I’m still looking for reasons to stop liking Chipotle Mexican Grill. It’s getting harder, though. The company’s ahead-of-the-chain approach to sourcing has made it “the largest restaurant buyer of humanely raised meat” and a key supporter of Niman Ranch: Bill Niman himself has said that Chipotle’s directly responsible for its expansion from 50 hog farms to more than 500.
That much we knew. But we didn’t know that Chipotle’s now working with Polyface’s Joel Salatin, too, the ingenious Virginia farmer Michael Pollan made famous in The Omnivore’s Dilemma. According to the Washington Post, this month the Chipotle in Charlottesville, Virginia, “hopes to serve 100 percent Polyface pork in Charlottesville. But that success comes after 17 months of complex negotiations and logistics.” Chipotle’s northeast regional director, a member of Polyface’s DC-area buying club, wanted a test to see if the chain’s stores could feasibly source meat locally, and Salatin wanted to move his pork shoulders and legs, less popular cuts that are perfect for carnitas. Could they make it work?
Well, yes, sorta. But there were a lot of complications. All of the pork for Chipotle’s 67 mid-Atlantic locations is cooked in a central kitchen, so the Charlottesville branch had to install an oven, partly to separate out the Polyface pork and partly to accommodate its higher fat content (the recipe was tweaked). And since Salatin doesn’t own a refrigerated truck, Chipotle, worried about temperatures inside the farm’s ice-packed coolers, “bought digital temperature strips for Polyface that monitor and record temperatures inside the coolers during transport from slaughterhouse to restaurant.” Salatin himself sounds surprised that he hasn’t been cast aside: “We’ve been a square peg in a round hole for Chipotle. But at all the steps along the way that usually hold these deals up, they have fought to keep us on track.”