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On a recent visit to Produce Row in Portland, we dropped in on Nicky USA, a local, organic and sustainable meat company that distributes and raises their own meat. We wanted to find out how the sausage is made. Literally. With meat and spices. And in this case, beer.
Nicky USA proprietor Geoff Latham recently purchased a 35-acre farm in Aurora, Oregon, appropriately named Nicky Farms, where he raises geese, quail and the company's flagship product, rabbits. The farm represents a "dream come true" for Latham, who has been selling game meats since 1991.
"I started out selling rabbits around town out of my hatchback and chefs told me they loved the quality. But I needed to sell more than rabbit if I wanted to stay in business," says Latham.
"During the last 19 years, we basically had to look for different local farms around Oregon and work out relationships with them to contract anything from rabbit to quail," he says.
But with the acquisition of Nicky Farms, that's all changed. Now Latham is able to close the distance between the farm and your table.
"I grew up on a farm and put myself through Oregon State by selling cattle," recalls Latham. "From day one, I've always wanted to sell product from the land and handle it all the way to the plate. I think what's important about Nicky is that we try to be the most sustainable."
Good chefs are often discerning when preparing their cuisine, and that attention to detail begins well before the food reaches the kitchen. Whenever necessary, Nicky USA will act as a liaison between the customer and his farms or other farm partners to cultivate a product that is specifically tailored to the chef's needs. If a chef wants a cow to graze on hazelnuts for a few months to give the meat a distinct wood-like flavor, Nicky will coordinate with the farm to do just that. If a chef requires that his beef have a particular level of tenderness, Nicky USA will leverage connections at the farm to develop a particular exercise regimen that produces the desired result.
Nicky's latest custom-order product is its sausage program which takes advantage of a shiny, new piece of machinery that produces high-quality sausage in half the time. In our video above, master butcher Jace Hentges gives us the play-by-play while making a custom batch of Texas-style hot-links destined for BJ Smith's Portland barbecue joint, Smokehouse-21.
Latham strives to create a reputation of sustainability in the industry, which resonates with many restaurants in Portland. His customers include Chris DiMinno of Clyde Common, Little Bird's Eric Van Kley, Matt Christiansen of Urban Farmer, Patrick McKee of Paley's Place and many others between here and Seattle.
"We utilize the whole animal and I think that's one thing that customers who buy from us really appreciate," says Latham.
"For the last 20 years I've been in this city trying to provide the best quality farm products that I could find in meat, and now after 20 years, I think it's really important that we're not just a meat company," he adds. "We're a USDA-inspected butcher shop and we're willing to do things on a smaller scale. We're not just a 'box-in, box-out' kind of company."