Living in Northern California, we’re blessed with an abundance of local food, so much of which come directly from our amazing Bay Area farms and farmers. This allows those of us who love to cook to not only start with high quality ingredients that make any dish great if prepared well: having access to the best produce and proteins also allows, even encourages us to experiment with new dishes and new ingredients.
Chefs know that a protein is only as good as the diet fed to the animal before it is butchered. If we are what we eat, so are animals what they are fed. Old World Rabbitry Farms is used by some of the best chefs in the Bay area, for this very reason. In keeping with their “raised right” mission based on a combination of nutritional farming and old world traditions; their animals are fed naturally foraged diets consisting of seasonal plants, farm-grown grasses and fruits. I was especially excited to attend Old World Rabbitry Farm’s Farm Dinner on January 31st at the shed in Healdsburg. Billed as a gala event with “4 Chefs, 5 Courses, and 1 Farmer” who wouldn’t be?! The menu, pictured in the slideshow above, promised an unforgettable meal.
First course by Farmer Eric: Poussin
Cornish game hen or poussin, are just small young chickens, typically slaughtered at about four weeks of age, with tender white or very light meat. Old World Rabbitry Farms’ poussin are even more tender as they are aged to just 21-25 weeks. (The same bird, grown to seven to nine weeks of age, is then referred to as a fryer and at twelve weeks of age, a roaster. The age of the bird determines classification). Use poussin in place of a more mature bird in your favorite chicken recipe and watch as your dinner guests are amazed by your culinary prowess. Old World Rabbitry Farms feeds their young chickens a high protein nutrient rich diet of buffalo milk whey, lacto-fermented grains, grasses and legumes. The resulting finished product has a flavor profile that is so rich, sweet, and buttery that it really only needs salt, pepper and a good sauté.
Second course by Chef Andre Villahermosa: Working with lardo
Lardo is the fat, usually from the back of a pig cured in salt and herbs for at least a month. Imperial Mangalitsa Lardo is the ultimate lardo and is only available in America through a handful of specialty retailers, including, here in the Bay area, through Old World Rabbitry. “The Mangalitsa [pig’s] genetics have remained untouched since the breed’s creation in 1833, when [they were] first bred for an Archduke in the Austro-Hungarian Empire… to produce two things; exquisitely marbled meat and pure white fat”. If eating pure fat sounds unappetizing, that is only because you have never tasted Imperial Mangalitsa Lardo. A little bit goes as long was, as you will want to use this sparingly (at $30/lb. available at the Shed in Healdsburg) and because it is, after all, pure fat. It makes a wonderful piece of the puzzle in a composed appetizer (see menu above); think of using it where you might have wanted just a hint of bacon flavor but soft, buttery texture. Chef Andre put just the right 2-3 bite piece together with sunchoke, liver mousse and wood ear mushroom for a beautifully balanced appetizer.
Third course by Chef Tiffany Friedman: Rabbit Kiev
Rabbit (lapin) “raised right” is what Old World Rabbitry Farms says about their lapin, aged 8-12 weeks, and fed sprouted grains and fermented grasses, 40-60% is of which grown at the farm and include hay and alfalfa. This diet is high in enzymes, yeasts and beneficial microflora, which aid in healthy digestion by the rabbits, as well as absorption of nutrients. One week into the growth cycle non-GMO sprouted barley, sunflower and sorghum, “super food” for the rabbits, are added. Seasonal herbs fruits and other forage from around the farm are incorporated into the diets. According to Livestrong.com “Rabbit meat is well known for its high protein content. A 3-oz. serving of rabbit meat contains 28 g of protein, more than beef or chicken. Rabbit is also a concentrated source of iron. A serving contains more than 4 mg. Additionally, the meat provides a wide range of minerals. The highest levels include 204 mg of phosphorous and 292 mg of potassium. The calories in rabbit meat are low. A serving contains only 147 calories.”
Fourth course by Chef Mariana Caravallo: Quail
Chef Mariana Caravallo of Private Chefs of the SF Bay prepared the quail and shares her “biggest secret for cooking quail. To give it flavor and tenderness, I process the salt with herbs in a processor and then rub it on the quail skin, a little olive oil and a sweet wine such as Moscato, works as a ‘brine’ but better because it penetrates the meat! Only for couple hours! Then I sauté and finish in the oven!”