Snobby gastronomes have this thing they love to do. No matter what you’re eating, they sniff their nose, roll their eyes and say, “This isn’t really what (insert food product) tastes like. I’ve had the real (food product) in (insert some snobby restaurant or country) and that is what (food product) TRULY tastes like.”
I hate that. Except that I’m about to do it to you.
Pepper Ranch Poultry is a tiny start-up chicken ranch in Petaluma and their American Heritage chickens are the tastiest chickens I’ve ever had. Michele Anna Jordan likes them too. As do a growing number of area chefs.
“These are the kinds of chickens your grandmother would have prepared,” said co-owner Amy Proaps, who runs the business local Craig Azevedo . “These are original breeds. You can’t buy them in the stores because they’re just too expensive to raise,” she said.
Why? Proaps said that most commercial chicken is grown as quickly as possible, with as much meat as possible. These slower growing birds forage around the pasture all day, using their muscles and “doing what chickens do naturally,” Proaps said. Like actually perching in their roosts at night. Most commercial birds don’t have the ability to do that because of their huge breasts and weak legs. Pepper Ranch chickens, you’ll notice right off, have smallish breasts and large, muscular legs because they actually, well, move around.
Proaps and Azevedo slaughter only about 50 birds from their growing flock of about 500 to sell at local farm markets. The resulting birds have a thicker skin (holding in moisture well), with darker and much firmer meat. The flavor is less metallic, and more round, complex, and textured. “They’re creamy and buttery,” said Proaps, who was inspired to start selling her chicken after tasting the championship 4-H birds raised by her son.
Prepare for a little sticker shock, however, if you’re used to getting a whole bird at Costco for $4.99. At about $6 per pound (in line with other non-commercial, organic chickens), every morsel is precious and the birds become something of an investment rather than something you’d smother with canned mushroom soup. Most birds are 2.5 pounds and up. But grown organically, the bones and scraps make for great stocks and you can stretch the birds into a couple meals.
If you’re willing to give it a try, Pepper Ranch Poultry are what real chicken truly taste like. Or at least what they should.
Pepper Ranch Poultry, available at the Santa Rosa Farmer’s Market on Saturdays, or by calling 321.9638. Online at: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Pepper-Ranch-Poultry/271600052869481