Slagel Family Farms: Tour and Gourmet Dinner

When Jack was a toddler, he ate nothing. His bizarre diet was limited to cream of tomato soup and apple sauce. The only way he would even entertain consuming anything else, including meat of any kind, even dinosaur shaped, was if the protein was smothered in maple syrup. We went through gallons of maple syrup. I thought that I had given birth to an alien being, a vegetarian, a vision that terrified a carnivore like myself.

Slagel Family FarmWe eat some form of responsibly farmed meat most nights in our house. Having to worry about feeding one child exclusively vegetarian meals would be a huge challenge, not only in meal planning, but also in nutrition balancing. Jack’s vegetarian days are long behind us, but now Sophie is the one who turns away most meat offerings, telling us with a little smile, “I don’t wove meat. Me like fruit.” She may yet be my vegetarian child complicating my menus.

pork chops carved at the Slagel Family Farms
pork chops carved at the Slagel Family Farms

These days, professing a love of meat is almost a political act. I’ve given a lot of thought to the writings of Michael Pollan and have made my peace with being a meat lover by learning how the meat we consume is raised. When it’s possible to combine a food learning opportunity with some quality family time, you have a win win opportunity. Family quality time and a teaching moment.

Last Saturday, we packed up the car and drove two hours south to Slagel Family Farms. Slagel meats are served at top restaurants across Chicago and available to consumers at a few high end butchers or through a monthly CSA. They produce beef, chickens, pork, lamb, veal and goat. One of their eggs top the famous pig face dish at the Girl and the Goat.

I could have sat in the hen loft all day, photographing these busy, curious ladies. They were not shy. One walked right up to me and pecked me in the shin, twice, before walking away, shaking her head, disappointed that I wasn't tasty.
I could have sat in the hen loft all day, photographing these busy, curious ladies. They were not shy. One walked right up to me and pecked me in the shin, twice, before walking away, shaking her head, disappointed that I wasn’t tasty.

Once a month throughout the summer, Slagel Family Farms hosts a dinner cooked by one or two Chicago chefs. Before the BYOB dinner, they offer a butchering demonstration and a comprehensive tour of their farm. It’s a family friendly day on the farm, finished by a gourmet dinner. By the end of the day, you and your children will have seen where steak, baby back ribs, pork chops, chicken, and eggs come from. Each dish will be forever tagged with a mental image of the animal that made it possible.

These heifers are close to being ready for slaughter, not based on age or weight, but by amount of muscle.
These heifers are close to being ready for slaughter, not based on age or weight, but by amount of muscle.

I didn’t know how the kids would handle the butchering demonstration, but they were fascinated. The country style pork chops were cut with the pneumatic saw right next to Jack. After the first chop was laid on the counter, he turned to me and said, “Can we bring some home? Please? Those are beautiful.” Definitely a top 10 foodie mom moment.

Jack in awe of beautiful ribsSlagel Family Farms Meats are not organic. They are not exclusively grass fed. The animals live in an outdoor environment with protection from the weather and are fed a combination of grass, hay, and grain raised on the farm. The meat’s high quality is derived through strict breeding, and produced without steroids or hormones. The Slagel Family also pledges not to use constant levels of antibiotics for growth.

The Slagel Family not only controls the raising of their animals, they also control the processing. They butcher all their meat at their own facility a few minutes away, and don’t inject it with saline solution. I had no idea that this was done in larger processing plants.

I loved the Slagel Family’s clear cut philosophy and commitment to quality. Without submitting to standards set by other bodies such as organic or grass fed, they are producing the highest quality meat and succeeding as a small farm, standards that they’ve set for themselves.

chicken and truffle terrine by Tete Charcuterie with a crispy chicken skin salad
chicken and truffle terrine by Tete Charcuterie with a crispy chicken skin salad

The Slagel Family Farms Dinner is not a cheap outing. Adult dinner prices are $125 and kids are $25. Children 5 and under are free. It is a family meal that will stay with your family for a long, long time. Rather than turning any of my children off of meat, I think it will give them a greater appreciation of the food on their dinner plate, hopefully making them more thankful for the quality of the steak off the grill or the golden yolk of the eggs on Sunday.

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