When you go to your local butcher or supermarket, do you really know where your meat comes from? It often seems as if meat is more and more pre-packaged these days, covered with barcodes. Heck, now you can even buy “ribs” at Costco Wholesale and Walmart (although who really knows what the heck that “meat” really is?). Meet Brooks and Anna of North Mountain Pastures, a Pennsylvania farm that specializes in naturally-raised and artisan cured meats, in addition to dairy, eggs and fermented vegetables. North Mountain Pastures is located on 84 acres in Perry County, Pennsylvania, and caters to the Central Pennsylvania/Washington D.C. area. The NMP Gang practices farming in a manner that “heals the land, nourishes people, and treats animals with respect.” We caught up with Brooks and Anna at the annual Brewer’s Plate festival (eat/drink-athon) in Philadelphia this past Spring. We tasted some delicious cured meats (bresaola, lomo, lonzino, prosciutto and fioccho), sipped some suds and shared some Chocolate Covered Memories …
How did you find yourself in this niche of the food industry?
Brooks: Mostly, we started raising pigs and wanted to make bacon we would feel good about eating. When we butchered our first pigs, I made bacon that tasted like salty cigarettes! But the next batch was amazing, and I quickly became obsessed with cured meats. It also happens to fit well with our goal of producing healthy food while being a more profitable business.
What do you think of large farms and pastures? From what they feed their animals to their business strategies and so forth?
Brooks: Farming today is full of pitfalls: farmers are encouraged to produce foods to sell at lower than their costs of production, which leads to factory-style farms looking for ever more efficiency. However, we believe most farmers with confinement facilities still want what’s best for their animals and the land. They probably just don’t see an alternative or are too far in debt to change. We need to shift the goals of farming back to soil building and producing healthy humans, ecosystems and communities. Until we reassess those goals, most farmers will continue toward least-cost production.
What are your earliest childhood memories of food?
Brooks: Mostly variations of skinless, boneless chicken breast, which I grew to loathe.
Anna: I loved meat from early on. I vividly remember looking at a takeout pizza at home. It had a bubble in the crust that had burned. I told my mom that I didn’t want the pizza because the bubble looked like a bug. I wanted steak and soy sauce instead.
Where does your love of food stem from?
Brooks: I love food because of the way it brings people together, creating community through flavor and through an appreciation of the sacrifice of life that is necessary to make all food.
Anna: I love good food because of my family, coming together over delicious food and drink as a bonding experience.
What foods remind you of childhood?
Anna: Ice cream (on the beach in the summer), clam chowder, visiting my grammie at Cape Cod.
Brooks: Popcorn with lots of butter. My dad wasn’t aware that sticks of butter could be divided. <laughter>
Were you a picky eater as a kid? Any foods you couldn’t stand growing up? Have you overcome those childhood fears or do they still remain to this day?
Brooks: I hated all veggies. I was a wrestler through high school, and the only veggies I ate back then were iceberg lettuce salads. I once dry heaved when a lunch lady told me that I couldn’t get seconds of apple crisp unless I ate my cooked carrots. She let me get the apple crisp after the unsuccessful attempt.
Anna: I hated bologna growing up. I thought that if I was on a desert island and all there was to eat was bologna, then I would starve.
Brooks: Now I eat everything.
Anna: I still don’t eat bologna. <laughter>
What do you think of the modern food world?
Brooks: Our most positive feelings on food come from our CSA customers who visit the farm and share how our food has helped them become healthier.
What family recipes do you want to share with us?
Anna: Brooks loves short ribs – barbecued or braised. Enjoy his favorite: Red Wine Braised Short Ribs.
With a degree in agricultural and biological engineering, Anna Santini first worked at various farms around Pennsylvania and Central America. Brooks Miller actually began his career in aerospace engineering and then quickly returned to his love for farming. Brooks then worked as a brewer and automation engineer for Troegs Brewing Company. Together they have been managing farms since 2006. Now married with children, the Millers own and operate North Mountain Pastures: 84 acres outside of Newport, Pennsylvania, where they raise chickens, pigs, turkeys, cows and sheep, all with permanent access to pasture.