My Rouses Everyday, September/October 2017
Charlie Munford may be the only person ever who went to graduate school pulling a trailer of 25 sheep, a donkey and a couple of dogs. He went back to his alma mater, Yale, for an environmental science degree, and wanted to do the science study portion on grazing.
Munford uses the terms “wacky” and “eccentric” to describe his academic and career paths. His latest enterprise has him standing in supermarkets, handing out sausage samples that help Louisiana fight an invasive pest.
Munford admits that his path from the Ivy League to sausage-making is unconventional, but it all comes out of his determination to help the environment.
Munford introduced Charlie’s Smoked Sausage of Wild Boar & Pork less than two years ago, and it’s a big seller at Rouses Markets. It is composed of 30 percent pork from feral hogs and 70 percent domestic pork. To get the smoke flavor just right, it’s produced in a stainless steel slaughterhouse adapted to replicate the conditions of a traditional Cajun smokehouse, with oak logs burning on a dirt floor beneath sausage looped from the rafters.
Feral pigs are much more destructive than nutria in Louisiana, uprooting rice and cane fields, soybeans, corn and other crops. They destroy levees at the waterline and wreck irrigation systems. Wild pigs kill baby deer, eat bird eggs and disrupt wildlife in other ways. State Agriculture & Forestry Commissioner Mike Strain estimated these feral pigs number 600,000 in state and cause $40 million to $60 million in crop damages annually.
“The population really exploded in the last ten years,” Munford said. “They reached critical mass and began to overpopulate. Part of the reason the agriculture department was interested in it is because they get so many complaints.
“They root up golf courses and peoples’ yards, and farmers have a nonstop battle. After they plant corn, pigs will come behind the planter and eat every single kernel, rooting along the furrow. The farmer’s waiting for the corn to come up, and then he has to replant a month later.
“They’re really annoying, not to mention smart and adaptable. They’ll avoid an area, waiting until pressure slacks off, if they learn there’s trapping or shooting. A trap can be wide open, and they will dig underneath it and eat the corn. I think they communicate with each other in a more sophisticated way than we can imagine,” Munford said.
In July an Alabama man shot a whopper, an 820-pound wild boar, in his front yard. That’s four times more pig than Munford can take into his plant. Under the strict regulations mandated by the state, the company may accept live ones between 50 and 200 pounds, which must pass inspection in order to be slaughtered and sold. Munford buys them from trappers and farmers.
In 2015, Louisiana started a program to harvest feral swine for food as part of a multipronged control effort. The Department of Agriculture & Forestry asked Munford to run the first plant in the state to harvest wild boar, and the department allowed him to sell the meat to chefs and restaurants. The program took about a year to set up.
“We had already been playing with the idea [of selling wild boar as part of the meat program]”, Munford said. “We learned it was another wasted resource, that farmers were paying guys to trap wild boars, and most of the time the trappers would shoot the animals and leave them in the woods. Wouldn’t that be great for chefs and restaurants?”
Harvesting wild boar for food in Louisiana is based on a similar, successful Texas program, with registered transporters, holding facilities, testing and safeguards. After setting up the operation, Munford started delivering the meat of wild hogs to chefs.
Back in Mississippi after graduate school, Munford had raised sheep and goats to graze on the understory of loblolly pine plantations. That idea was hampered by a lack of capital, so he sold the animals instead. And that was the beginning of Two Run Farm, which sells grass-raised beef, lamb and goat to New Orleans chefs. Several of Emeril’s restaurants have been customers; John Besh has had a big standing order. The name “Two Run Farm” has been on menus all over town.
These days, Munford still sells meat to chefs, but mostly primal cuts of wild boar and beef. It was difficult to make a living in restaurant supply only, Munford found. He wanted a product where he could connect to the end user, and he had already thought of sausage.
Munford had spent months rigging a smoker in his facility, which is between Hammond and Gonzales, in a business partnership with Wayne Jacobs Smokehouse and Restaurant, a state-inspected facility in LaPlace.
It took a long time for Two Run Farm Executive Chef Via Fortier and Munford to come up with the recipe for their own smoked sausage. If you’ve ever had homemade sausage made exclusively with wild boar, you may know it can be gamy. The 30-70 mixture with domestic pork gives it a smoother taste, Munford says. It comes in Original, Green Onion and Wild versions.
Munford admits he has mixed feelings about wild boar. His dear friend as a child was his pet potbellied pig, Mr. T. Munford’s Mr. T had the Mohawk hairdo and bad attitude of the TV character.
Munford grew up in Jackson, Mississippi. His grandfather lived not far away, and young Charlie spent weekends with him on his farm, learning to love the outdoors, fishing, farming and hunting. As he got older, he sought educational outdoor experiences, including a transformative semester at The Mountain School in Vermont and a lengthy Canadian canoe trip.
After high school, Munford went to Deep Springs College, a tiny liberal arts college set on a cattle ranch in the Eastern Sierra desert in California. The all-male school typically has a student body of only 24 to 30 students.
Students hire and fire faculty, make admissions decisions, and maintain the facilities and vehicles. They also are responsible for cleaning, cooking, and farm and ranch work. Munford loved it.
“I probably wouldn’t have gotten into Yale if I hadn’t gone to Deep Springs,” Munford says. He spent three years on scholarship in New Haven, and received a stipend for his independent study of organic farming in Cuba. At the time, it was difficult to enter the communist country, but because then-president George W. Bush was an alum, Yale students had a special loophole to facilitate their study in Cuba.
“At the time, (Cuba) was untouched by tourism,” Munford said. “The economy was so distorted by the economic system. They were rich in knowledge but deprived of fossil fuels and agricultural chemicals, so their organic farming system is well developed.”
Munford’s love of horses landed him on the varsity polo team, traveling to Oxford and Cambridge for matches.
“You could play polo for $150 a semester, so this not-wealthy kid from Mississippi was able to play polo on these fancy thoroughbreds, so fast and good, so well-trained,” Munford said. “I was able to pay it off by mucking out stalls. It was a lot of fun.”
Munford doesn’t get to play polo these days, but he has a new traditional role in life. He is, in his own words, a besotted new dad.
His daughter “may be the cutest thing in the whole world,” Munford said.
Alabama, Auburn and Ole Miss take on the Arkansas Razorbacks in October. LSU and Mississippi State play them in November. Using wild boar sausage in your jambalaya is a tasty way to make sure we eat the enemy.