Matt O’Hayer, co-founder of Vital Farms, is describing all the ways he loves to cook eggs.
“Soft-boiled and marinated in a ponzu sauce…poached in a sous vide…a variation on eggs Benedict with lobster or crab meat on a muffin or wilted kale with hollandaise sauce—egg on egg, hard to beat!”
Matt grew up in Rhode Island, where he sold eggs in the ‘60s, pushing a cart door-to-door. As a kid, he visited the farms where beautiful, brown Rhode Island Red hens laid, and saw how they lived: on the grass, outdoors.
Fast forward several decades: Matt found himself thinking again about eggs. Now living in Texas, he purchased a farm and began to raise chickens. He ended up selling the farm, starting another business, selling it (“I get bored easily”), and moving full-time onto a catamaran with his wife.
But his thoughts kept returning to eggs. He remembered how incredible the eggs he had sold when he was younger were, with their bright yellow yolks and thick shells, thanks to the chickens’ primary diet of nutritious grass. In the years since, he had all but stopped eating eggs: he didn’t believe the ones he could get from the grocery store were ethically raised (“The chickens are being tortured”), and not coincidentally, he thought, they didn’t have the same delicious flavor.
Matt decided to start his third and final egg business: Vital Farms, a company that uses the highest available standard for raising laying hens: “pasture-raised.” Based on the European standard for “free-range” (1,000 birds per hectare), 108 square feet doesn’t necessarily mean flat, open space. On the contrary, it ideally means a varied topography, with hills and shade and fallen logs that chickens love to flutter up on.
Happy chickens are a riot. They follow you everywhere in big, cooing packs. They nip curiously at your boots. They flop on their backs and take glorious dust baths. They’re a fascinatingly complex social animal that is happiest foraging in its natural environment.