25 year-old Nolan Thevenet (yes—younger than most of us bums) decided that his time at Drexel University was done after drawing up so many plans for a farm that his sketchbooks were costing as much as his tuition (no exaggeration). Nolan called up his mom and told her that he was starting a farm on their 40+ acre property. IN THE WOODS. Nolan’s lineage is not one of farmers or shepherds, but he determined that he could learn the farming way through books, visits with other farmers, and, of course, Google. The result? A three-year-old livestock farm with over 60 goats, over 50 pigs, and over 50 chickens. Oh, and AWESOME beer brats. What makes them so awesome is not just the fact that they are free range pigs (in the forest) but also that they are fed spent grains from Weyerbacher brewery. (Spent grains = leftover grains after the boil to make beer)
Yes. These are happy pigs. First off, they have the run of the land, going deep into the forest. Second (and most importantly), they are fed quality grains that ran through the mash at Weyerbacher Brewery. When Nolan comes around to shovel out the grains, the piggies come with tales wagging and squealing for more. Bonus: the beer-y grains mask the stank otherwise associated with pigs. The pigs first started out eating leftover produce from Wegman’s, but it started to become more work than it was worth. Then, they worked out a deal with a local micro brewery, but again, more work than it was worth. Finally Weyerbacher agreed on a deal with Nolan in which they would leave the grains out in transportable containers for Nolan to pick up in his truck.
This relationship became a match made in heaven. Nolan receives quality product to add into the feed for the pigs, who, by the way, are Heritage Breed (raised like farmers in the old’n days), living with less stress and building better fat since they live outside year-round. These pigs are also butchered at an older age than most commercial pork companies, making for a better cut of meat.
Back to the “match made in heaven.” The best part of this deal: Nolan’s recipe for beer brats includes Weyerbacher’s “Blithering Idiot Ale.” Nolan explained that he wanted to pick a beer that “stands out, has a kick to it, and complements the flavors of a grilled brat.”
When Nolan invited me to a tasting, I was expecting to be sitting on a picnic table out near a barn next to a grill. Instead, I was invited into their home and ate with the family. Even though farming isn’t in their blood, Stryker farm is a true family farm. Anywhoo..onto the tasting. To my (pleasant) surprise, I wasn’t just having beer brats, but also bangers. Along with a sauerkraut that had tomatoes in it (#FTW). I didn’t know what bangers were and always saw them on menus with “mash.” Overall, bangers are sausage that includes breadcrumbs and other tasty spices. For my first bangers, they will be hard to beat – the sausages snap when you bite into them and then get a savory (with a little bit of sweet) flavor that is very pleasant. I didn’t even need the mash.
Onward to the beer brats. AMAZING. I’ve never tasted a beer brat that had such a distinct flavor of beer without ruining the brat. The Blithering Idiot brew really complemented the spices of the brat in a way that I really can’t describe. Add to the flavor, the snappy casing and the smooth texture of the brat. Typically, I get chunks of fat in my brats that take a while to chew; the texture here was smooth with barely any chunks. What some people don’t know is that the texture comes from the quality of the pork. Free range Heritage Breed pigs develop a natural fat that protects them for the winters and adds to the taste (and texture) of the meat.
Tips for cooking brats? Well there is the obvious—grill that beast until caramelized all around – crispy makes for some great snappy flavor. Then there is the alternative—fry it up in a frying pan. Again, make sure all sides of the brat are nice and caramelized. If you don’t have access to the beer brats, you can make your own by boiling the brats in your favorite brew first. IMPORTANT: you have to pick a beer that has strong enough flavor to come through the brat with a flavor that will complement it as well.
I’ve always rolled my eyes at the hipsters and foodies that will only buy organic and free range. I never really got it. Then I tried it out myself. Free range truly does impact the quality of the meat. Nolan explained that he wanted to commit to a lifestyle when he decided to get into farming. Ethically, he wanted to raise livestock that had a better quality of life. He also wanted to sell a quality product. Nolan has achieved both, going into his third year. There is something special about local farmers that are committed to the free range philosophy. Take the time to visit your local farmers and check it out for yourself.
Stryker Farm sells their meat in the Poconos, PA and in Philadelphia, PA (Reading Terminal Market (Fair Foods), Mariposa Co-Op, and Greensgrow Urban). Stryker Farms will also be opening a store soon and will be at the Rittenhouse Farmers Market in Philadelphia.