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Gjelina Group Goes to the Market: Vendor Stories
Plus, Henry's Favorite Wine (These Days)
Vendor Stories: Peads & Barnetts
By Sam Rogers, Gjelina Group’s Farm Liaison
Today we introduce you to Oliver Woolley and his family's farm, Peads & Barnetts. They are one of our vendors who we are lucky enough to buy both their delicious pork and gorgeous flowers from. You can find Peads & Barnetts at the Santa Monica Farmers Market, in our restaurants, at our new Flower Shop and on Instagram.
Can you give us the background on the glory that is Peads & Barnetts?
The name comes from the first farm my grandparents owned when they got into the pig business. The farm is right outside of Oxford, England and is at least 500-600 years old, and originally was a turnip farm. In the middle ages turnips were called “barnetts” and it was on the river “Peads” which is really more of a stream... and that’s were the name came from.
They farmed there in the 50’s. My grandfather grew the business and eventually expanded all over the world on the livestock genetics side of things. But it was always just about the pigs.
Eventually they moved the business to the United States. My dad started working with him but eventually wanted to break away and start his own thing, so he moved to Colorado. He began some really interesting outdoor work raising Duroc pigs, which is a great red breed, and worked closely with Bill Niman of Niman Ranch as one of the company's first pig farmers. Along with them, we were supplying Whole Foods when they first began, and it really just grew from there.
So you and your brothers (Sam and Justin) grew up in Colorado on this huge outdoor pig farm? How many pigs are you talking?
The way you usually measure the size of a pig farm is by the number of sows, the number of mothers, and so to put it in perspective, a big commodity pig farm might have 100,000 sows. My dad’s farm, which was enormous for an outdoor pig farm, only had 2,000 sows, and then if you look at us now, we only have 100 sows.
He sold the farm around 2003 and we all moved to California, at which point my dad thought he was going to be done with the pig business and taking it easy, but then I completely screwed that all up.
So what made you want to continue the family business?
I went to college in San Diego, thinking that I would most likely end up in finance even though I really hated it. So I ran away to cooking school in London and staged at some restaurants there. The most influential one for me was St. John, which changed me completely. It became clear to me that what my dad had been doing before was something way more special than I think even he or anyone else had realized.
I wanted to see if there was a way to capture that in California. I needed to try and see if restaurants would get on board with really well-raised pigs, because there wasn't really anyone doing it properly in California. I also wanted to work on a project with my dad that could be fun, and low stress… well that's what I thought.
We had a little bit of land in San Diego at the bottom of our flower farm. So in 2011 we began experimenting with Mangalitsa pigs (Note from Sam: Google this breed — fuzzy pigs! Super cute) which is a breed from Hungary. I quickly realized there is no way to stay in business if you’re raising Mangalitsa — there’s not much meat on the carcass, it’s all fat and nobody wants to pay for the fat.
If I remember correctly, at that time the average person (especially in LA) wasn’t really into delicious fat.
People were terrified of fat 10 years ago! I’ve spent the last 10 years trying to get people to eat more fat. It’s really insane how much people's taste has changed in a decade. I’m not trying to take credit for that or anything, however I think I might have helped a few people really change the way they eat meat, at least a little bit.
So out with the Mangalitsa, and on with the….?
So, we stopped doing the Mangalitsa. My family in Canada are involved with an operation that my grandfather helped start and they raise Berkshire pigs, a breed that incidentally is from the same county in England that my family is from, Berkshire (Oliver pronounces this Barkshir for any English friends reading this). I thought it would be cool to raise them and bring it all back home… literally. They are one of the oldest breeds in the world and are known for their ability to thrive outdoors and the richly marbled meat they produce.
We had access to some cool very old genetics, so we brought them down to San Diego and started from scratch again. And that’s what we have now. And we have grown that slowly over the last decade.
When did you start in the Santa Monica farmers market?
We started at the market in 2006 with just flowers. I was in college, and would drive up every Saturday. In 2012 we started selling the meat there, which was so lucky for us because if it wasn’t for that market I don't think we could have been a success. The Santa Monica farmers market gives farmers the chance to take a risk and explore something and see if people take to it, nowhere else really does that.
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When did you start working with Gjelina? And how was the response on the part of the chefs in your early days?
Right off the bat! They were actually the first restaurant we started selling to. Before I even had the pigs and would come home during my time in cooking school I always went to eat at Gjelina. I really just loved what Travis and the team were doing, there was no one else like them. So I thought if I could get them to carry our pork then we are definitely doing something right. It’s always been exciting. I was working with Travis when I barely had any pigs… I mean, I was delivering the pork in the back of my Prius. I remember I would deliver whole pigs to Sqirl in the back of my Prius in the middle of lunch hour. People were utterly terrified.
From a chef's perspective, since you obviously speak that language, what makes a Berkshire so much better of an eating pork?
There are Berkshire pigs and then there are real Berkshire pigs. I would say that 90% of the pork marketed in this country as Berkshire isn't, actually, they’re a crossbreed. The genetics matter a huge amount, and it’s something that is hard to explain to customers.
So, you have the genetics, and then there's the diet, and the care of the animal. Those three things matter the most. I was really lucky because my dad already knew back to front everything about raising pigs properly outdoors, and then we had access to these insane genetics that had been improved for like 30 years, so we had a really good product.
Tell me about your pigs’ diet.
From the start I knew I wanted to do something interesting and different. I wanted to grow the pigs for flavor, not just for weight. We worked with some nutrition experts out of the midwest who thought I was crazy at first. They all deal with these massive operations and they thought the care and attention to diet and flavor were a waste of time. Luckily, they helped us regardless.
Our pigs diet is basically a wheat and barley based feed, we don't feed them any soy or corn, which is the opposite of every other operation — crazy idea! Then, we incorporate some kelp into the diet which is really great for their gut health. They also eat a lot of acorns, but we don’t specifically finish them on that, we just have a very large amount of acorns on our farm since it's covered in oak trees. The oaks are actually why we bought our new farm land. We had been looking for this type of property since the beginning because I love the way they raise Iberico pigs in southern Spain on the dehesa, which is basically rolling hills of oak woodlands. There is a ton of land in California just like that, and we finally found a place near Mariposa, up close to Yosemite, so we bought that 3 years ago and spent 6 months building all the fencing and then moved the pigs up there.
So, regardless of whether it makes economical sense and despite the fact that it complicates our lives tremendously, we decided in the interest of quality and freshness to do all our butchery at the start of every week. The pigs hang for 7-10 days after slaughter to age the meat, and then we do all the cutting for the entire week on Mondays and Tuesdays. This enables us to then service our restaurant and retail customers with freshly cut and consistent product, and it doesn’t sit in boxes or plastic for weeks before being consumed. The difference is very noticeable.
From the very beginning I’ve always been really drawn to the way other cultures butcher and eat pork. From one country to another it differs tremendously. Just the way they might break down the animal, and then of course which cuts they prize the most. Perfect examples of this are matambre from Argentina and a Japanese cut called ton toro, which comes from the center of the jow — it’s intensely marbled and wonderful for grilling. So my absolute favorite part of the job is to find a way to offer these things to our customers, and help them to explore all the virtues of the pig from nose to tail.
Henry’s Favorite Wine of the Week: Vinhos Aparte Mike Tazem
By Henry Beylin, Gjelina Group’s Wine + Beverage Director
My favorite wine (this week) fits nicely into a few themes I've been focused on lately. The wine is from Portugal. No country intrigues me more these days, not because of the quality of wines, although it's there, but because their charms and character are still very much undiscovered. We are quickly running out of old-world wine regions, much less whole countries, to explore anew and Portugal, like Spain a generation before, seems to finally be at the party. The country is awash in regionally classic grapes and largely stayed out of the race to plant international varieties in the 80's and 90's and that's a good thing. Not so good is that the country is full of classically defined regions that are overseen by appointed boards who decide which wines pass for regional typicity and which are outliers and thus denied regional designation. This is an issue in many regions around the world but for a country looking to finally re emerge onto the world scene it's simply idiotic. The regional boards were relevant when much wine was simply faulty and should not have been bottled and sold with the local imprimatur but those days are over. Instead, they now focus on which wines best represent the local marketed style of wine and thus have made themselves masters of taste. But tastes change, markets change, cuisines change and the climate of course is changing making strict adherence to old paradigms stultifying to growth and discovery. Which brings me to my second theme: Portugal is full of young winemakers that simply do not give a rip. With plenty of old vineyards in play they are quickly reimagining what Portuguese wine means today and which way is forward with the lack of international success of most Portuguese wines leaving a low threshold to completely remake an old, proud wine country into one that speaks in the language of today and hopefully tomorrow.
No winery exemplifies the new Portugal fuller than Vinhos Aparte. Three friends who met in wine school and decided to scour the country for old vine material and make wines that have regional typicity and reflect current drinking reality. Their wines are not important but rather soulful and honest with easy charm and eye-opening to how fresh and vibrant wines can be from a hot weather country. The wine that leaves me with the most lasting impression is their Mike Tazem (Mike Tyson) red wine. The grapes are from Dao in the central north of the country but the wine is made in the Lisboa area which is a basic country wine designation similar to the French Vin de Pays. The name itself should tell you something about the sensibility of the project and the label (both the front and back) is one of the best I've seen and oh so fitting. But the crux of this piece rests on what this wine would be historically and what these characters did with it.
The grape is called Tinta Pinheira and it's a late ripening dark skinned variety, which means it tends to be really ripe, rich, dense, tannic and well, not that interesting. However, grown naturally, picked early, crushed gently and handled carefully through its elevation we have a new idea of Portuguese red wine. Red fruits at peak ripeness full of energy and lift, moist earth, not mineral but savory, baking spices, especially cinnamon and anise and the cool minty throughline that speaks of freshness and clarity.
It's been a while since a wine has made me happier, not because of its in-and-of-itself nature, but the reality and direction it points to. I've been intrigued by Portugal for years as it seemed like a sleeping giant ready to wake (I feel the same way about the college basketball programs of St. John's and DePaul) and after years of exploring wines from the well traveled regions of the world, I kind of feel like a beginner again. And that's a good thing.