It was a cold dreary day in February when our good friends from La Quercia, Herb and Kathy Eckhouse, called me to see if they could bring three people from the Boston Area including; Chris Himmel, Chef Nick Deutmeyer, and Chef Eric Brennan, from Grill 23, Post 390 and Harvest Cambridge, on a Niman Ranch farm tour. Their guests were interested to learn more about where their pork comes from, how the pigs were raised and why that matters in the creation of La Quercia’s artisanal meats.
We took our guests to visit long time Niman Ranch farmers Marlin and Judy Mowry. They came outside to greet us wearing warm winter coveralls while their farm dogs playfully pranced around with excitement. They said most of their pets were rescued from various bad situations, and were now finding solace here in a loving and safe environment. You could see the pride they take in the care of all their animals. The Mowrys were thrilled to host the tour and explained to us that they chose to work with Niman Ranch because they felt the animal handling protocols fell in line with their own core personal values about treating all life with respect.
Although February isn’t the most ideal time for a farm tour in Iowa due to the extreme cold and snow, these tours often are more informative than those we do in the summer. I frequently get questions about how the pigs handle the cold. When visitors come in the winter, they can see firsthand that the pigs have plenty of shelter and warm bedding and additionally, plenty of room to move and behave naturally.
We may have looked a little silly in our white paper coveralls and plastic booties but that is required nowadays to protect the herd’s health and the farm from outside contamination. The pigs were curious and came out to see us. It was fun to see them frolic inside the deeply bedded hoop house. We talked about the combination of traditional and heritage breeds we use at Niman Ranch and how that works best for both raising the pigs outside and in deeply bedded pens plays a key role in creating the intricate marbling found in our pork which ultimately is what is needed to turn out the award winning artisanal meats from La Quercia.
After the tour, Marlin and Judy welcomed us into their home and served us an excellent home grown meal featuring deviled eggs made from their own chicken’s eggs, Niman Ranch sausages, homemade sauerkraut, Iowa sweet corn frozen from last summer’s harvest, and many more fabulous dishes. Our visitors were thrilled to be able to visit a Niman Ranch farm and gain a deeper perspective of the importance of supporting these farmers and their market.