Author - Robert Garza

Cioppino: San Francisco’s Famous Fish Stew

Seafood StewCioppino is a fish and shellfish stew originating in San Francisco and made primarily with Dungeness crab, clams, shrimp, scallops, squid, mussels, fish, tomatoes, and either red or white wine. The word Cioppino, (chee-o-pino) comes from ciuppin, a word in the Ligurian dialect spoken in Genoa meaning, “chopped”. The stew was developed in the late 1800’s by the Italian fishermen that settled in the North Beach Neighborhood of San Francisco. It was originally made on fishing boats while out at sea. It was not long before the stew began gaining popularity at seaside restaurants and later with people outside of the Italian community. Cioppino is similar to many shellfish soups like cacciucco, brodetto, and bouillabaisse.

The seafood is cooked in a rich broth and served in the shell, including the crab, which can be served halved or quartered. A crab fork and cracker are required to enjoy this hearty stew. The stew is brought to the table in the pot it was cooked in and is accompanied by slabs of sourdough bread, brushed with olive oil and lightly grilled. Cioppino can be messy to eat, especially with the shells still on the crab, so plenty of napkins are necessary when enjoying this dish.

san-franThere are many ways to prepare Cioppino and they are all fairly easy and can be ready in about an hour! Everything is cooked in one pot. The three main ingredients are shellfish, or whatever seafood you happen to have, tomatoes, and red or white wine. The first step after gathering your ingredients is to cook the broth. For this, you will need to add tomatoes, wine, and whatever you’d like to add for flavor. For example, you can add garlic, red pepper flakes, or even ginger. Finally, add the seafood and let it simmer in the broth until it is ready. When you need to prepare dinner for friends and family in a pinch, a hearty Cioppino is guaranteed to make everyone happy.

Common seafood used in cioppino:

  • Dungeness Crab
  • Shrimp
  • Clams
  • White Fish
  • Scallops
  • Mussels
  • Squid


Links to recipes:

Fulton Fish Market Cioppino with Sourdough Croutons

San Francisco Cioppino

Phil’s Fish Market Cioppino

Discovering Niman Ranch


From its humble start as an 11 acre San Francisco Bay Area farm in the 1970’s to its extensive network of over 700 sustainable U.S. family owned farms and ranches, Niman Ranch has continued to deliver the finest tasting meat in the world.

Niman Ranch believes that family farmers and ranchers are the keepers of traditional farming knowledge and are determined to keep this knowledge alive despite the rise of the commodity market.

Niman Ranch’s products are never administered added hormones or antibiotics and their livestock are fed a 100% vegetarian diet. Niman Ranch is proud of its work with renowned animal handling expert Dr. Temple Grandin, to further improve its animal handling protocols; making Niman Ranch’s humane animal practices the most stringent in the industry. All of their livestock are raised outdoors on pasture and/or deeply bedded pens allowing them to act on their instinctive behaviors. Because of this, Niman Ranch is considered the industry gold standard for humane animal care. Along with humane care of the animals, Niman Ranch sets the standard for sustainability. nimanranch-54Its farmers and ranchers practice crop rotation and use alternative energy sources, preserving the integrity of the land for their families and their communities for future generations. By implementing these practices, Niman Ranch farmers and ranchers are able to prevent soil depletion, maintain soil fertility, and reduce soil erosion. One of the many benefits of promoting traditional farming and ranching methods is the preservation of water supplies. Niman Ranch wants to sustain the land for the future farming and ranching endeavors.

Neesvig’s is proud and excited to have a partnership with Niman Ranch and shares its mission of providing the highest standard of quality. When you see the Niman Ranch brand, you can feel comfortable knowing that you are consuming products that were made with an understanding of the animals and a responsibility to our planet and the prosperity of future generations.  In addition, these products are of exceptionally high quality.

Aging Beef: Wet vs Dry

Dry-Aged BeefAging, either wet or dry, is a process that is done to let natural enzymes to break down and tenderize tissue in meat. The difference lies in whether the meat is allowed to age exposed to ambient air (dry aged) or vacuum sealed (wet aged).  With the advent of new vacuum sealed packaging technology in the late 1960’s, wet aging became and remains the most popular method of aging beef.  Dry aging, on the other hand, always retained its loyalists and is now finding new converts in all sectors from retail to fine dining.  Ultimately, there has been much debate over which process has better results, but in the end it really comes down to personal preference and/or convenience factors.  There is no debate that either method of aging beef is a necessary step in dramatically improving meat quality.

Differences Between Wet Aging and Dry Aging

During the dry aging process, primal cuts or whole sides of beef are exposed to ambient air in a refrigerated environment from anywhere from 14 – 35+ days.  During this process, the meat intensifies in flavor as water evaporates, but also shrinks as much as 20%. Furthermore, beef will develop a dry exterior that must be trimmed prior to use in any application.  The combination of the drip loss from dehydration and the trim loss created from dry aging both have a significant negative impact on yields, which understandably drive dry aged beef prices up.  Wet aging, on the other hand, delivers much higher yields than dry aging as no moisture is lost to evaporation.  Although there is natural purge loss associated with wet aging, it is a fraction of what is found in the dry aging process.

Although dry aging and wet aging have comparable effects on tenderness, they have wildly different effects on flavor.  Then environment where beef is dry aged plays a dramatic role in the finished product’s flavor.  Although it is as much art as science, it is known that humidity, temperature, air flow and surrounding elements all play a critical role in determining flavor.  It is very important that all of these factors are expertly controlled in the dry aging process as it is very easy for off flavors to develop.  Most studies show that wet aging develops more pronounced flavors, they are nowhere near as pronounced and unique as dry aged beef.  Some consumers prefer the more mild flavor of wet aged beef and many others prefer the unmistakable taste of dry aged beef.

All of Neesvig’s portion cut beef items are wet aged for the optimum amount of time needed to properly tenderize the muscle.  All of Neesvig’s vacuum sealed whole muscle cuts can be sold either “green” (i.e., with little to no age on them) or with any amount of age a customer desires.  Please discuss your wet aging expectations with your salesmen as it takes an abundance of planning and inventory control to ensure all of our customers are receiving exactly what they desire.

Any beef item inventoried at Neesvig’s can be dry aged.  Before the dry aging process begins, it is imperative that a dry aging plan is mapped out.  In order to successfully execute a dry aging program, questions of volume, finished good specification, desired age, and price all must be addressed.  In regards to price, costs are calculated each time has finished dry aging, so it is impossible to quote an exact price.  Historical yields can be used to estimate future prices before embarking on a dry aged program, but please remember they are nothing more than an estimate.

Wet aged beef

In the end, there are merits to both wet aged and dry aged beef.  Certainly, the convenience, lower cost and mild flavors produced from wet aging easily explain why it is the method of choice for most operators.  On the other hand, there is something to be said about the unique flavors and overall results that dry aging brings.  From the perspective of flavor alone, dry aged beef is not for everyone.  But there are many that have acquired the taste for it will not settle for anything else. It seems the only way to determine for yourself is to try both and decide which aging process is the most desirable to your palate.

100 Years of History

1913 Madison Packing Co. 307-308 W. Johnson St.

In 1913, Oswald and Anna Neesvig founded Madison Packing Company, which produced sausage and smoked meat products. By the late 1920’s the company had outgrown the local farm supply and began procuring fresh meats from Chicago’s Fulton Street Market.

Madison Packing Company, 1926.

In the 1950’s and 60’s, Neesvigs was located in downtown Madison, on Johnson Street. The truck docks were at the back of the building, off Dayton Street. Though the business occupied three floors, including smokehouses on the top floor, the workforce numbered only nine employees. In the early 1950’s, Neesvig’s made the transition into full line fresh red meats. As was typical of the industry at the time, beef halves and quarters were purchased and brought into the building on hanging rails. In the 1960’s we placed our emphasis in portion control and in 1968 the sausage product was phased out, with complete concentration on fresh red meat.

Ted Neesvig 1955

Neesvig’s Production 1970’s

By 1973, the old plant was inadequate to meet the needs of a rapidly expanding business and plans were made to build a new facility. The facility was located at 417 Atlas Avenue in Madison, WI. In 1976, Neesvig’s became a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspected plant, providing the company with the ability to expand sales out of state. Since then the company has experienced numerous changes. Also, a new way of selling beef appeared. It was the beginning of boxed beef marketing. Neesvig’s became one of the first companies in the country to eliminate rails for handling beef. With the specialization of portion controlled cuts, the company was helping customers realize the benefit of purchasing not by the pound, but rather by the individual portion. This removed the need for customers to employ a trained meat cutter, thus eliminating the cutting and trimming, and increased there profits.

The year 1979 marked the beginning of sales to the gift and mail order industry, currently supplying product and drop ship services to many of the top names in the national food mail-order field.

Neesvigs was accepted for designation as Total Quality Control (TQC) for the USDA in 1983, hence establishing a “grade labeling” program for the furthest assurance of quality to our customers. In 1985, Neesvig’s became Wisconsin’s first Certified Angus Beef ® distributor.

In 1994, Neesvig’s expanded it’s product line to include fresh fish. The success of this program led to the 1995 purchase, with related parties, of Empire Fish Company with which we have a sister company relationship. The Milwaukee based Empire Fish Company, also founded in 1913, is Wisconsin’s oldest and finest provider of fresh fish to the food service industry.

Neesvig’s Windsor Building 1990’s

In 1999, growth in all facets of the business enabled our move to a new state-of-the-art processing and distribution facility located in Windsor, WI. Neesvig’s Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) program was also fully implemented. This facility still serves as our main operating facility today.

Neesvig’s continued its relationship with the Certified Angus Beef® program and sold 9.8 million pounds of Certified Angus Beef® product from 2004 to 2007. Neesvig’s national ranking of 12th out of 110 distributors was the highest ranking for any independent meat company for that year.

Fulfillment Facility 2014

Fulfillment Facility 2014

Recently we have developed a line of all-natural beef, pork, and poultry products and established a line of grass fed beef. We have also expanded our production room to provide more capacity to produce for our customers. In 2012, we purchased a 126,000 square foot building in DeForest, WI for our fulfillment division. We also expanded the distribution of our products to restaurants and institutions in Minnesota and Iowa to go along with our routes in Wisconsin and Illinois. Our expansion and investment in technologies have allowed us to create an even closer relationship with our sister company, Empire Fish Company.