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Portland's Nicky USA: Farm to chef artisanal meats coming to a market near you

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What are artisanal meats anyway? I am learning. After a visit to the pristine Nicky Farms processing plant and warehouse in central Portland, my perspective on the meats that I select in restaurants and cook at home has broadened.

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I've been marginally aware of the value of eating locally sourced meats and meat products. Sometime in my life I recall being impressed when a restaurant listed their source for steaks as Harris Ranch Beef. And, when staying at the historic La Posada in Arizona, I was impressed that their lamb came from a local Navajo family.

It is easy to make the decision to give preference to locally sourced vegetables, fruits and even wines. Just go to a local farmer's market or winery to make your purchases. And, chefs do the same. But it is not as top of mind for meats. Although in Portland, consumer tastes are much more progressive.

It has only been recently that I gained an understanding of what artisanal foods are. Artisanal refers to hand-made or worked as an artisan would do. It is the same with foods. Artisanal foods are grown and made in small amounts and typically follow traditional methods and recipes. The "food artisans" use high-quality and unprocessed ingredients. Often they are local farmers or those who purchased from the farmers and keep the processing local. These foods are usually produced in a sustainable manner. These foods can be easily traced to the source. Try doing that with your supermarket hamburger.

So when I hear the words "artisanal foods" I think healthy, better tasting, quality foods produced locally in a way that forgoes volume for meeting the needs of the discerning consumer. It doesn't necessarily guarantee the foods are organic or GMO-free ... that is another definitional and legal discussion. You must ask questions and read labels.

But what about artisanal meats? Isn't it time to focus on buying locally sourced, free-range, chemical free meats? To complicate things, meat comes from animals. And we want to be ensured that animals are cared for in the most humane way possible. A tall order to fill, right?

After touring the Nicky USA processing plant which, was amazingly small for the amount of meat that is processed, and learning about their passion for locally sourced meats that met their high standards, I was convinced that I needed to become that discerning consumer. And, I felt they could fill that tall order.

Nicky USA just launched a new product line featuring jerky, some of which was made from meats that are uncommon in our simple diet of beef, chicken, pork and fish. How about emu, water buffalo, or rabbit? We didn't know. The delicious jerky was served as a blind taste test. They are now making some new sausages as well. Meats at Nicky are often unusual (read elk, water buffalo, goat, etc). They've become the "go-to" place for top chefs in Portland... the ones who wow you with their creative offerings.

So after touring the Nicky Farms warehouse and plant, hearing from Geoff Latham, owner and CEO, and tasting some amazing andouille sausage and freshly smoked brisket, I was ready to transition from supermarket meats to artisanal protein that would add value to my meals and to my health. I do that when I shop the farmer's markets for vegetables... so why not meat?

I am looking forward to the availability of Nicky Farms meats in local butcher shops and specialty stores. I may be a bit behind the trends but I am sure I am not the only one. Nicky Farms opened my eyes and provided me with some excellent reasons for changing my grocery shopping ways.

More Information
Nicky Farms - Nicky USA
Recipes from Portland Chefs
Nicky Farms shows jerky side of the OTHER game food

More on Enjoying the Portland Area
Northwest Sustainable Foods

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