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Archive for February, 2011

Heirloom Navel Oranges: Brazil–> Washington–> Riverside–> Bi-Rite–> Our Community

I want to tell you about an amazing heirloom navel we’re getting from Bernard Ranches (50 acres in Riverside County, about 430 miles from Bi-Rite). But first, a little background on how we arrived at the navel on our shelf today:

Navel orange trees in general, and Washington navel orange trees in particular, are not very vigorous trees. They have a round, somewhat drooping canopy and grow to a moderate size at maturity. The flowers lack viable pollen so the Washington navel orange will not pollinate other citrus trees. Because of the lack of functional pollen and viable ovules, the Washington navel orange produces seedless fruits. These large round fruits have a slightly pebbled orange rind that is easily peeled, and the navel, really a small secondary fruit, sometimes protrudes from the apex of the fruit. The Washington navel orange is at its best in the late fall to winter months, but will hold on the tree for several months beyond maturity and stores well.

The introduction that led to adoption of the name Washington and to its commercialization in California occurred in 1870, when twelve budded trees were received from the Bahia region, on the Atlantic coast north of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil by William 0. Saunders, superintendent of gardens and grounds for the U.S. D.A. in Washington.  These trees were planted in a greenhouse and immediately propagated for distribution.

Several years later, trees were sent to a number of people in California and Florida.  Among those who received trees were Eliza Tibbets of Riverside, CA.  Before leaving Washington, Eliza Tibbets, a friend of Saunders, persuaded him to ship two of the navel orange trees that originated in Brazil to the Tibbets home in Riverside. The trees were planted in 1874-5. Anecdotes have it that Eliza nurtured the little trees with her dishwater!

Upon maturing the fruit was found to be superior in every way. Bud sales were brisk, and the two trees, ringed with barbed wire, became famous. Although officially called the Bahia, the fruit was soon dubbed the Riverside Navel, and its popularity eventually made Riverside a citrus center and prosperous showplace.  In fact, one of two original Navel Orange trees planted in 1874-5 spawned California’s entire citrus industry. Navel oranges have no seeds, so cuttings from original trees were used to start navel orange groves across southern California, and an industry grew. Every navel orange grown and eaten in California is a descendant of this tree, which still stands as a historical monument in a small park at the corner of Magnolia and Arlington in Riverside.

Now, zoom in on Bernard Ranches:

Vince and Vicki Bernard pride themselves on the superior flavor and sweetness of their citrus fruit, which they attribute to the combination of their rich soil and suitable climate, as well as the use of seaweed as a fertilizer. They began farming their land in 1979 and have been bringing their produce to market since 1980. They work their farm together and sell their fruit themselves. They farm their land sustainably, from the use of hand weeding, to the release of beneficial insects (parasitic wasps, lady beetles, & lace wigs), to hand trapping gophers (they do not use synthetic pesticides).

At Bi-Rite we are blessed to have Bernard Ranches’ fresh picked heirloom navels on the shelves in the market, which are descendants of exactly the same heritage line as those originals from Brazil. We are just getting started with them and hoping they are around all throughout spring just like last season.  Already they are easy to peel, super juicy with a soft silky texture that just melts.  Additionally the flavor is AMAZINGLY SWEET like honey or nectar that goes great with acid to make what is probably the most classic tasting citrus on our shelves.  My experience is that it is almost hard to eat just one.


The Creamery Art Gallery

Many of our signs and drawings are done by miss Jacqi Ko, a very enthusiastic employee who also happens to be very creative and talented. Next time you stop by, look for her work and give her a high five! (She loves them.)


A shockingly good chocolate bar

I cannot get over how good Poco Dolce’s new Olive Oil & Sea Salt Bar is. As always, their ingredients are top notch, this time featuring grey sea salt harvested from the coast of Brittany.

The name Poco Dolce literally translates from Italian as “not too sweet” or “just a little sweet.” As it pertains to Kathy’s products, Poco Dolce’s ongoing mission is to stay on the “savory side of sweet.”

This is one of the most dazzling chocolate bars I’ve had the pleasure to taste (and I taste a LOT!).  It’s so good you may feel compelled to eat it all at once.   The bar is rich in flavor and has a silky smooth texture.   The added touch of olive oil and grey sea salt makes it a must have for any chocolate lover. Plus it’s made just over the hill from here in the Dogpatch neighborhood!


La Quercia Organic Green Label Wins Good Food Award- a steal at $29.99/lb!

High quality cured meats are like high quality artisanal wines – they begin with relatively few, exceptional ingredients that are left in the hands of a well-skilled craftsman. Time passes, and voilà–the outcome is something special!

If only it were that simple. Herb and Kathy Eckhouse make it seem easy. They founded La Quercia and work in all aspects of the business: selecting and buying pork, salting, trimming, and handling hams. A couple of years ago they introduced the Organic Green Label Prosciutto – made with Berkshire cross, pasture-raised, certified organic pork from Becker Lane Organic Farm, a sixth generation Iowa farm. The Green Label Prosciutto is so exceedingly good that it was the only prosciutto declared a winner of a Good Food Award in the entire country! We’re offering this for a limited time, for $29.99/lb instead of the regular price of $39.99/lb.

The La Quercia folks put out an awesome movie about making prosciutto in Iowa; love the line about how they “look at Iowa, and see Italia”:

Sky Full of Bacon 10: Prosciutto di Iowa from Michael Gebert on Vimeo.

Their green business practices go far beyond the green label. Kathy and Herb are committed to doing their part in making sustainable business choices and reducing their carbon footprint. Here’s how:

• They buy their meat on a sustainability basis—it’s not sustainable agriculture if the suppliers go out of business! They work with them on a cost-plus basis, independent of pork commodity prices (which are now extremely low).

• They opened “Prosciuttificio La Quercia” in February, 2005, with energy efficient materials and the latest, “greenest” refrigerant.

• They’ve been able to focus their meat supply, so that all of our meat comes from slaughter houses within 200 miles of their prosciuttificio. Most of the pigs are raised within that radius also.

• They’ve landscaped using low maintenance prairie grasses, native flowers and oak trees.

• They eliminated small product stickers on the boxes, are using a stamp (instead of a sticker) for the return address, and eliminated the decorative nets on their Rossa Heirloom Prosciutto, Prosciutto Piccante, and Speck Americano.

• They’ve made packaging choices for their sliced meats with waste reduction in mind.

• They’ve gone to unbleached boxes that have a minimum of 90% recycled content, and they separate and recycle cardboard.

Only the truly passionate would come up with this patriotic declaration!

Register Cocktail Recipe: Black Metal

A few weeks ago, Skylar sampled Aquavit, the newest addition to our ever-growing liquor selection, with her fellow cashiers. Typically drunk chilled and quickly from a shot glass, Aquavit or “water of life” comes to us from Scandinavia and extracts its distinct flavor from star anise and caraway seeds. Upon tasting the beverages, the cashiers imagined being at a celebration, singing a cheerful song and sharing a bottle of delicious Aquavit.

Combine equal parts Krøgstad Aquavit with Bruce Cøst unfiltered ginger ale.

Serve chilled into a highball or shøt glass; enjoy quickly.

Surprise yourself: Georgian Black Wine & Buffalo Tallegio

Just when you think you’ve tried just about everything in the world of wine and cheese, something new happens upon your path that challenges and delights your senses. Who knew that the Republic of Georgia had nearly 8000 years of winemaking history, or that people were making washed-rind cheeses out of buffalo milk in chilly northern Italy? We’ve also stumbled upon what might be the best Pinot Grigio we’ve ever tasted! Stop by the wine and cheese aisle the next time you’re in the market– we’re bursting with new and unusual products to enliven even the most jaded of palates!

Quadrello di Bufala
When one thinks of buffalo milk cheeses, the rich buffalo mozzarellas of Campania and southern Italy immediately come to mind. The small dairy Quattro Portoni in Lombary is bucking tradition and producing an amazing buffalo milk version of Taleggio, the famed washed-rind cow’s milk cheese of northern Italy. Quadrello di Bufala shares Taleggio’s square shape and is produced using a similar method of washing the exterior with a salt water sponge. The rind is wonderfully pungent, revealing a semi-ripe interior with a creamy, mouth coating texture and pleasing tang. This cheese is fantastic with Port or an off-dry Riesling.

2009 La Cadalora Pinot Grigio Vallagarina $19.99
Pinot Grigio is often thought of as fairly innocuous white wine meant for quaffing, not contemplation. La Cadalora’s Pinot Grigio  soundly smashes that unfair characterization. Full of complex stone fruit, mineral, and mountain herb notes, this wine certainly merits your full attention. Hailing from the Trentino region of northern Italy, La Cadalora makes a fascinating array of wine from both indigenous and international grape varieties. We love this Pinot Grigio on its own or with a fresh goat’s milk cheese like Redwood Hill’s California Crottin.

2009 Pheasant’s Tears Saperavi $16.99

The Republic of Georgia has what is likely the longest history of wine production in the world, dating as far back as 6000 BC. Their current wine culture is still thriving as evidenced by their per-capita wine consumption, the highest in the world. As far as wine fashion was concerned, Georgian wine was long seen as rustic and outdated. That perception may change with the current trend of clay amphora aging sweeping the wine world, an ancient technique still used by many Georgian wineries. Pheasant’s Tears, a small winery in the Kakheti region, makes a fascinating red with Saperavi, the noble red grape of Georgia. The resulting wine made from Saperavi is so dark, they are called “Black Wines” by Georgians. Pheasant’s Tears’ bottling is inky purple with aromas of tar, blackcurrent, and pine, along with flavors of black cherries, earth, and almonds. A must try for fans of traditional, old-world wines!

Register Recipe: Fennel, Blood Orange & Toasted Almond Salad

We cashiers face the produce department’s imposing “wall of citrus” every day, which may explain why we have yet another great recipe that featuring wintry citrus to share.  Coming from Tom Hudgen’s The Commonsense Kitchen, this is a fantastic salad that is simple to prepare.

½ C whole almonds, toasted

3 T extra virgin olive oil

½ lemon

1 fennel bulb

2-3 blood oranges

Chop almonds coarsely, toss with olive oil.  Shave fennel thinly (using a mandolin if available) and toss with a squeeze of lemon.  Zest one blood orange, collecting zest on a plate.  Use a paring knife to slice blood oranges into half moons, removing skin and pith.  Toss all ingredients together, adding salt and pepper to taste.


Morbidly Delicious

We’re making a blood orange float at Bi-Rite Creamery to take advantage of the peak of citrus season.

It felt like a scene from Dexter as the red juice gushed from the citrus that we make into a blood orange soda using seltzer from Seltzer Sisters, a small San Francisco company that delivers sparkling water to us.

Then we add two scoops of ice cream. I personally recommend Ginger ice cream, but for you traditionalists it’s great with Vanilla, à la Creamsicle.

We also make popsicles and sorbet with these messy buggers. The sorbet pairs with our Meyer Lemon ice cream amazingly. We won’t have these flavors for too long, as spring is around the corner and with it, the end of citrus season! Come by the Creamery to get your zing!

Peanut Butter and the Pen

Last Saturday we at 18 Reasons paired up with Take My Word For It to offer a creative writing workshop with 3rd-5th graders. Since Valentine’s Day was around the corner, the children wrote love letters to their favorite foods.   I thought I would share some photos since they show the awesomeness of the morning much better that I could describe it!

Dear Lovely Pesto

All in a Hard Day's Work

A Room Full of Children, Food, and Creativity!


A letter from Gleason Ranch to our guests

Nancy from Gleason Ranch offered to write a letter to our guests explaining the lack of their chickens in our meat case over the last few months.  Talk about one of our amazing producers trying to connect with our guests in the most direct way they know! I hope you’ll take a moment to give it a read–it gives such a great picture of the challenges faced by the ranchers who work hard to bring food to our tables day in and day out. The good news is that we also have Gleason Ranch pastured pork, which is a great way to support them while they work on their poultry supply!

Dear Loyal and Faithful Customer,

First of all, we would like to thank you for discovering our family ranch and supporting our efforts towards preserving a tradition over 150 years and 6 generations long. Raising grass-fed meats has simply always been a part of life in our family, even back when we were a dairy operation, and our philosophy and methodology are those passed down to us through the generations.

We know that many of you make a special trip to Bi-Rite Market with the specific intent and expectation of being able to purchase our pastured meats. Recently, you may have noticed that for several weeks we have not had a consistent supply of our Gleason Ranch Pastured Chicken, which we are perhaps best known for. We would like to share with you some of the recent challenges we have faced this winter, which have had a profound impact on our supply.

Our first big hit actually happened towards the end of last August when we were struck with a severe heat wave with temperatures souring well above 100. Chickens simply don’t do well in this kind of extreme temperature. We learned that even the large commercial operations, with their temperature- controlled housing, were loosing thousands by the hour, much like us. Then, not but a few weeks later, the rainy season began…and it kept coming! The unrelenting downpours not only affected the birds that were out in pasture, but it inhibited us from releasing birds from the brooders as soon as we normally would. We were confronted with a catch-22 as indoor brooder space became more and more premium. We then reduced the number of birds we were receiving from the hatchery in order to control over-crowding. Now we encountered a processing issue.Whereas Fulton Valley Farms (which closed last June) would take just 60 birds if we had them, we now must drive 3 hours to the nearest USDA processing plant, which won’t process anything less than 300! On top of it all, our family received a huge blow with the sudden passing of our father in late August. Since, every fence that is busted, piece of machinery that breaks,pipe that bursts, addition that needs to be built… you name it, has fallen upon my mother, sister, and I. Needless to say, the three of us combined are no match for my father, even on his worst day!

If we were raising the fast-growing Cornish Cross breed, our recovery time would be much faster. However, we do not believe in raising this genetically engineered commodity breed, which grows at an unnatural rate and to unnatural proportions. Instead, we raise the heritage Freedom Rangers that take twice as long to grow, nearly three months.

As we get closer to our consumers, and you get closer to the source of your food, not only a new understanding happens, but also a new relationship is formed. In order for us to continue doing what we do, we must ask and rely on you to weather the storms with us. We are truly working as fast, diligent, and efficient as we can; twelve to fourteen-hour days without weekends, holidays, or vacation, in order to get our product back in the market on a consistent basis. We ask you to simply bare with us.

We would like to especially thank the good folks at Bi-Rite Market who have been so incredibly supportive and patient. It is no easy tasks to do what they do, actually walking their talk by working directly with farmers & ranchers, remaining faithful while meeting such supply challenges. Lucky for us, we are a diversified farm and have other Gleason Ranch products to offer in the meantime (just like our grandparents would have had to do!). While we work on improving our poultry supply, please try our Gleason Ranch Pastured Pork, which will be featured throughout the month of February, and look for some of our other products as well.

Again, thank you for your continued support. We owe the future of our legacy to you!


Nancy Prebilich, Gleason Ranch