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VENTURA : Pair Stick Out Necks to Push Ostrich Meat

August 19, 1995|TRACY WILSON

Entrepreneurs Mark Gittleman and Peter Harms came to the Ventura County Fair on Friday to spread the gospel of good meat.

They set up a booth near the livestock area, across from the pigs and next to the sheep, and preached to passersby about the wave of the future in the butchering business--ostrich meat.

"It's lower in fat and cholesterol," Gittleman said. "It's like a good lean steak."

To illustrate their point, the Santa Ynez-based ostrich farmers brought 2-year-old birds with them.

Standing about seven feet high on skinny hairless legs and weighing in at about 200 pounds, the downy creatures craned their fuzzy heads over a fence to watch the fair-goers--who watched them with equal interest.

Gittleman and Harms did not, however, bring any meat samples since the pricey fillets go for about $16 a pound.

Instead, they displayed drawings of the red meat. Gittleman said it makes excellent pastrami and tastes wonderful with a dab of bearnaise sauce or barbecued over an oak pit.

"That's the best way," he said. "It's like a melt-in-your-mouth kind of thing."

But convincing the general public of that is no easy task. Standing at the counter of the Chili and More food booth, Judy Valadez said it was unlikely her customers would buy an ostrich burger.

"That's gross," she said. "An ostrich? I've never heard of that. I don't think people would buy it."

Gittleman and Harms say the word is spreading, however. The Ventura County Ostrich Assn., formed last year, now lists 14 ostrich ranches scattered around the tri-counties, Gittleman said.

Attorney Brent Jones owns one of those ranches, a five-acre Ojai Valley spread. He was on hand Friday to help answer questions of curious fair-goers.

"People with a few usable acres can get into this business," he said.

Gittleman and Harms, who own between 80 and 100 birds, distribute their ostrich meat to restaurants, mostly in San Diego and the Santa Ynez Valley.

"The meat is out there," Harms said. But the big birds produce more than just meat. Breeders also sell the creatures' skin and feathers.

"They use a lot of them for dusters," Gittleman said, gesturing to the ostrich's fluffy midsection. "And a little bit of the Las Vegas thing . . . "

"Show girls," Jones explained.

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