Catching a 3-month-old Berkshire pig is not easy. Ask James Jens who, despite using fresh ears of sweet corn as bait, had trouble grabbing one. He finally caught one squealing pig that eventually calmed down long enough to
have its picture taken with the chef, who may one day cook it over a campfire at his rural Cedar Grove farm named Windswept Farmstead.
“I never tried catching one before. They’re not pets,” Jens said.
Jens has taken the field-to-fork dining trend and sustainable living to the point he is growing or raising almost everything his family, friends and customers eat — pork, turkey, chicken, eggs, vegetables and fruit, including
plums, pears, apples, mulberries, gooseberries, huckleberries, raspberries and strawberries.
He forages in the spring for wild edibles, such as morel mushrooms, ramps and wild leeks, and recently started working in his raised-bed vegetable gardens.
The gardens are near fenced, tee-pee shelters he built for egg-laying hens, meat chickens and turkeys. All the fowl he raises are heritage varieties, including Bourbon Red, Narragansett and Royal Palm turkeys.
“The fence is to keep them safe from predators,” Jens said. “They’re free to scratch for bugs and things that make the meat tasty. Being cage-free, they run around and build muscle that makes them meaty not just juicy.
“Have you ever noticed that the chickens injected with broth you buy in grocery stores are juicy, but not meaty? That’s because they spend their lives in cages.”
Similarly, the slow-growing Berkshire pigs that will reach 280 to 300 pounds when butchered are more flavorful than pork available in grocery stores.
“Everybody talks about eating local and eating organic, but the part of the equation most people are missing is what kind of animal it is,” Jens said.
“There are a half dozen hogs that taste better than the generic pink pig that’s bred to be born and die in six months. Ours will take three to four months longer to raise, but they taste many times better.
“They’re more moist and have more marbling, like a prime steak would have.”
Jens uses almost every part of the animals, saving roasted chicken and turkey carcasses to make stock.
“I have a freezer full of chicken carcasses now,” he said. “One day, I’ll start a fire outdoors and cook them all in two big kettles. It will take all day and the smell with permeate the house. We’ll freeze it and have chicken stock all
“It’s as much the experience of being outdoors, the smell of the wood fire, as it is making the stock. It’s kind of like making maple syrup.”
Jens, who grew up on a Sheboygan County farm, became a chef at the suggestion of his high school foods and nutrition teacher, who said he had a knack for cooking.
He got a job at the Osthoff Resort in Elkhart Lake and went to culinary school at Fox Valley Technical College.
Jens has been a chef in five-star restaurants, private country clubs and corner cafes. His resume includes stints at the American Club and Blackwolf Run Golf Course in Kohler, Caneel Bay Resort in St. John’s in the U.S. Virgin
Islands, the Blue Star Restaurant and Ptarmigan Country Club in Fort Collins, Colo., and the Opera House in Madison.
“The last two places (not any of the above), I didn’t feel the people in charge cared about their customers’ food experience as much as me,” Jens said. “That was a new experience because all the other places were customer
driven. I’m nothing without my customers, so why wouldn’t I cater to their wishes?”
In 2005, Jens started his own catering business — Dinners With Class — when he and his wife Jessica were living in Mazomanie. The business was expanded to include cooking and dining classes.
Jens will cater everything from large banquets to intimate dinners, preparing food in the customer’s kitchen or at the event location.
He’s catered several events at Riveredge Nature Center in the Town of Saukville, where his wife is the executive director.
“My niche is 10 to 20 people. People may feel uncomfortable bringing that large a group to a restaurant where they can’t visit comfortably with everyone, yet it’s small enough that most caterers don’t want to deal with it,”
“It’s all about creating the experience that fits your vision of the event. When I sit down with somebody, I ask for 10 to 20 favorite foods, a theme and a budget, then design something around those ideas and visions.”
Much of the food comes from his freezer or garden.
Jens also sells the meat he raises.
In 2012, he started an omnivore CSA (community supported agriculture) for people who like to eat meat and plants. For $1,080, members will get two boxes of food a month from October to March or for $560 receive one box a
month for six months. Depending on food availability, single-month shares may be available for $190 for two boxes or $105 for one box.
Each box will include lamb raised in Colorado, pork, chicken, a dozen or more eggs, homemade bread, a jar of preserves, such as jam, jelly or fruit, another canned food, such as pickles, relish, juice or stock, and an
e-newsletter that includes preparation tips and recipes from Jens.
The Jens family, which includes daughter Aspen, 7, and son Ian, 4, moved from an 18-acre farm in Mazomanie to their five-acre farm last May.
“Our family is experimenting to see what this land can provide and how we, together, can build a symbiotic relationship with the land, the animals, the plants, an old farm and our needs,” Jens said. “We are working to do our
part in raising and providing locally, sustainably raised food for ourselves and our neighbors.”
Visit www.dinnerswithclass.wordpress.com and www.windsweptfarmstead.com for more information on Jens’ businesses.
Check out the recipe page in this week's edition of the Ozaukee Press for tips and recipes from Jens for cooking pork and other foods on the grill.
Image information: WITH AN OLD FARMALL tractor, similar to one his great-grandfather owned, in the background, Chef-Farmer James Jens displayed the types of food he likes to prepare for his catering business, Dinners With Class. He raises heritage varieties of pigs, chickens and turkeys on his five-acre Windswept Farmstead in rural Cedar Grove. The meat is available through a CSA he started for meat lovers. Photos by Sam Arendt