The Evolution to Natural Beef with Niman Ranch

This is number three in a four-part series detailing our beef program and what makes it so special. Not only did our owner and founder, Paul Mackay, help create the most elite, sought-after Angus beef program with Certified Angus Beef, but he took that a step further to create a natural program. Since the beginning, we wanted to offer our guests something so exclusive that they’d be hard-pressed to find anything like it anywhere in the world – and that still holds true today.

Just as you’d expect, beef-expert John Tarpoff is the epitome of a cowboy – complete with hat, boots, and deliberate talk. We met Mr. Tarpoff in the last chapter of our series on beef – he, along with our owner and founder, Paul Mackay, created the Certified Angus Beef® (CAB) Prime program. Fortunately for us, the story doesn’t end there. Twenty years later, the two took the program a step further.

To understand the story in full, we need to back up a bit: in the 1980s and 90s, Tarpoff was helping to run his family packing house in Granite City, IL (not in South Dakota, as we previously stated), and the meat industry was changing. Realizing he couldn’t compete with “the big boys” in volume, he decided to go another route and focus on one thing: quality.

He built upon his Biology degree and started focusing on genetics and nutrition with the cattle, buying only Angus breed, and keeping great stats on each animal. Within a short amount of time, he essentially taught himself how to raise cattle to grade at Prime, which demands a premium price. His efforts showed huge results: 50% of the cattle he raised was grading at Prime. To put that in perspective, the industry average then was 1% (and today is still only 2-3%) – an incredible feat by anyone’s measure. No wonder he’s been referred to as, “the steak whisperer.”

“Not long ago, I was talking with some press folks in Seattle, and after hearing my story, one young gal said, ‘You are ‘the steak whisperer.’” Tarpoff laughs, “I’ve been called a lot of things in my life, some I can’t mention, but that’s one of my favorites.”

Niman Ranch and the creation of a Natural Beef Program

In the early 2000s, due to an illness in the family, Tarpoff made the hard decision to close the packing house. By then, the CAB® Prime brand program was running strong and he was recruited by Niman Ranch, a natural program that had made a name for itself with pork. They wanted to develop a beef program, and the CEO gave Tarpoff the reins to build it.

“Niman Ranch is like a three-legged stool; they focus on: 1) genetics, 2) nutrition, and 3) animal husbandry,” he explains. When he joined Niman 8 years ago, Tarpoff wrote the protocols for raising beef for Niman Ranch. Five years ago, he revised them, with the help of Temple Grandin (an American doctor of animal science, known for her work in the livestock industry and animal behavior, and an autistic activist). Over a 6-8 month period she helped him take out many of the gray areas, mostly with animal husbandry. She was instrumental in opening his eyes and looking at an even bigger picture, which focuses on taking care of the cattle and eliminating as much stress as possible in their environment.

What Makes Niman Ranch Beef “Natural”?

Cattle are fed only the finest all-vegetarian feeds
Cattle are never given antibiotics or added hormones – ever
Cattle are raised in harmony with seasonal grasses, and given enough space to roam outdoors, always having access to fresh, clean water, and, therefore, able to express their natural behaviors.
Sustainability – rancher’s methods do not damage the land or the natural resources. Some examples are: practicing crop rotation to prevent soil erosion; using alternative energy sources like wind; using animal waste as fertilizer and frequently rotating crops to help ensure soil health.
The Niman Ranch protocols might seem like a no-brainer, but most livestock today is raised in crowded factory settings with weights artificially boosted through a daily ration of antibiotics. Unfortunately, these have become common agricultural practices.

Integrity and Character – The Team Formation

Because of his relationship with CAB®, Tarpoff worked to get Niman Ranch beef licensed as either CAB® Prime or CAB® Natural, but what about creating CAB® Prime Natural? Was there a demand?

“My first call was to Paul Mackay,” Tarpoff explains. “At Niman, we look for the right kind of customer. We are careful who we buy our cattle from, and the same who we sell to. The two most important things to me are integrity and character. Paul, Chad (Paul’s son and President and COO of El Gaucho) &Ken (El Gaucho Corporate Executive Chef) all exemplify both words. From my standpoint, I’m thrilled to be in business with them,” he says.

Greg Sproed, Niman Ranch’s Pacific Northwest account manager, couldn’t agree more. “El Gaucho was the first to partner with Niman Ranch in the Pacific Northwest. They provide one of the finest dining experiences, and there is no better partner for a reputation. They have helped us expand in the marketplace, and throughout other regions,” he said.

With the addition of Niman Ranch, El Gaucho guests are truly receiving the highest quality steak available today – Niman Ranch All-NaturalCertified Angus Beef® brand prime steaks and chops, 28-day dry aged and grilled over charcoal. A mouthful?! Indeed – a very tasty one!


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