So old Bill Niman finally got the boot. As a former Californian, I was well aware of Niman Ranch's long-standing reputation for high-quality, all-natural beef and pork. Little did I know that Niman himself was forced out last year in a management struggle over a loosening of his rigorous standards of meat production. The NYT has the skinny in today's Dining section.
Though a true pioneer, Niman was apparently never much of a businessman and, according to Jeff Swain - the current CEO of Niman Ranch, his beef business never made money. As a result, they had to dispense with some of the
What that means for you and me, of course, is that (assuming you haven't already) you should stop buying that Niman Ranch bacon from Trader Joe's. Alice Waters, ahead of the curve as usual, stopped carrying his products back in 2002 when (with Bill still at the company) they continued to grain finish their beef rather than go 100% pasture fed. But Niman Ranch the corporate product is now the poster child for what happens when big[ger] business collides with small-scale agricultural practices. Turns out that it's hard to scale up small-scale. How surprising.
Those of us who shop at Weavers Way, of course, don't have to worry quite so much about mass-market meat, having several local, organic and/or all-natural producers to choose from such as Natural Acres for beef and Meadow Run for beef and pork, though it would be nice to have a local, small-scale lamb producer stocked as well (there was one at the farmers market held in front of Weavers Way just last week so I know they exist!)
Anyway, as for old Bill, he seems to have landed on his feet. He went back to his 1,000 acres in Bolinas, CA (on the Pacific about an hour north of San Francisco) and turned his attention to goats. That's right. Goats. It's the next big meat. According to a tasting conducted for the Times article:
No gym socks aftertaste here! Plus, goat has half the fat content of chicken, so says the Department of Agriculture. Count me in!
...Mr. Niman's young goat was compared to pan-seared and roasted loin and shoulder cuts from both a small Vermont grower and what the chef Dan Barber called "commodity goat."The commodity goat was slightly musty and chewy. The Vermont goat was as tender and mild as lamb. The Niman goat was like lamb, too, but a lamb with a big personality. The meat was sweet and vegetal. The fat, what little of it there was, tasted rich but felt lighter than olive oil.
Photo by Noah Berger for The New York Times