Mel Coleman, a vice president of Niman Ranch, a leading producer of natural and organic meats in the United States, is passionate about his company’s products and that passion was evident at a dinner at the restaurant Seven at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman on 8 March and at the annual Slow Food event at Joel Walton’s Plantation House the next day.
Over the past couple of years, the name Niman Ranch has increasingly popped up on Grand Cayman’s restaurant menus and even in the packaged meat sections of grocery stores. These products and menu items are invariably a little more expensive than similar items that do not have the Niman Ranch name on them. There’s a good reason for that.
Niman Ranch was the first company in the beef industry to receive the USDA’s ‘natural’ designation, meaning its beef is produced from livestock raised without the use of antibiotics or growth hormones. Its cattle are raised on a network of small family farms in an environmentally sustainable and humane way.
All Niman Ranch livestock is raised outdoors in a free-range environment with continual access to food and water. They eat all natural vegetarian feeds and spend their entire lives with their litter-mates.
In addition to beef, Niman Ranch has partnered with farmers of chicken, pork and lamb products. All of the animals are raised to the same standards as the cattle under its brand. In total, Niman Ranch’s network includes over 700 independent American farmers and ranchers.
During a visit to Cayman in March, Niman Ranch’s Vice President Special Projects Mel Coleman, who grew up on a cattle ranch in Colorado, said that the American market for meat products is centred around the lowest cost, so over the years, American farmers and ranchers have had to use methods that increased volume or lowered cost, even if that meant compromising on the quality or healthfulness of the product. Niman Ranch, on the other hand, concentrates on producing the highest quality meat products.
However, all of that comes with additional cost.
“Distributors, chefs, consumers need to be willing to pay the price for it because it’s not cheap food,” he told guests at a dinner at Seven Restaurant at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman.
Coleman noted that some activists have criticised Niman Ranch for not using antibiotics because the medicines can help keep animals from dying when they get sick. However, Coleman said that on commodity farms, animals need antibiotics because they are raised in ways that stress their bodies and make them more susceptible to sickness. He said Niman Ranch farmers certainly don’t want their animals to get sick or die because they are ultimately very costly and that they promote the health in their animals in different ways.
“My grandfather used to say that you’ve got to think like a cow if you want to treat a cow right,” he said. By raising cattle – and all of its animals – under strict protocols, Niman Ranch is able to produce meats that were not only better tasting, but more healthy to consume, Coleman said, adding that when health and healthcare costs are taken into consideration, Niman Ranch products were actually a better value than meats produced by commodity farms.
Primal Cuts at Seven
Niman Ranch products were launched in Cayman by Progressive Distributors Limited in July 2010 and over the past two and a half years, a number of Cayman’s restaurants have started including some of Niman Ranch’s products on their menus.
One restaurant that has significantly embraced Niman Ranch products is Seven at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman. Other restaurants at the hotel use Niman Ranch meats as well.
“For two years we’ve been using Niman Ranch products,” said Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman Executive Chef Frederic Morineau. “It really is the best quality beef, pork and lamb.”
To showcase the quality, the newly renovated Seven Restaurant hosted a series of Primal Cuts dinners, one of which included Coleman and some of the key personnel at Progressive Distributors, among other guests.
Seven’s Chef de Cuisine Jordan Barnett prepared a four-course menu that featured Niman Ranch’s beef products, starting with beef tartare topped with a ‘sunny side up’ quail egg. Since the beef in tartare is served raw, it is vital that it is of the highest quality and that was very evident in the melt-in-your-mouth dish.
After a tasty beef consommé with bone marrow, truffle and foie gras, the dinner turned to a very special cut of beef – the tomahawk steak.
This large bone-in rib eye steak, which is served only at Seven in the Cayman Islands, has the entire rib bone in tact, giving it the appearance of a tomahawk.
After presenting the steaks on the bone so guests could see them, the steaks were taken back to the kitchen where they were sliced and brought back to the table.
Two different rubs were used on the steaks – a five peppercorn rub and a Caribbean jerk rub – but Morineau said the kitchen decided to forgo Seven’s usual house-made Bordelaise and Bearnaise sauces.
“The meat is so good that we decided it didn’t need any sauces,” he said.
Slow Food at Plantation House
Coleman was back touting the benefits of Niman Ranch products the very next evening, this time at Slow Food South Sound’s fourth annual dinner at Joel Walton’s Plantation House Organic Gardens.
Slow Food is an Italy-based international culinary movement that has among its objectives the promotion of sustainable foods produced by local small businesses. Although Niman Ranch is not local to the Cayman Islands, its sustainable production methods and use of small farms and ranches dovetails with Slow Food’s philosophies and those of Walton, whose small-scale farming operation supplies local restaurants and consumers with organic produce.
As is customary for this event, The Brasserie – which was the first restaurant on Grand Cayman to embrace a farm-to-table dining concept – catered the dinner, preparing an extensive menu using ingredients grown, raised or caught in the Cayman Islands.
Once again, Cayman Distributors and BlackBeard’s sponsored the wine at the event and Wine Sales Manager Jodie Ehrhart spoke about the wines she had chosen for the evening, Casa Lapostolle Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot.
Ehrhart explained that the Chile-based Casa Lapostolle was a logical choice for the Slow Food event at Plantation House because its winery was certified organic and biodynamic last year.
“They now use lighter bottles of recycled glass, recycled paper for labels, certified carbon neutral, and they taste great,” she said.
The event started at 5pm with tours of Walton’s remarkable property, which has more than 150 edible plants growing on it.
Before dinner was served, the guest speaker Coleman talked about the state of meat production in the United States and why it was better for people to choose sustainable meats from farmers producing healthier meats. Coleman said he was “blown away” by what Walton was doing at Plantation House, which he said was very similar in philosophy to what Niman Ranch does with raising its animals.