On the day we photographed Trou Normand (the new offering from Thad Vogler and the folks who brought you Bar Agricole) we happened to be there for the weekly hog butchering. We learned that what we were watching so expertly carved were not just ordinary pigs. They were Hungarian Mangalitsa Hogs from Csarda Haz Farms in Davis, CA.
Chef Sal Cracco explained that the Mangalitsas were famous for their flavor. Trou Normand uses them for their famous (and delicious) charcuterie. Their homemade salamis and prosciuttos are memorable and unique, not just because they use the locally raised Mangalitsas but because of how those Mangalitsas are raised.
Gar House, his son George and Annie Carollo hand-raise these animals on local, organic wheat, and whey trucked in from Cowgirl Creamery. These hogs grow up beneath the shade of a walnut grove and dine on succulent grasses. They are healthy, happy animals with thick coats of stiff hair that give them an almost prehistoric appearance.
Food photography becomes a lot more interesting when you can trace the magic of the restaurant back to its sources. You can do a lot with atmosphere and a creative menu, as Trou Normand has done. But what Csarda Haz adds to the equation is that rare and intangible element you only find on small, family farms who place quality ahead of profit.
Love is not a measurable ingredient, but you can feel it in the air at Csarda Haz, as well as in their voices. The passion of these farmers is almost religious in its sincerity. Every descion they make, every cover crop they plant, the daily movement of the hogs in clock-like precision is strategic. Nothing is wasted. Gar House is like a grandmaster chess player, the way he sees the board and moves his pieces.
When you're working with people like this, it hardly feels like work. It's an education. The Light House loves a good story. We are, afterall, story-tellers. Ans Csarda Haz has one to tell. They've promised to have us back on butchering day. Stay tuned.