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.
Tags: denver, Marczyk Fine Foods, niman ranch, pork | Post Your Comments »
My first experience with Green Chile (caps intentional and used out of reverence) was about 20 years ago. I had moved to Denver from Massachusetts; the only chili I knew was the red kind with lots of overworked finely ground beef and kidney beans. It was my first autumn in the southwest, and I was captivated by this new scent of roasting chilies wafting from the roadside stands with giant signs proclaiming: “Hatch Green Chile War!” Instantly, I was like a dog on point. I could smell chilies being roasted from a mile away. All of a sudden I was pursuing Green Chiles and Green Chile stews of all kinds, and they were everywhere. It was like hearing a new word for the first time. Among my friends there was much discussion and debate; I quickly joined the fray…thick or thin, tomatoes or tomatillos, potatoes, or flour, oregano or cumin, loin or shoulder. How could I have lived twenty-some years without even a hint of such an exquisite and complex thing? Such was the plight of a turtle-necked New Englander. I quickly developed a self-proclaimed sophisticated Green Chile palate, and, being a hands-on guy, I set out to make the perfect Green Chile. What I really learned over the last fifteen or so years is that Green Chile is as individual as driving, sex, or grilling…everyone has an opinion, and if you ask them they’ll tell you that theirs is the best. Here’s my opinion (with variations on the theme).
This so-called master recipe is the basic core of a traditional (my opinion again) southwestern Green Chile Stew sometimes referred to as New Mexico Green Chile Stew, or Pueblo Green Chile Stew. The recipe has as many variations as there are stars in the Taos night sky. I always serve mine with plenty of freshly browned warm tortillas. This is comfort food at its very best.
This recipe serves 6 with great leftovers
The Pork: I use pork shoulder (another name for this is butt) cut into 1 inch cubes. I use shoulder because 1) the price is right, and 2) it has far superior taste to loin cuts when cooked in this method. I use Niman Ranch pork from Marczyk Fine Foods which comes from heirloom breeds of pigs which are raised outdoors: not in confinement conditions. This yields a superior tasting pork (yes it even matters in a stew) and more highly developed connective tissue which lends an unmistakable pleasing texture.
The Green Chilies: I always opt for a milder Chile like Anaheims or Big Jims for this recipe, because the longer you cook the stew the hotter it gets. Plus, you can always add heat with crushed red pepper or cayenne, but you can’t take it away. I have had many Green Chile stews that were simply too hot to enjoy because someone tried to perfect the heat with their choice of Chilies. My opinion is that you should enjoy a slow steady gentle burn in your mouth–which makes you want to eat more.
The Recipe: (remember, this is peasant food, so don’t stress)
- 2 pounds pork shoulder cut into one inch cubes
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 medium yellow onions: coarse dice
- 3 cloves finely minced garlic
- 1 pound peeled and diced tomatillos OR the juice of one lime
- 2 pounds flame roasted Green Chilies peeled, seeded, and chopped
- 1 pound very ripe tomatoes of any color: coarse dice (canned is fine)
- 4 cups pork, chicken, or vegetable stock, or water
- Kosher salt, pepper, and heating agents such as CRP, or cayenne to taste (add toward end)
Classic additional ingredients/variations:
2 pounds cubed potato or 2 tablespoons corn starch blended in ½ cup water or 3 tablespoons AP flour blended in ½ cup water.
Season pork thoroughly with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a heavy shallow skillet until it just begins to glisten; add pork in small batches and brown deeply on all sides. The pork must not be crowded-we use a shallow skillet for the same reason-a deep one will steam and not brown the pork. Take your time and complete this step correctly-it makes all the difference. Reserve browned pork and save a bit of the rendered fat for the rest of the recipe. In a heavy soup pot or Dutch oven gently sweat onions, garlic, and tomatillos in a some of the rendered pork fat (mo’ fat mo’ flavor). Cook until all vegetables are soft. Add the rest of the ingredients including the pork and cook until the pork is fork-tender…usually about 1-2 hours. About 45 minutes before you want to serve the Green Chile Stew add potato or other thickeners if desired also, and season to taste. Serve with warm flour tortillas.
Tags: all natural meats, denver, Green chiles, Marczyk Fine Foods, niman ranch | Post Your Comments »
Whitney is the merchandising guru at Marczyk’s. She touches practically all the Marczyk products, so has lots of time to consider how to use them. Here is her November pick, with recipe! Enjoy.
Picks of the Month: Kabocha Squash and Niman Ranch Chipotle and Cheddar Sausages
Here in Colorado, the cold weather has arrived! Our Denver trees are dusted with snow, and the market is abundant with local squash of seemingly endless varieties. While I tend to like pretty much any kind of squash, I have to admit that Kabocha is my all-time favorite. If you’ve never tried Kabocha squash, you are really in for a treat. Also known as the Japanese Pumpkin, the Kabocha is more intense, sweet, and vibrant-colored than regular pumpkins. The skin of this squash is edible when cooked, but since this soup is pureed it is best to remove it and use for making pumpkin stock. I used “Sunshine Kabocha” for this recipe (the bright orange-skinned variety) but green Kabocha would work just as well.
Marczyk Fine Foods squash
What you’ll love about this soup is the wonderful flavor contrasts of spicy and sweet. If you remove the seeds from the chipotles before adding to the soup, you will get a milder, smoky heat. If you want some sinus-clearing spice, there’s no need to remove the seeds. It might just be the tastiest cold medicine you’ve ever sipped! The addition of Yukon gold potatoes gives the soup a more creamy texture and thick body.
This soup also has my new favorite sausage from Niman Ranch, the uncured chipotle cheddar flavor. There are so many reasons why Niman Ranch is one of our favorite suppliers here at Marczyk’s - from their humanely raised “never-ever” meats (as in, never ever treated with hormones or antibiotics) to their environmentally sustainable farming practices - but the best thing about their meats is really the taste. These juicy and flavorful chipotle cheddar sausages have little pockets of melted cheese and the wonderful, smoky, spicy taste of chipotle.
Spicy Chipotle-Kabocha Soup
1 large Kabocha Squash (about 5 pounds whole, any color)
1 large yellow onion, halved and sliced
3 T butter
1/4 cup white wine
4 cloves garlic, minced
about 3 (1/4 of a can) Chipotles in adobo sauce, seeds removed and chopped
2 cups Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and diced
6 cups of vegetable stock
Salt, to taste
4 Niman Ranch Chipotle Cheddar Sausages, sliced
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Prep the squash: halve the Kabocha and scrape out the pulp and seeds. Fill a large, shallow pan with about 2 inches of water. Place squash halves cut-side down in the pan and place in the oven. Roast until squash is very soft, about 30 minutes.
In a large pot over medium-high heat, melt butter. Add onions and cook until golden-brown and caramelized, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and saute for 1 minute. Deglaze pan with wine and add chipotles and potatoes. Add stock and bring mixture to a boil, then lower the heat to allow the soup to simmer.
Once squash is cool enough to handle, peel away the skin, scraping any stubborn bits off with a spoon. Stir the Kabocha flesh into the soup and continue to simmer, covered, until potatoes are completely soft and the liquid thickens, about 30 minutes. Using an immersion blender (or a blender or food processor), puree soup until smooth. Season with salt. Add sliced sausages and cook another 8 minutes, or until sausage is nice and hot. Remove from heat and serve immediately.
Tags: Add new tag, all natural meats, denver, Marczyk Fine Foods, niman ranch, Recipes | 11 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?”
Tags: antibiotics in meat, butcher, CAFO, Marczyk Fine Foods, natural meats, niman ranch | 23 Comments »
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.html
Tags: 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.”
Tags: marczyk, natural meat, niman ranch | 6 Comments »
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!
Westword Newspaper has added a recipe section to their Cafe Society Blog, and we’re the recipe writers! Join Pete Marczyk and Barbara Macfarlane every week for an easy-to-follow recipe slideshow/video. Bacon candy, corn chowder, fried chicken, and what to do with all that zucchini.
Tags: 4th of July, fried chicken, marczyk, niman ranch, Recipes | 2 Comments »