Free Range Is All the Rage at Iconic East End Farm

The sign’s modest enough—a chicken shape with the name “Iacono Farms” at its center, and underneath, simply, “fresh eggs and chickens”—but the reputation of this 65-year-old, year-round South Fork free-range chicken operation far surpasses what casual looks might suggest. The farm’s about as down-home, hands-on and authentic as you can get, including, Amanda Iacono says, Grandma Iacono’s secret family recipe BBQ sauce.

Buying an Iacono chicken is not only a tradition for a growing number of customers, many of whom have been coming to the farm for over 50 years, but a no-brainer. For them, Iacono is the only place to go. On weekends they always sell out (“it’s crazy”). Particularly in the summer, the phone rings continually to take orders from ordinary but discerning mortals who savor “naturally grown” and also from high-end clientele, many celebs such as Jerry Seinfeld, a longtime customer, and private chefs on the East End shopping for their clients.

Originally a fruit and vegetable farm (with a few chickens) when founded in 1929 by Great Grandfather Emanuel, Iacono Farms is under the watchful and savvy eye of Amanda’s father, Anthony Iacono. Grandpa Sal died this past April at the age of 79, but his humble, welcoming widow Eileen can be seen in the shop/office/wooden shack, phone cradled under her chin, a few feet away from Anthony who’s slicing up a thigh. If folks come in when Anthony’s cutting up a fresh chicken, they can be witness to a pro at work—that is, if they don’t “freak out,” Amanda says with a knowing laugh. She, too, can cut up a chicken—“it’s easy, though your hands may smell for a while.”

Chickens are everywhere, though not all are for dinner. White Silkies mill about in a pen, beautiful white, fluffy, docile birds known for blue bones and earlobes, and five toes on each foot (instead of the usual four). Ideal pets, they are Amanda’s love and part of the farm, along with the five goats (three babies were just born), forever being herded by the farm’s border collie—“that’s what these dogs do,” Amanda sighs, “despite the heat.” The ducks, which are picked up at the post office the day after they’re shipped, are still young and won’t be ready till Thanksgiving.

What makes Iacono so popular? Over the last 5 to 10 years, Amanda says, people are increasingly interested in where their food comes from and how it’s prepared. An uncle who milks cows at Ludlow Farm (turkeys) affirms this growing interest in organic and fresh. When asked about customer comments, Amanda laughingly cites a recent one from a sophisticated gourmet diner who says that Iacono chickens are “better than any she ever had in France.” But another source of attraction is Grandma, whose local patter and gossip proves as delectable as the chickens.

As a fourth generation Iacono and the only one of Anthony’s three daughters eager to carry the Iacono Farm torch, Amanda does have ideas she might bring to the fore. She smiles. At 25 she knows that change doesn’t come readily to older Iaconos, though she has been quietly suggesting some reforms that might make life easier. But she is aware and admiring of the fact that some of the old ways are what keep some customers coming back. A graduate of SUNY Cobleskill, with a degree in Business Management, she thinks that despite the charm of totaling up orders on a brown paper bag, technology may help efficiency. “My grandfather did all the arithmetic in his head.” But change is possible. She herself, brought up on the farm’s eggs, for some reason went off eating eggs for years, not getting back until college. And yes, among her favorite egg dishes are eggs with cheese and bacon. But Iacono eggs! Along with Gramma’s BBQ sauce, the store also sells breads and cookies. Why not soup? Chicken soup? Hmmm…

Iacono Farms, 100 Long Lane, East Hampton. Open weekdays 1–5 p.m., except Tuesdays, when it’s closed; Fri. and Sat. open 10 a.m.–noon and 1–5 p.m., and on Sun. 10 a.m.–noon  631-324-1107.

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