9/17/2012 11:47:00 AM

On the Farm and In The Butcher Shop with Slagels And Top Chefs

As soon as our mosquito bites healed from our last farm adventure, somehow we found ourselves back in the car and fleeing the city for rural Illinois. The occasion called for us to head south to Slagel Family Farm. This time, we weren't chasing beer - we were chasing chefs. Five chefs to be exact - they were on hand to prepare a meat-centric feast at this outpost in the country.

The Slagel name can be seen on menus around Chicago, listed before various cuts of pork, beef, goat and lamb. Owner LouisJohn Slagel and his army of siblings run the farm that quickly became a go to for gourmet meats. This unassuming family working on this pristine patch of land is hiding a genius business plan. When Slagel decided to take his produce to the city, he started cold calling restaurants that he thought would be in the  market for higher quality meats. One of his first and most loyal customers turned to be Paul Kahan. Once Kahan was on board, other chefs followed.

On Saturday, five of those chefs went to the farm to prepare a meal using Slagel meats. The guest chefs included Heather Terhune (Sable Kitchen + Bar), Matt Troost (Three Aces), Zak Dolezal (Duke's Alehouse and Kitchen), John Asbaty (Panozzo's) and David Digregorio (Osteria Via Stato). Before we could sit down to the meal, there were other matters to attend to: pig butchery.

After gathering for appetizers on the red farmhouse’s patio that overlooks green pastures with goats and sheep, guests we instructed to drive about five miles into the city to their butchery facility. Awesome! The tiny town, almost entirely owned by Slagels, is contained within a single intersection. Once inside the butchery room, we stared down at a white counter with a single saw. This was going to get gruesome.

Behind us was the meat freezer, which not only contained that half hog we were going to chop up, but also entire 900 pound cows and more pigs. Our victim was attached to a hook on a track that ran from the cooler to the table, and was rolled into the light. The frozen meat had already been drained - basically it stopped resembling a cute animal a long time ago.

The process of disassembling the pig into the familiar (chop, belly, shoulder, loin) and unfamiliar (collar, jowl, tail, hoof) cuts of meat took about half an hour using various saw, knives and electric machinery. We learned tidbits about the subtle differences in flavor and texture that result from different cuts of meat. For example, a pork chop cut closer to the head will contain different marbling and meat than one cut closer to the rear. After the butchery demonstration, anyone who did not have to excuse themselves for some air was invited to purchase the fresh cuts.

Upon returning to the farm, we were invited to sit down to dinner. Thank goodness, because all that hacking worked up an appetite. Each chef worked with a different variety of Slagel meat. Digregorio began the meal with creamy polenta with pork and beef ragu. It was followed by fried pork-belly tacos prepared by Dolezal. Next, Troost served milk-braised goat with sweet corn hash. This is the point of the meal when the meat sweats began to kick in and we had to down our third glass of fresh-squeezed lemonade.

At the end of the meal we were rewarded with Terhune’s cherrywood smoked short ribs with bourbon-maple barbecue sauce and corn pudding. Finally we nibbled on chocolate toffee and bacon cookies as well as apple crostadas, before rolling our stuffed selves back to Chicago.


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