Food & Drink

Local Flavors: Nick Ranch raises grass-fed beef close to home

Traditions meet up with trends when it comes to Nick Ranch Gourmet Grass-Fed Beef. The certified organic steaks, roasts, briskets, ground beef and sausages from this label come from a picturesque ranch in the Pozo hills that has been home to the Nick family for six generations.

The Nicks established their Santa Margarita ranch in 1918, noted Juanell Nick Hepburn, part of the family’s fourth generation of ranchers. In recent decades, the family became well known for raising purebred Brangus cattle for breeding and auction, but about seven years ago, Hepburn’s father, Fred Nick, jumped out ahead of the curve and began marketing their grass-fed and grass-finished organic beef directly to consumers.

“He was really one of the first to do that,” said Hepburn, “and really for us it was pretty easy; our cattle have always been only grass-fed and we’ve never used any growth hormones or steroids. Essentially we’re ranching the way our grandparents were ranching,” though she added that over the years, her father has definitely taken things to the next level by using rotational grazing, learning plant and soil analysis, augmenting the native feed by planting other grasses such as clover, and reintroducing an old-style line of Angus genetics to the herd. Organic certification was also important to the family (Hepburn even helped nudge a local processing facility to that designation), but the Nicks are also passionate about educating consumers to the many other health benefits of grass-fed and grass-finished beef

“A lot of people have questions,” said Hepburn, “and I’m happy to answer all of them.” Her attitude toward her family’s gourmet beef is aptly expressed on the Nick Ranch Web site: “Remember, you are what you eat, and you are what those animals eat, so it is really important to know where that food comes from, and how it was produced.”

For more information about grass-fed beef,|or to order Nick Ranch Gourmet Grass-Fed Beef, go to their Web site, or; various cuts of Nick Ranch beef are also available at Harvest Natural Foods in Atascadero and New Frontiers in San Luis Obispo.

Katy Budge is a freelance writer from Atascadero

Local Flavors : Cheeseburger is paradise, with a dab of special mayo

This recipe for Nick Ranch Grass-Fed Beef was developed by Johnnie Mae Yates —Dave and Juanell Nick Hepburn’s daughter — who is attending Santa Barbara City College’s culinary program. It calls for another Central Coast food product, Dr. Lou Tedone’s mozzarella cheese, available at DePalo & Sons in Shell Beach.

Grass-fed beef is far leaner than corn-fed, so it cooks much quicker (see below) and at a lower temperature. Yates has addressed that in this recipe by suggesting that you have two distinct parts of the grill with different cooking temperatures.


Makes: 4-6 servings depending on burger patty size

Heat charcoal — or as Hepburn noted, “if you are really lucky, red oak chips”—or gas grill with both a hot and a medium area for cooking the patties.

Form Nick Ranch Grass- Fed ground beef into patties of desired size. Season them well on both sides with sea salt and pepper. Cover with plastic and allow to come to room temperature while preparing the rest of the ingredients.

In a small glass bowl, add tomatoes, garlic, 2 to 3 tablespoons of the basil chiffonade, olive oil and Balsamic vinegar. Mix well and set aside.

Slice mozzarella to place on top of patties when they come off grill.

In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, grated Parmesan and remaining basil.

Place patties on the hot area of grill to sear in juices. After grilling 1 minute on each side, move patties to the cooler area on grill. Allow to finish cooking to your desired doneness (see below).

Remove patties to a warm platter, top with cheese, and tent loosely with foil.

Toast ciabatta bread loaf on grill, then cut into serving size slices to make the top and bottoms of the burgers.

To assemble burgers, spread the parmesan basil mayonnaise on both halves of the ciabatta bread. Place a mozzarella-covered patty on the bottom slice of bread and top with a generous scoop of the tomato basil topping. Season with sea salt and pepper to taste and finish with another slice of ciabatta.

Approximate cooking times for grass-fed ground beef patties:

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