I have, by most standards where I live anyway, an unusual meat supply. I’m not trying to be special or exclusive. I’m just trying to be sensible. Wine tasting my butt off for a few years taught me two important lessons that I now apply to meats: ‘Quality/Price’ ratio, and ‘love thy small producer’. So I choose a small local producer I like, buy direct [good QPR required], buy the animals whole, butcher them myself, and win on both the quality AND price fronts. Yes. Yes it does feel good.
I’ve discussed the economics of buying a whole pig here, from a small local producer that not only supports the ethics and approach I try to support, but that I can introduce to my kids as ‘our pig farmer’. They’ve had a lot of local successes in the past couple years, and are becoming one of the more visible niche pork sources in the city. Great. The quality on the plate – the important part – is very solid. The fact that I can cut them into whatever I dream up for the kitchen is another bonus. All these attributes, for less than you’d pay for retail cuts at a supergrocer for a pig raised in an industrial system I’m not interested in supporting with my consumer dollar. That said, I’m also disinterested in spending 400+% more than said industrial pig for one from a popular organic producer at the market. I think there’s a better way. I’ve found that better way, when it comes to pork.
But my poultry supply may need work. My current supply is from a local Hutterite group, about which I know little, to be honest. What I do know is they grow huge chickens, and sell them for cheap. I normally pay about $1.25/lb. I like to think that it’s largely because I’m in on an order with a number of other folks and we end up buying 50-100+ birds at a time. It very well may be because they industrial farm as good as the next guy, and we simply cut out some middle men. Dunno. That’s the problem. We took a dozen last time, which lasted us a few months. Then we ran out. And I don’t know when the next big order’s being called in – another supply issue, in my mind. So what to do? Coincidentally, a day after we ran out, a good friend emailed me that a friend of theirs [Annette and Willie at Peck N Berry Acres] was getting a bunch slaughtered, and asked if I wanted. So I picked up 3 to try them out, and span the gap until my next bulk order. If their pastured-and-drug-free-chicken diet is similar to their heritage breed turkeys [which I've tried, very rich, dense]: “Fifty percent of their diet is grass, which creates healthier meat, increasing the vitamin content as well as the omega content. The other half of their diet is a wheat/barley mix with a vitamin/mineral/protein supplement. Up to this point, we’ve been able to purchase barley and wheat from within a 10-mile radius of our acreage.” That seems sensible, no? So far so good.
$15.50 or so for a 2.5kg [5.5lb] bird. $2.80/lb. I see the $20-30 price tags at the market for birds of similar size – but it’s still roughly double-and-change what my current source costs. If we go through a dozen chickens a year say, at 8 lbs a piece, that’s about 100 lbs of chicken. An additional cost of say $1.50/lbX100lbs, that’s $150/year more than normal. That doesn’t get me too upset -but at 2 dozen chickens a year, that price spread nearly pays for a whole hog – so further justification is required in my mind. Quality verdict? It’s good. Wrongly or rightly, I was expecting a more intense chicken experience, like I’d had with their turkeys. But it was good chicken. If flavor were the only quality measure, I would not make a move in supplier – but as often can be the case, the important difference may be in what’s not in the meat [all other things being equal, I figure opting out of the hormones, antibiotics, genetically modified corn/soy feed, etc is reasonable]. So it looks like I need to do more homework into my current source, and if it’s sketchy at all, Annette and Willie may end up getting by business, despite the price spread. And my inner cheapass applauds them for that achievement.