Red or Green?
Ranch to Table, for Goodness' Sake
Silver City's River Ranch Market offers meat raised in natural,
healthy, humane environments.
by Peggy Platonos
If you want to eat healthy without leaving meat out of your diet, you are likely to find just what you need at the River Ranch Market in Silver City. Shop owner Ceci McNicholl and her husband, Wendel Hann, have been ranchers for more than 20 years, and have adopted what is known as a holistic grazing system — a system that is, in Ceci's words, "gentle with the land, and beneficial to both the environment and the livestock."
Ceci McNicholl barbecues chicken on Thursdays and Saturdays at the River Ranch Market in Silver City. (Photo by Peggy Platonos)
Both Ceci and Wendel have advanced degrees in range management, and they rotate their livestock from pasture to pasture in a mixed "flerd" (a word derived from "flock" and "herd") made up of cattle, sheep and goats grazing simultaneously or in sequence on each stretch of land.
"The different classes of livestock eat different things, and the goats, in particular, keep down the weeds," Ceci explains. "After the bigger animals have grazed through an area, we move in our turkeys. Their role is to scatter the cow pats that would otherwise smother grass and provide a breeding ground for flies and other parasites that can make cows sick."
This system, Ceci says, eliminates the need to use pesticides on the land or treat the animals with antibiotics.
"We started ranching this way because we wanted to raise the cleanest, healthiest beef for ourselves," Ceci says, adding with a chuckle, "It has morphed into something much bigger, however. People began buying meat from us at the ranch — friends, and friends of friends. Then I got the idea that I would have a little store as a way to market our meat."
She opened the River Ranch Market exactly one year ago, and it continues to be a work in progress, expanding in unexpected directions in response to customers' needs and requests.
"Right now, it's evolving into a charcuterie," Ceci says. "We've had a local butcher make up several different kinds of sausages for the store from our own ranch meats, and now we're beginning to make our own sausages and smoke our own hams. We've already started barbecuing chicken pieces and pork ribs on Thursdays and Saturdays for takeout, and that's been very popular."
She uses a variety of different sauces in the barbecuing, including Chipotle Habanero (gluten- and sugar-free), Jalapeño (also gluten- and sugar-free), Spicy Honey (gluten-free), BBQ, and BBQ Serrano.
The woodfire-cooked meats are all priced by the pound, with the organic chicken breasts at $15.74 per pound, organic chicken leg quarters $8.95 per pound, organic chicken thighs $9.94 per pound, and baby back pork ribs $11.49 per pound. "This sounds expensive, but it's by the pound, not by the piece. You can usually pick up several pieces of the barbecued meat for about $10," Ceci says.
Other fully cooked meats prepared on-site at the River Ranch Market include pulled brisket for $18.50 per pound and sliced roast sirloin beef for $17.76 per pound. This is all Ceci and Wendel's Gila River Ranch grass-fed beef, certified by the American Grass-Fed Association to have been fed on grass from birth to harvesting, with no grain at any time in the animal's life.
"I try to make sure all the meats we carry are 'clean' — free of hormones or antibiotics. So I will only buy meat I haven't raised myself if it comes from a single source — in other words, if one person raises it, feeds, it and harvests it, and therefore knows exactly what that animal has been fed and how humanely it has been treated throughout its life," Ceci says.
Though meat is the main focus of the River Ranch Market, and Ceci envisions offering full-service butcher shop custom meat-cutting in the not-too-distant future, you can find an interesting assortment of other healthy products there, as well. There are organic, raw, stone-ground nut butters (cashew, almond and hazelnut) made on-site with no salt or sugar, and available for sale at $20 per pint. Ceci's organic almond sugar-free scones have become so popular at $2 each that she's hard-pressed to keep up with demand, and her Pure Bliss Chocolate Pudding is not far behind in growing popularity.
"I've got quite a few people hooked on that pudding," she says, and no wonder. "It's made with fresh cream, rich artisanal chocolate, fresh eggs (duck when available) and very little sugar. I make a batch on Wednesday for sure, and as many times during the rest of the week as necessary to keep up with demand."
Ranch eggs, incidentally, are available at River Ranch Market, fresh daily. "These eggs come from our own chickens, which are fed an all-organic chicken feed imported all the way from Montana," Ceci says.
The eggs may explain why Ceci promptly filled a customer's request for a custom-made vegetarian quiche.
"If I have the ingredients, I'll cook almost anything," Ceci laughs. She has been known to custom-roast an organic chicken on four hours' notice, but you're safest to give her at least 24 hours' notice for a special order like that.
The River Ranch Market is located at 300 S. Bullard in Silver City. It's open Wednesday through Saturday from 8 am. to 6 p.m. For more information or to place a special order, call (575) 597-6328 during store hours.
Send Mimbres freelance writer Peggy Platonos tips for restaurant reviews
at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (575) 536-2997.