Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Holiday hits and misses at Costco

Niman Ranch
Image via Wikipedia
Costco now sells Niman Ranch hams.

The vast majority of meat being sold at Costco Wholesale is raised conventionally -- huge hunks of pork, thick steaks and whole chickens with labels that tell you nothing about how the animals lived.

Today, I dropped into the warehouse store in Hackensack to take a closer look at Costco's Kirkland Signature holiday ham and was pleasantly surprised to see a second ham -- this one from the Niman Ranch, a highly respected source of naturally raised meat.

Both half hams are bone-in, spiral sliced and fully cooked, but the Niman Ranch markets meat from hogs that are raised on vegetarian feed, and never receive antibiotics and growth hormones.

The Niman Ranch ham was $3.99 a pound, compared to $6.99 and $7.99 a pound -- depending on size -- for Niman Ranch hams at Whole Foods Market in Paramus. 

I believe the ones at Whole Foods are uncured, while the Costco version is cured and contains sodium nitrite as a preservative. 

The Niman Ranch Web site (Niman Ranch FAQs) had this to say about preservatives:
"Nitrates occur naturally in many foods; in fact, you might be surprised to discover that nitrates occur naturally in all plants. The amount of nitrates and nitrites you ingest when eating cured products is negligible and does not pose any health risk. Some consumers prefer cured meats, while others prefer to avoid added sodium nitrate and sodium nitrite, so Niman Ranch offers both alternatives in our product line. The idea to cure meat began with a need to keep meat from spoiling." 
The only other naturally raised meat at Costco is grass-fed lamb from Australia, available in legs, racks and osso bucco, and organic ground beef from Oregon (3 pounds for $13.99).

Holiday seafood

The fresh fish case in Hackensack is filled with several new items for the holiday, including salted, wild-caught Pacific cod ($8.99 a pound) and previously frozen octopus from the Philippines ($3.99 a pound).

Large, wild-caught lobster tails from Colombia are $19.99 a pound, but they're treated with sodium bisulfite as a preservative. We once tried the fully cooked Dungeness Crab ($5.99 a pound), but didn't care for it.

Today, I picked up fresh, wild caught Pacific cod fillets for $7.99 a pound. Costco usually also carries wild-caught haddock and flounder fillets; everything else is farmed.

Kirkland Signature's preservative-free, smoked wild sockeye salmon from Alaska made a reappearance in Hackensack after an absence of about a week, still at the terrific price of $15.39 a pound.

All the other smoked salmon and steel-head trout in the case is artificially colored.

Salad days

When Earthbound Farms' Organic Spring Mix has a use-by date of less than a week, I usually pick up Grand Parisian Complete Salad.  

You get 16 ounces of both, but the latter isn't organic, and the weight listed on the bag includes toppings (feta cheese, dried cranberries and frosted almonds) and a white balsamic dressing.

There appears to be about 10 ounces or less of pre-washed romaine lettuce and other ingredients in the Grand Parisian bag for a total price of $3.79, compared with Earthbound Farms' price of $4.79 to $4.99. 

Sparkling cider

Costco also has Martinelli's Sparkling Apple Cider at four bottles for $7.99 or about $2 each, compared with $2.99 a bottle elsewhere.

Two 32-ounce containers of Kirkland Signature non-fat Greek-style yogurt are $7.99 or about $3.50 each, compared to $4.99 for a single, 35.3-ounce container of Fage Greek Yogurt.

This week, I saw a new item: Della-brand Organic Brown Rice. A 12-pound bag of the long grain rice was $12.99. The cooking instructions say nothing about soaking the rice before you prepare it on the stove top or in a rice cooker -- a real time saver. 

I've passed up Phillips Maryland-Style Crab Cakes, which have risen in price to $14.89 for six. They taste terrific, because the first ingredient listed is crab. On Dec. 3, an instant coupon knocked off $3.90. I should have bought two packages instead of one.

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