• Niman Ranch Farmer Appreciation Dinner

    September 19, 2010

    Last night, I had the pleasure of joining the hard-working farmers of Niman Ranch for the 12th Annual Farmer Appreciation Dinner at the Marriott hotel in downtown Des Moines.


    Several acclaimed chefs from around the country prepared the evening’s meal, which highlighted Niman Ranch’s pork. Each course demonstrated the farmers’ dedication to raising their animals traditionally, humanly, and sustainably to produce the finest tasting meat.


    The meal started with wine, but I had one sip and pushed my glass away. I was not in the mood to drink after Friday night’s shenanigans and Saturday’s “day drinking” after the 5K. (Ugh, I’m such a boozebag sometimes.)


    The seven-course meal lasted nearly four hours. It was obviously meat-heavy, but I really enjoyed it. All of the dishes used fresh, interesting ingredients and were very creative.

    Before dinner, I enjoyed some Porchetta made by Chef Sarah Jenkins of Porchetta in New York City. The Porchetta was Niman Ranch slow roasted pork middles seasoned with rosemary, sage, and Cleverly Farms garlic, served on fresh baked bread by South Union Bakery. The lighting in the room was really dim, so I never snapped a good photo of it, but it reminded me a lot of a pork slider.

    Reuben with a Twist
    Chef Randy Waidner, Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse, Chicago, Illinois

    I liked this course. “Rueben with a Twist” was such a fun idea for an appetizer. The chef-corned Niman Ranch pork tenderloin was perfectly tender and tasted delicious with the gruyere cracker, pickled kohlrabi, and spicy mustard. All of the flavors together in one bite were fantastic. However, the homemade rye just wasn’t my thing. I had a few bites, but I didn’t like it.


    My blog buddy, Chef John, in action!


    Sweet Corn Soup
    Chef George Formaro, Centro, Des Monies, Iowa

    The Sweet Corn Soup was easily my favorite course of the meal– well, besides dessert, of course! ;-) The soup was made from purée of Iowa sweet corn, caramelized onions, pico de gallo and Niman Ranch chicharron. Holy amazing. My plan was to enjoy a few bites from each dish in order to pace myself throughout the meal, but my goal went right out the window with this course. I ate the entire portion. Yuuummm!


    Niman Ranch Pig Tails
    Chef Jon Shook and Chef Vinny Dotolo, Animal, Los Angeles, California

    The buffalo-style pig tails were definitely the most innovative course of the evening. Who would have thought to serve pig tails buffalo-style? (Or even eat pig tails for that matter!?) The pig tails were served with celery and French Breakfast radishes from Cleverley Farms and ranch dressing. I’ll eat anything at least once, so I tried a few bites. The meat was very flavorful and, of course, I loved the buffalo sauce, but I couldn’t get the thought of pig tails out of my head, so I only ate about two bites of this dish.


    Niman Ranch Hand-Shredded Pork Wrap
    Chef Alexander Ong, Betelnut, San Francisco, California

    Chef Alexander’s pork wrap with Asian pear kimchee and scallion purée on butter lettuce was one of my favorite courses, mostly because I chatted with him the night before about it. It was interesting to hear his inspiration and thinking behind the dish. Chef Alexander is also just a cool guy– very personable and friendly.


    Niman Ranch Pork Osso Bucco
    Chef Martin Muprhy, Canoe Club, Hanover, New Hampshire

    I also really liked the main course, Osso Bucco, which was slow-braised Niman Ranch pork shank with ragout of beets, carrots, potatoes, and squash. I was quite full at this point in the meal, so I only ate the vegetables and a few bites of the pork, which was a-mazing. It was so tender and basically fell right off the bone. I didn’t even need my knife to cut it.


    During the entree course, Niman Ranch presented a number of farmers with awards and special recognition for their hard work and dedication, including Farmer of the Year, Highest Quality Meat, and 10 Years of Dedication.


    Classic Heirloom Apple Pie
    Chef John Himan, Marczyk Fine Foods, Denver, Colorado

    Obviously, dessert was my favorite course. Chef John used a blend of Cortland and Mollies Delicious apples from Berry Patch Orchard with Niman leaf lard for the crust. The apple pie was served with a small piece of Prairie Breeze cheddar cheese on the side. Interesting, right? Apples + cheese? Love it!


    The apple pie was very special because Chef John was faced with every possible challenge for making it. When he arrived in Des Moines on Thursday afternoon, the Marriott only had nine pie pans for him. No biggie, right? He found 61 more, no problem. But, the night before the event, the machine that rolls out the pie dough broke. So, Chef John (and some of the other chefs), rolled the dough by hand, which was very time-consuming. Then, if that wasn’t enough, as soon as the pies are ready for baking, the ovens at the Marriott stop working!!! (Personally, I would have lost my mind at this point.) Luckily, a nearby restaurant was able to cook the 70 apple pies for the event, but the poor chefs were up until nearly 3:00 in the morning baking them. Their hard work was definitely worth it. I totally wanted a second piece!


    At the end of dinner, the chefs were thanked individually for their contributions to the meal. Enjoying all of the courses, I could tell that each of the chefs really cared about the food. It truly exemplified the connection between farm and table.


    Just landed in Detriot. I had an amazing time in Iowa, but I’m sooooo ready to be home with M & m. I feel like I am away more than I am home!

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    { 45 comments… read them below or add one }

    Lindsay Perrone (goodiesgalore) September 19, 2010 at 2:16 pm

    I would have smuggled some of that pie into my purse. yum!


    Steph@stephsbitebybite September 19, 2010 at 2:17 pm

    What a great spread you had! And I love the term boozebag :) so funny!


    Jessica @ How Sweet It Is September 19, 2010 at 2:23 pm

    I need that pie in my life. Oh em gee.


    Alyssa September 19, 2010 at 2:23 pm

    Apple pie with cheese? Sounds so good!


    Julie @ Peanut Butter Fingers September 19, 2010 at 2:27 pm

    my oh my how i love apple pie! i wanna make one soon! i can’t wait for thanksgiving when pies dominate my life! :D


    Alexa @ The Girl In Chucks September 19, 2010 at 2:27 pm

    No one ever invited me to 4 hour dinners that have the most amazing looking pie for dessert. Sadness. I must rethink how I am living my life and change this fact immediately.


    Tina September 19, 2010 at 2:30 pm

    What a cool dinner. Yay for coming home though. You do have to travel a lot.


    Christina @ Food.Fun.Fabulous September 19, 2010 at 2:33 pm

    Apple pie with cheddar cheese is normal for me! My mother and grandparents have always served it like that – I think it’s a German thing?


    Wendy (Give Love Create Happiness) September 19, 2010 at 2:42 pm

    Have a safe trip home! Happy Sunday! :)


    holly @ couchpotatoathlete September 19, 2010 at 2:44 pm

    That apple pie looks amazing!

    I’m not a big pork eater — but it would have been worth it for that pie :)


    Stacey (The Habit of Healthy) September 19, 2010 at 2:48 pm

    Oh my goodness, you go to some amazing events lady! The food here looks fabulous. :)


    Mary @ Bites and Bliss September 19, 2010 at 2:49 pm

    It would have been hard for me to eat a pigtail :P but it looks delicious at least!


    Lynn (The Actors Diet) September 19, 2010 at 3:19 pm

    i’ve always been curious about pigtails – when i was a kid i loved reading the description of eating them in “little house in the big woods”


    Caitlin September 19, 2010 at 3:27 pm

    It is so nice that they have a dinner to show appreciation of their hard working farmers. That apple pie looks like it has a sugary top crust or something…yum.


    Joy September 19, 2010 at 3:37 pm

    My grandpa always says “Apple pie without cheese is like a hug without a squeeze”


    Katie @ peacebeme September 19, 2010 at 3:40 pm

    Wow my grandparents, and my dad, always talk about having “oxtail” (the old name for pig’s tail) soup for dinner when money was tight. Yuck!

    The apple pie with cheese concept sounds good.

    I have really enjoyed getting to learn about this hog farm experience.


    Katherine September 19, 2010 at 3:47 pm

    That apple pie looks amazing.


    Stephanie September 19, 2010 at 4:00 pm

    I knew it! I am acquaintances with someone who works at Animal and he told me today that his bosses were up in Iowa doing some appreciation dinner.. and when I remembered you were in Iowa, i KNEW it had to be this event!


    Stephanie September 19, 2010 at 4:02 pm

    @Katie @peacebeme Oxtail is made from beef, not pig.


    Sarah (Running To Slow Things Down) September 19, 2010 at 4:09 pm

    That apple pie looks so perfect! I love rustic, baked apple pies. Mmm…pure bliss. :D

    Looks like a fun night!


    Sarena (The Non-Dairy Queen) September 19, 2010 at 4:12 pm

    The pie won me over on this one! YUM!


    Lauren at KeepItSweet September 19, 2010 at 4:36 pm

    that whole meal looks amazing, what an experience!


    Lindsey @ Gingerbread Bagels September 19, 2010 at 4:47 pm

    That apple pie looks incredible! It looks like a delicious dinner. :)


    Kaed July 6, 2011 at 12:12 pm

    It’s much easier to undrtseand when you put it that way!


    Amber K September 19, 2010 at 4:49 pm

    That pie looks FANTASTIC! Kudos to all the chefs who worked so hard.


    Danielle September 19, 2010 at 5:13 pm

    That’s true dedication on the part of those chefs – staying up all hours of the night to finish the pies!


    Amanda (modernation) September 19, 2010 at 5:22 pm

    I just realized today that a friend from college was at this event, too. Small world!


    Heather (Heather's Dish) September 19, 2010 at 5:26 pm

    the osso bucco looks incredible! i have big ambitions of making my own but haven’t turned that into a reality just yet


    Lisa (bakebikeblog) September 19, 2010 at 5:29 pm

    My oh my that apple pie looks like a wonderful way to end a fantastic dinner!


    Kelsey September 19, 2010 at 5:30 pm

    Maybe it’s just me but it didn’t really seem like you were that into this trip. The tone of the posts from the trip came off kind of like “oh, just another free trip with free luxury hotel rooms and 4 course dinners, no big deal.” Between it being ANOTHER trip, the drinking and hangovers, it made it seem like your heart wasn’t really in it. I’d rather read about what you’re really passionate about, not about lackluster free trips. I’m sorry, it’s just kind of disappointing.


    Tina September 19, 2010 at 5:32 pm

    @Kelsey: I’m sorry my trip comes across this way, but that’s not at all how I felt about it.


    Megan (Braise The Roof) September 19, 2010 at 5:48 pm

    You are a very adventurous eater, Tina. You always seem to at least try each course when you go to these fancy dinners- I think I would’ve chickened out on the pig tails!


    stacey-healthylife September 19, 2010 at 6:57 pm

    The apple pie looks amazing, just like grandma’s. :)


    Lydia September 19, 2010 at 7:08 pm

    I think when bloggers go on comped trips, it’s an infomercial. The companies are just looking for a way to use you to promote their products, and you oblige by taking lots of pictures and saying nice things. Purely promotional. It’s how you make your living, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but we all know what’s going on, don’t we?


    Laura (Starloz) September 19, 2010 at 8:49 pm

    oh boy, what an incredible experience!


    medical assistant schools September 19, 2010 at 9:31 pm

    Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed browsing your blog posts. In any case I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you write again soon!


    Hannah September 19, 2010 at 10:29 pm

    I’ve heard of cheddar cheese-crust apple pies – I reckon the combination would taste amazing!

    Sadly, though, I just watched Babe last night, and so the idea of eating pigs tails makes me sad… :P


    Daisy September 19, 2010 at 10:29 pm

    Passing on drinking makes you not a boozebag! hehe. The whole dinner sounds really amazing.


    John Hinman September 20, 2010 at 1:45 am

    Thank you all for the great pie comments. I have to clarify a bit on the story of how I produced them. When we all got back to the hotel from the farm on Friday Night, I lured a few people into the Marriott kitchen to peel, slice, & core apples, 125 pounds of them. We worked until 2:30 or so in the morning. George, the local chef, whom I just met saved the day! He had a bakery up the street and offered to let me use it all day on Saturday. I arrived about 6:00 am with all my goods. He had a dough sheeter there and I thought rolling the dough was going to be a piece of cake. Nope. I had never used one before and don’t plan on using one soon. It just didn’t work out. I went old school like I’m used to and broke out my Granny’s rolling pin and went to town. Around 9 am I realized that at the pace I was going I was never going to have these pies done in time. I called in reinforcements, my partners in pie crime Pete and Paul Marczyk. We rolled out dough, assembled and baked all the pies and made it back by 5 pm, in the nick of time.
    If it was not for George Formaro, Peter and Paul Marczyk and the late night crew there would have been no pie. I owe those people in ways I will never be able to repay. Thank You all!


    Anne@ Food Loving Polar Bear September 20, 2010 at 7:21 am

    Lovely dinner, I’m sure it was an amazing experience :)


    Connie Brown September 20, 2010 at 8:04 am

    It was wonderful to see photos of our son and his family, in the second photo on your blog, which I appreciate being introduced to. Had you not shared a table at the Niman Ranch dinner with them, I still wouldn’t know about it, and I enjoy very much reading about food and people who prepare it. I hear it was a fabulous dinner with amazing food—as always. I was privileged to attend the dinner 10 years ago, and it remains one of the great food memories of my life. Thanks for sharing!


    Tony September 20, 2010 at 10:03 am

    Thanks for sharing your pictures (our memory card was full so we were unable to take any). My wife and I also attended the dinner and thoroughly enjoyed all the courses. I am not a reuben fan, but that course was my favorite. The rye bread pudding was perfect and the presentation was amazing.
    I must have lucked out on the buffaloed pig tail course (no reason to “chicken out”, they were just like ribs…kinda?), because mine was very meaty and the sauce was very good. (I understand there was some “shipping issues” with the sauce and it had to be remade, last minute).
    All the chefs did a great job preparing a wonderful meal. I was honored to have the opportunity to share it with the many hard working farmers that attended.


    Kristy September 20, 2010 at 11:05 am

    That big manly man taking pictures of his food, epic! :-)


    martha McKinnon September 21, 2010 at 6:48 pm

    I enjoyed this post very much. Although, dinner looked luscious, I loved your photos of an actual Niman Ranch farm. We hear so many horror stories about factory farming so I try to buy pastured products when I can and love Niman Ranch products. Your pictures are worth a thousand words!


    Monica September 21, 2010 at 10:31 pm

    What an awesome trip! Such wonderful proof that Iowa = Awesome!

    Thanks for sharing the recap and the photos, very cool.


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