Nothing Short of Pastured Pork and Real Farming at Short Creek Farm
If you didn’t know already, today you learned that charcuterie is pronounced SHar kooderee, meaning cold cooked meats made primarily of pork such as bacon, ham, sausage, and pates. Even though you say “you had me at bacon,” let’s throw in pastured pork (yes, pigs do go out to pasture) as we traipse into eclectic Northwood. Here, organic farm princes Dave Viola and Jeff Backer of Short Creek Farm are raising and dry curing all of the above for their Charcuterie offerings while they farm like it’s 1799.
It’s late May and raining as Dave and Jeff shake their heads looking out at the drops that flick against the farmhouse window. “I thought farmers always want rain,” I throw out, but they throw back, “not this much!” The two rise for the day around 9 a.m. and finish around 9 p.m. in the summers. The lesson here: Not all farmers get up with the sun or enjoy constant rain.
Short Creek Farm spreads out over 200 acres of conservation land of field and forest. Situated between the headwaters of the Lamprey River and the Merrimac’s watershed feeder, the Sunny Cook River, this farm is the real deal. Along with pigs, you will also find a herd of Belted Galloway/Aberdeen crosses (slow growing black cows with wide white belts) eating grass, which is the only thing any cattle should ever eat. And don’t even get me started on the vegetables, which are grown as practically part of the flora.
The farmhouse at Short Creek Farm, a familiar structure to the landscape that surrounds it, was built in sections that started around 1800 and has been added to through the many decades. The house’s interior of polished woods is worthy of a colonial homestead movie. Washtub-sized red and orange pots of smoky stews and chili just off the stove fill the open space with hearty aromas.
The barn is relatively new but the equipment follows the order of the farmhouse. The oldest tractor hails from the 1930s, while others have been maintained from the 50s, 70s, and the newest from 2005; all still regularly worked. As we walk the perimeter of the farm, we come across some seemingly derelict iron potato pickers converted from horse to tractor, ditched in the woods. A plan has been created to repair them for use. Everything here is used; it’s a farm, after all, and in just two years these two men have become ecologically conscious producers of meat.
Their duties are more or less split. With his brawny hands and flannel bearded smile, Jeff is the farmer. Without hesitation he will tell you that he and Dave are “part of a larger ecosystem” and “want to produce food responsibly.”
In addition to producing home-grown meats—including pastured pork, grass-fed beef, handmade sausage, dry-cured meats, bacon and smoked meats, and sundry items such as stocks—the two comrades maintain a vast garden, which is dedicated to the sausage ingredients. As for pests? “We plant buckwheat.” Irrigation? “Nature does it; the less water, the more concentrated the flavor is.”
Jeff is old school knowledgeable about farming, while Dave, the farm’s chief sausage maker, portrays the image of a weathered and educated frontiersman. He is the alchemist, taking what ingredients he can get and transforming all of what is produced into improbably high-end meats.
The ingredients get driven out to Dave's kitchen in Dover for cooking. From there the essences of the farm rush out like a swarm of militant bees. The hemlock originating and flourishing in Short Creek’s woods become hemlock sausage. “We like flavors that are specific to Short Creek Farm,” says Dave. “Part of a broader goal is to have the character of the place reflected in the product.”
A six-by-six-inch square patty of their Maple Sausage leaks the infused indigenous syrup as it snaps and sizzles.The double cooked syrup then caramelizes into crisp dark maple sugar as the savory pork glistens; A leaf-thin slice of Guanciale (an Italian cured meat) briefly heated creates a translucent, drippy, brackish-spiced meat snack that highjacks all senses to the dedication of taste; the farm’s Smoked Chile Pumpkin Sausages are like taking a mouthful of New England's seasons; Cooking a thick purple twist of the Wine and Garlic Sausage next to the Moroccan Quince instantly updates my grill for the summer. As the saying goes, there is too much to list here.
Their best investment, say the duo, has been their farm’s help, Dan. In just two year’s growth, Dave and Jeff’s experimentation is making a better world with much better food.
The farm’s meats, vegetables, and many sundry items (such as Thai Peanut Pickles and Heirloom Gilfeather) can be picked up from the farm or found at a farmers’ market near you, including Newburyport, MA, Kittery, ME, Portsmouth, Exeter, and Durham, NH. The farm is also now accepting members for their 2017 summer Pastured Pork CSA—visit www.shortcreeknh.com/porkcsa for details and to fill out an order form!