Inspired by visits to an organic vegetable farm and a hog farm where the animals are raised without antibiotics and hormones, these recipes let the natural goodness of the farm-fresh ingredients shine through. The ribs have a slight heat and a whisper of the Orient. When the salad is served with them, a dinner remarkable in its simplicity and delicious in its flavors is born.
You could probably run almost any kind of business, so why livestock?
I started in ranching. I had to get into the meat side of the business (as opposed to the livestock side) in order for the ranching part of my life to be financially possible. I began ranching gradually, first as an effort to raise my own food, and it grew into extended family, community, and so on. I discovered the joy of feeding people delicious wholesome food that I'd raised with my own hands. I also love the life of a farmer -- living on the land, working with our animals, being outside all day -- there's nothing else that compares.
Chefs love your products, but why should an average consumer seek them out? If I live in Dothan, Alabama, or Pomeroy, Washington, what will I get out of going to the trouble of seeking out a Niman pork chop?
To me, there are two main reasons why it's worth the effort to go out of your way to get Niman Ranch meat. For one, everything we sell is raised according to a whole set of important values that people are supporting when they buy it: protecting family farms, treating animals humanely, and respecting the natural environment. Second, we only use natural feeds and never feed antibiotics or use growth hormones on our animals, so people are also taking good care of their own well-being by eating our meat.
Talk to me about the feed ingredients. What is it that translates to taste, tenderness, and consistency?
We use only natural ingredients in all of our animal feeds. Our pigs are fed mostly corn and soybean, which make great-tasting pork, and almost all of them will also be grazing on grass for much of the year, which I find adds a pleasing complexity to the meat. But even more important than the animal's diet is its life -- if it's able to live naturally and happily -- that shows in the meat.
Nicolette Hahn Niman, a lawyer, is married to Bill Niman and spends a big part of her time helping manage their ranch just north of San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge. From walking through the cattle either on foot or horseback, she tries to see every animal every day, making sure there are no signs of injury or illness, as well as making sure each animal is accounted for. Here, Nicolette shares a typical day working with the cattle: