Giving someone a cast iron is like giving someone a blank canvas. As the cookware darkens with age and the seasoning builds over time, it imparts a unique flavor that reflects the way you cook and live. Made to last for centuries, the cast iron is a warm invitation to create a greater story that can be passed down for generations. And embodying the rich history and spirit behind this household staple, is FINEX, a Portland-based team that is driven to craft beautiful and durable cast iron cookware.
Given that their headquarters is only a few short blocks away from our very own factory, many of us are familiar with FINEX’s manufacturing story and inspiring dedication to heirloom quality. But what we didn’t know until recently is the pivotal role free-range chickens play. Lucky for us, Michael Griffin, FINEX’s Director of Marketing, was kind enough to share the story.
“It all started when we were looking for an efficient way to season our pans,” says Michael. “Once the raw cast iron is ground, machined, tumbled, and polished, each pan must be individually pre-seasoned with oil – this protects the pan from rust and gives it a beautiful color.”
The trick is to find a way to evenly coat the pan with a very thin layer of oil. But this seemingly simple task is a lot easier said than done. They tried everything from airbrushing to hand-wiping oil with a lint-free cloth, but each method generated unnecessary waste. “We use 100% organic flaxseed oil to season our pans. Not only is it time-honored, but it’s a food-grade oil used for salad dressings and cooking,” continued Michael. “For both cost-related and sustainability reasons, we didn’t want to waste a drop of it.”
After months of research, they found that many companies put pans in a large tumbler with plastic beads to evenly coat oil. While this is a very effective process, they didn't want to use plastic. So, they started experimenting with other materials. Through trial and error with different grains and rice, they landed on their final material – birdseed. And it worked like magic. Now, the final process involves tumbling the pans with birdseed and using compressed air to blow any remaining seeds off. From there, they bake the oil onto the cookware to season.
Tumbling flaxseed oil with birdseed is not only efficient, but it’s also sustainable. "After the tumbling process, we had a lot of oily birdseed leftover. It's biodegradable so we knew we could compost it, but we wondered what else we could do with it,” says Michael. “The obvious thought was to feed it to the birds.” After contacting a few local farms, a free-range chicken farmer just outside of Vancouver, Washington responded and said his chickens would eat it.
Sure enough, the chickens loved it. And even better, the farmer has seen an uptick in sales because the egg yolks are rich, vibrant, and high in omega-3 from their luxurious diet. “The chickens are thriving, the farmer has grown his business, and we’re able to get as close to zero waste as possible,” says Michael. “It was a long journey for us to find a safe, healthy, and environmentally friendly way to nail our seasoning process. But it was worth it because cast iron cookware is more than a cooking tool, it’s an heirloom that tells a story and makes the cooking experience genuine.”