visit while I was in search of the perfect piece of fat to make my lardo. The excitement in his voice to meet me and get me out to the farm was a breath of fresh air since moving to the East Coast. During our first talk he was on his way to New York to pick up some rare cattle so our chat was short, but the following week he called me again excited to talk to me about the wonderful and underrated pork fat that he has available. When making lardo, I not only look for the best tasting fat but also the thickest, which has proven to be difficult. The back fat needed for lardo comes off of the back of the pig, above the loins (along the spine), and is hard to get and has a lot to do with the breed of the pig and its diet. After our second talk I was convinced that this was the farm to begin working with, not only for myself but for Cavey’s restaurant, and I headed out there a few days later. Dougan’s passion and excitement for his farm is something that I enjoyed and can relate to when I am in the kitchen.
During my first visit there was massive demolition going on, Dougan’s family is in the process of removing a lot of their trees to allow for better growth and development of the land, which during my second visit, was already beginning to show. The idea behind thinning the trees, which I know very little about, was to allow for more sunlight to reach the ground to help with ground cover and food for the livestock. Other techniques that are applied to the land are all controlled by animal rotation, this farm is truly on its way to being sustainable, from limiting erosion to natural development of the land and feeding the animals with what grows naturally, which happens to be acorns and grass, and acorns are great to finish pigs on.
My second visit started with another mini tour where we were all given a refresher on how the farm operates.
After our tour we began our butchering workshop, we broke down into pairs and we each had half of a pig to work on. Our first step was to decide what we wanted to do with the meat, which would determine how we broke it down. Our goal was a little different than the rest of the attendees, as they were going for the singles out tenderloin and a full rack of chops we were more focused on the parts that have more flavor. We started by removing the middle section, loin and belly, and proceeded to break down the front of the pig. Out of the front we got two nice roasts with a good amount of fat and a beautiful jowl that will be great when cured and smoked. After the front was cleaned up we broke down the back leg. Ours was very large, we were going to continue to break it down but with the time constraint we decided to cure it and hang it for prosciutto.