Harvest of Inspiration
A farm visit inspires quick and simple chefs' recipes that show off fresh produce and Niman Ranch meat.
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.
Interview with Bill Niman
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:
- 6 a.m. Have a cup of joe, two fried eggs, and some toast.
- 6:55 a.m. Put on boots.
- 7 a.m. Walk or ride horse through calving and pre-calving pastures (we call those cows that will soon calve the "heavy springers"); check all mothers and all calves; get calf that's gotten on the wrong side of fence back with mother; look for missing calf; find missing calf and reunite with mother.
- 8 a.m. Walk through pasture with older calves (those more than a few weeks old); get calf who's on wrong side of fence back with mother; run away from aggressive mother cow who doesn't want me near her baby; make notes in record book.
- 9 a.m. Look at the rest of the cattle.
- 9:30 a.m. Feed horses and pull ticks off them.
- 10 a.m. Return to the house and do some laundry.
- 11 a.m. Check all the heavy springers again; ear-tag two calves born yesterday.
- Noon. Lunch.
- 1 p.m. Work at computer (check e-mail, read three online newspapers).
- 2 p.m. Do more laundry.
- 3 p.m. Repair fence broken by a fallen tree limb.
- 4 p.m. Still working on the fence....
- 5 p.m. Check all calves and heavy springers again. Get calf and mother back together who are separated by fence; watch new calf being born; make sure calf stands and nurses and mother accepts calf -- all's well, calf is slurping away and mother likes her new baby; record time of birth, gender of calf, and physical description of calf, assign it a number.
- 6 p.m. Still looking at cattle.
- 6:30 p.m. It's getting dark. Rush around doing any last thing that must be done before dark.
- 7:00 p.m. Make dinner.
- 7:30 p.m. Eat dinner with Bill. Listen to coyotes howling and hope the cows are all with their calves.
- 8 p.m. Settle down by the fire and read the newspaper.
- 8:30 p.m. Fall asleep by the fire.
- 10 p.m. Wake up on the sofa and go to bed.