Ah, Summer. For many of us, in the food biz, it’s just the best time of year. The growing season is in full swing, local produce is in abundance, and outdoor grilling becomes the norm. For all these reasons, we really love Summer at Marczyk Fine Foods, but it’s safe to say that the thing we love best about it is our annual trip to Iowa. We choose a few lucky staff members each year and load them up on a plane to Des Moines where they get to work on the pig farm and participate in the Hog Farmer Appreciation Dinner put on by Niman Ranch in honor of all their hard-working farmers. It’s a weekend full of good feelings, good food, and good times to be sure.
The Iowa crew this year included Suzanne (she’s the boss lady), Jeff, Bryan, and Tony (some of our key players in the meat department), and the other Brian (that’s me… I’m the Meat & Seafood Manager). We took off for Des Moines on Thursday and spent most of that day screwing around in the city like a bunch of giddy teenagers. We had a remarkable meal at Django in Downtown Des Moines where we ate like kings and devoured the large Seafood platter fast enough for Suzanne to ask, in all seriousness, if we should get another one.
Friday we were up with the sun and off to Thornton, Iowa to “The Dream Farm” where Paul Willis, AKA Niman Ranch Hog farmer #1, holds a giant pig roast every year. The Marczyk crew goes out a day early to help set up the barn for the pig roast. We work (I use the term loosely) by setting the tables, picking wildflowers for the centerpieces (best part of the whole weekend), and generally tidying up and getting ready for the dinner. We spent a great hour shucking exactly 17 dozen ears of corn and then giving all the husks to the pigs, who were super excited and cheerfully grunted in what could only be interpreted as appreciation.
We, along with the rest of the folks who were there, shared a great selection of cheeses, salame, olives, cookies and chocolates that came from Marczyk’s. After that, we took off for Paul Brown’s pig farm, Alderland Farm. What a great place! There were lots of pigs running around outside, all without a care in the world. The thing that struck me the most was how incredibly peaceful it was. There were 150 people there wandering all over the farm and it was almost silent. I can only imagine what it is like when there are no guests. The fresh, sweet-smelling air and stress-free environment reminded me of why we sell Niman Ranch Pork in the first place. These animals are raised the right way, there’s just no doubt about it.
After that, it was back to the Dream Farm so we could help serve (and eat!) dinner. We cooked all of the corn we had shucked and sliced a bunch of Prairie Breeze Cheddar, which is locally made right in Iowa… in fact, the man who owns the creamery is also a Niman Ranch Hog Farmer! We also poured lots of wine and beer (because why not?) for all the weekend guests, who were a collection of retailers, chefs and distributers who all sell Niman Ranch products. The meal consisted of roasted pig, which was excellent, potato salad, heirloom tomato salad (Paul Willis grows 77 beautiful varieties of heirloom tomatoes!), corn on the cob, and homemade pies and chocolates. By the end of the meal, we were all very full and very tired. Bryan was the rookie of the group so we made him drive the 2 hours back to Des Moines (better luck next year, Bryan!).
Saturday morning we walked about 2 blocks from our hotel to one of the biggest farmers markets I have ever seen. Rows upon rows of fresh vegetables, frozen meats, tamales, jewelry, and so much more… it was massive! We were all quite impressed to see a farmers market of that caliber and size. The rest of the day was filled with seminars and meetings, which may not sound like a lot of fun but we actually found it to be incredibly interesting and informative and we learned a lot.
Finally, Saturday night arrived! That’s when we got all dressed up and went downstairs to the Hog Farmer Appreciation Dinner. The crew split up so we could sit and talk with different Farmers (I mean, we get to talk to each other almost every day!). We learned so much about the other side of the business that way. The meal was nothing short of amazing, with more pork than we ever thought we could eat in one sitting. The dinner included an awards ceremony where they announced the top 10 hog farmers being judged on flavor and consistency. It was such a great experience to see how much pride these famers take in their product and in the way they raise their animals.
This dinner is also when they announce the recipients of the Niman Ranch Next Generation Scholarship award. This unique scholarship program enables young farmers to further their education in environmental and sustainable practices so they can return to their family farm and apply their college education in a very meaningful way. It was so moving to see these kids get rewarded for all their hard work and know that they love their family business enough to dedicate their lives to making it better and more sustainable.
Overall, our trip to Iowa was pretty freakin’ incredible. We think it is really important, as a retailer of meat products, to get to know the other side of the business once in a while and that’s why we come back year after year… To be able to see these farms, these hogs and the people who raise them! When our customers wonder what the difference is between our pork and our competitors it is these pictures and stories we have to share.
So many ways to describe meat today, here are some answers:
The big thing about grass fed - we call it finished - is how the animal ends its life. All beef (well almost) starts on grass and roams the prairie munching away on clean green grass. Then about 3-6 months (at least in Niman’s case) before the animal is set to be slaughtered it is moved onto a feedlot where it it eats a mix of wheat, corn and soy (mostly corn). This grain mixture fattens the animal up and allows the marbling in the meat that is so sought after. However grain costs money, and grass on the prairie is virtually free. So why is grass finished as expensive as feedlot finished?
Grass finished beef never gets moved to a feedlot. The animals spend their entire lives eating grass on the prairie. This is great for the animal who lives a more peaceful life. What the consumer will find in grass finished is that the animals don’t get very big because they never eat grain. The other challenging part about grass finished is that the animals have to be moved quickly from prairie to slaughter because they can’t eat anything after they leave the ranch. This is an example why we prefer to call this beef grass finished since virually all beef is grass fed at some point in their lives.
Bison (or buffalo) is a great alternative to beef. Bison is super flavorful, slightly gamey and has less fat and calories with more protein and iron than beef or chicken. Bison is the preferred name to differentiate between the water buffalo and the American buffalo. Our Bison is raised in Wyoming and Nebraska and are finished on grain just like cattle for the last 100 days of their lives. There is still enough fat in Bison steaks to make them very flavorful.Tags: all natural meats | Post Your Comments »
“We are living in a world today where lemonade is made from artificial flavors and furniture polish is made from real lemons.” ~Alfred E. Newman
Pete was asked an interesting question the other day: “Why is your meat more expensive than so and so’s? They’re both all natural, right?”
WRONG. “All natural” on a label refers to the meat after it has been processed. Many retailers call their meats “antibiotic free” meaning that when tested, there are not residual antibiotics—it doesn’t mean that the animal was raised without their use. According to the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, “natural” can be used on a label as long as a product does not “contain any artificial flavor or flavoring, coloring ingredient, chemical preservative or any other artificial or synthetic ingredient; and the product and its ingredients are not more than minimally processed (ground, for example).” Under these guidelines, CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation—the source of most meat in the USA) beef, pork and chicken can be labeled all natural. Under these guidelines, it includes animals that have received antibiotics and hormones to promote rapid growth.
So what does Marczyk’s “all natural” mean? All our meats are raised without the use of antibiotics or hormones by family farmers within the Niman Ranch company. None-Ever. They are naturally raised, outside, with room to roam. The chickens come from Boulder Natural Meats, raising chickens naturally since 1990. “We are concerned with husbandry and genetics, vegetarian feed and supporting family farms,” says Paul Marczyk. “but most of you don’t need a story… the proof is in the taste,” he says. Marczyk meats and chickens are antibiotic free, hormone free, and free range. If you ever wonder, come ask us at our Denver Store!
Pete and Paul Marczyk, and baker John Hinman, just got back from Iowa and the Niman Ranch Farmers Appeciation Dinner.
At Marczyk Fine Foods, we’ve worked with Niman since the very first day, through the ups and downs. Nine years ago they hosted 50 farmers, this year it was hundreds. To see this part of the meat industry grow like this is astounding, and good news for farmers and diners alike. Here is a post from Tina Haupert, a fellow foodie who was there:
Classic Heirloom Apple Pie
Chef John Himan, Marczyk Fine Foods, Denver, Colorado
Obviously, dessert was my favorite course. Chef John used a blend of Cortland and Mollies Delicious apples from Berry Patch Orchard with Niman leaf lard for the crust. The apple pie was served with a small piece of Prairie Breeze cheddar cheese on the side. Interesting, right? Apples + cheese? Love it!
The apple pie was very special because Chef John was faced with every possible challenge for making it. When he arrived in Des Moines on Thursday afternoon, the Marriott only had nine pie pans for him. No biggie, right? He found 61 more, no problem. But, the night before the event, the machine that rolls out the pie dough broke. So, Chef John (and some of the other chefs), rolled the dough by hand, which was very time-consuming. Then, if that wasn’t enough, as soon as the pies are ready for baking, the ovens at the Marriott stop working!!! (Personally, I would have lost my mind at this point.) Luckily, a nearby restaurant was able to cook the 70 apple pies for the event, but the poor chefs were up until nearly 3:00 in the morning baking them. Their hard work was definitely worth it. I totally wanted a second piece!
At the end of dinner, the chefs were thanked individually for their contributions to the meal. Enjoying all of the courses, I could tell that each of the chefs really cared about the food. It truly exemplified the connection between farm and table.
Read more from Tina here: http://carrotsncake.com/2010/09/niman-ranch-farmer-appreciation-dinner.htmlTags: Apple pie, carrots n' cake, Iowa pig farming, niman ranch, Paul Marczyk, Paul Willis, Pete Marczy | 4 Comments »
“Niman Ranch raises its livestock traditionally, humanely and sustainably to deliver the finest tasting meat in the world.”
This week’s Time Magazine cover story, Getting Real about the High Price of Cheap Food, is an eye opener about the industry we know and love. We have been plugging Niman Ranch for 7 years, and have been happy to explain over and over what makes them different and why it matters. (To be honest, we have felt like the slightly crazy guy standing on the box on the corner, yelling and waving his arms as people hurry by.) We watched the company grow and go through painful but necessary changes to be what it is today. So it was with great pleasure to see the only meat company mentioned as a viable alternative to commodity pork and beef is, drum roll please, Niman Ranch! (In Time freaking Magazine no less!) Congratulations to them!
Our customers here at Marczyk’s have been asking for GF foods more in the last 6 months than in the last 6 years. We wonder why—especially when one of our favorite customers can eat the bread in Europe, but not here?
Here’s some anecdotal thoughts:
We wonder if the recent spate of gluten intolerance comes from the now widespread use of GMO foodstuffs in the US. GMO stands for genetically modified organism—like Roundup™ (a non-selective herbicide) resistant corn (both Roundup™ and the seeds for corn which is Roundup™ resistant are manufactured by Monsanto). While hybrids are a form of genetic engineering, the essential genome of the plants are not changed as in genetic modification - like the insertion of a fish gene in tomatoes to keep them firmer longer (FLAVR SAVR? Christ, they can’t even use the real words!).
The real issue is unintended cross-pollination. Now this is serious. Currently there is no way for GM pollen and non-GM plants to prevent cross pollination, and GM traits are being found in plants which came from non-GMO seed stock. Really a big deal in soy and rapeseed.
Across the ocean, the EU does not allow GMO crops to be grown or sold. This is a real sticking point with the US, as we cannot export many of our products there. The EU also does not allow for the use of hormones in beef production—which is why we can’t export our beef there either. (The use of six growth-promoting hormones in beef production was prohibited across Europe in the 1980s on the grounds that they posed a significant risk to human health. Imports of meat treated with these hormones were also banned. Canada and the US successfully challenged the import embargo as not being based on an adequate risk assessment as required by the WTO Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures - SPS Agreement). Both countries subsequently imposed retaliatory tariffs on a range of European agricultural exports worth US $116.8 million for the US and C $11.3 million for Canada.
Anyway, I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who know more about Gluten free than I. Let us hear from you! Thanks, Pete.
In the U.S. 500,000 people die from smoking each year, 250,000 die from alcohol related causes; the FDA estimates 1 person every 9 years dies from raw milk related causes. Soft raw-milk cheese is illegal. Is this really the land of the free?Tags: cheese, co, colorado, denver, fine, food, foods, marczyk, milk, raw, safety | 8 Comments »