by Bernard Shire
Niman Ranch is a major player in the bacon business. But so are a lot of other bacon-makers. What sets the company apart from many other bacon manufacturers is the way it goes about making its products. Niman Ranch bacon varieties come from pigs that are humanely raised, according to strict animal-handling protocols. In fact, the pigs and other livestock raised by Niman Ranch are Certified Humane.
“Humane farm animal care is supported by a number of animal protection organizations,” says Jeff Tripician, general manager of Niman Ranch, headquartered in Alameda, California. “I’m really the CEO of the company, but not the fancy title,” he says with a laugh. He goes to explain a little about what raising humane animals means.
“We have a network of 700 farmers who raise our animals, whether they’re pigs or other livestock,” he says. “The standards we set for how our animals are raised include scientific research, veterinary advice, and the practical experience of the farming industry,” he explains. The standards and guidelines are recognized for the proper care of animals. “But we go further. Our animals are raised outdoors or in deeply bedded pens. Our farms are gestation and farrowing crate-free. Our farmers have to follow all these standards if they’re going to work for us. Our standards and protocols were developed with the help of animal-handling expert, Dr. Temple Grandin.”
The farmers, who are paid a premium to raise animals according to Niman Ranch’s strict standards, are in South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska, Kansas, Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Missouri, Michigan and Wisconsin. There are also a handful of farmers in Pennsylvania. Much of the processing takes place in Iowa and Wisconsin. But Niman Ranch is not a coop owned by the farmers. Niman Ranch doesn’t own the farms and they are not contract producers. The company buys hogs from the farmers who raise them.
The bacon from Niman Ranch is sourced from humanely raised pigs and the products are billed as “natural.” “I know what you’re going to say – what does natural mean, right?” Tripician asks. “USDA has a simple definition of ‘natural’ – it’s minimally processed, with no artificial ingredients. That definition only refers to finished goods, meat processing. It has nothing to do with humanely raising animals or sustainable farming practices. But our definition of natural goes far beyond that,” he says. It includes: no antibiotics ever; no hormones; no artificial ingredients; no gluten; no casein; no MSG; and no nuts.
Niman Ranch makes six different kinds of bacon. They include: pepper, double-smoked, uncured Applewood smoked; dry-cured Applewood smoked; uncured maple; uncured hickory smoked, and uncured Canadian bacon. “It doesn’t contain nitrites or nitrates,” Tripician points out.
Niman Ranch uncured double applewood smoked bacon is smoked over real Applewood, then chilled and smoked a second time through a cold smoked process, for extra crunch and flavor. The dry-cured is hand-rubbed with a mixture of cane sugar, maple and salt to preserve and tenderize the meat,” he says. The uncured Canadian bacon is pork loin smoked over Applewood for a touch of sweetness, slightly smoky and is fully cooked.
Pork, including bacon, is the mainstay of Niman Ranch’s business, even though the company also makes beef and lamb. “I’d say sausage and pulled pork, but the real cornerstone of our business is the bacon,” Tripician says. Niman Ranch’s pork and bacon does not come from one breed of big. “We know there are a lot of good breeds out there. The breeds our farmers raise include Chester White, Duroc and Berkshire. Ninety percent comes from these breeds individually or a combination of the breeds. They give us ideal characteristics – exceptional mothering, hardiness that allows for pasture-raising, and extraordinary marbling, color and taste, creating superior pork.” Tripician also notes that none of the bellies used in making the bacon comes from the outside. “They all are from our pigs raised by our Niman Ranch farmers.”
Niman Ranch’s award-winning bacon is the company’s most popular product. “We believe the quality of our bacon is the key – likely because of the real hardwood smoke we use, instead of the more commonly used liquid smoke.” Niman Ranch bacon is sold by retailers all over the United States. The company’s products are not sold online.
Tripician points to several reasons bacon has taken off to become the tremendously popular food it has. “It’s no longer just a breakfast food, but has become a staple ingredient for meals, snacks and drinks throughout the day. A great hamburger can include bacon, and so can the accompanying salad, bread and dessert. Protein diets and the importance of protein as part of a healthy diet has fueled the bacon trend. And home-cooked meals often include traditional foods, and bacon is one of those, as an easy-to-make food,” he says. “I think bacon will continue to be the rage for a long time. I can’t see it fading way,” he predicts.
Original article: Meat + Poultry