Home 2011 June

Archive for June, 2011


Si’s July Produce Update

Summer is finally here, and the most recent heat has the local farms poppin’ with fresh produce. The weather in the Bay Area has changed so drastically over the past two summers–we have a lot more cold weather, which helps cool weather crops like greens, brassicas, and potatoes, but the late summer crops like tomatoes, eggplants, peppers are still a couple weeks behind their usual ripening schedule.

Summer lovin’ had me a blast; I met a peach sweet as could be! Local stone fruit season is going to hit its peak production in July:
• Our favorite growers Blossom Bluff, Balakian, Frog Hollow and Full Belly Farm will be delivering a unique selection of fruit to Bi-Rite throughout the summer months.
• Full Belly is really excited about their crop of June Pride Yellow peaches that should be ready in mid-July.
• Frog Hollow just started harvesting the Suncrest yellow peach and it’s already a front runner for the best piece of stone fruit in the store. Farmer Al will be harvesting this variety through mid-July and it will be followed by the Zee Lady yellow peach. He will also have Ruby Diamond yellow nectarines in mid-July.
• Balakian Farm in Reedley will continue to bring us their sweet and floral, medium acid White Saturn white peaches in the beginning of July. The Yellow donut peach will follow sometime later in July.
• Marchini Orchard in Placerville grows super yummy mountain fruit and will start harvesting in July. Located in the foothills of the Sierras, the cold nights mean that the fruit stays on the tree longer to ripen, but the sugars become more developed.

Stone fruits are like bananas: they continue to ripen after harvest. The goal is to harvest the fruit when it has full color and still is a bit firm. Most of the firm stone fruit we offer will finish ripening in 1-3 days at room temp, and will hold 6-7 days in refrigeration. The fruit always tastes better when it is out of the fridge for 1-2 days before eating.

Local berries are in full swing and the flavors have been amazing!
• We just got our first harvest of blueberries from Mom and Dad’s orchards in Placerville, CA and we are expecting big harvests for the month of July.
• Swanton Berry Farm has been supplying us with sweet and delicate “Chandler” Strawberries and they’re looking forward to a bountiful July.
• Andy Griffin of Mariquita Farm is very enthusiastic about his 5 acre plot of strawberries. The plants have a bunch of flowers, which means there will be plenty of “Albion” strawberries, and they’ll be smaller but sweeter.
• Yerena Farm continues to surprise us with their extra-special local raspberries; their blackberries will hit the Bi-Rite shelves for the first time in July.

Local tomato season is knocking on the door and we can’t wait to let it in! Happy Boy, Mariquita, Balakian, Tomatero and Full Belly Farm will have specialty varieties of cherry and heirloom tomatoes starting in July:

• The 1,500 tomatoes on the Bi-Rite Farm in Sonoma are 2 ½ ft tall and growing 6 inches a week. We probably won’t harvest our first tomatoes until mid-August, but when we do, they’ll be extra vine-ripe and highlighted throughout Bi-Rite.
• Cherry tomatoes are usually the first local tomato to ripen up, and are a perfect way to get the taste buds going; we just got our first hit from Happy Boy Farm in Freedom, CA.
• Balakian Farm in Reedley (just south of Fresno) delivered their first harvest of Cherokee Purple tomatoes and will bring more varieties throughout the month.
• Full Belly has 4 plantings of tomatoes on 12 acres; they’re growing slowly and the harvesting of heirlooms will start in late July.

Most fig trees have two harvests a season. The first harvest  (breba crop) usually starts late June and comes from the previous season’s growth; it’s not as sweet and tender as the main crop, which comes from new growth around late August and can last through October.
• Capay Farm in Yolo County was hit with this recent rain; most of the Black Mission figs survived and will be delivered to Bi-Rite on July 4th.
• Everyone’s favorite the Candystrip Fig won’t be in the store until later this summer and Bi-Rite’s two fig trees in Placerville are setting up for a big harvest in August.

Potatoes are an easy crop to grow! Most of the small farms we work with dedicate a portion of their farm to grow this staple crop. We will carry potatoes from a handful of growers, so come in and do a local potato taste test.
• Purple Viking potatoes from Happy Boy Farm have beautiful purple/pink skin and a dense white flesh–perfect substitute for Russets in mashed potatoes.
• Mixed fingerlings from Full Belly are delicious, especially roasted whole.
• Our good friend and farmer Martin just started harvesting his potato crop in Salinas.
• Bi-Rite Farm in Sonoma has a ¼ acre of potatoes that we’ll start harvesting later in July–these will be prepared and served in our deli.

Local summer squashes are very bountiful right now, and we’ll be offering 4 varieties at all times. The Italian Costata Romanesco is a sweet and tender variety grown by Happy Boy. We also have 8 varieties growing on our farm in Sonoma, which will be highlighted in our deli and on sandwiches.

Organic corn is a very challenging crop to grow organically, as moths love to lay their eggs in the top of the ear and worms love to eat their way down the cob. Large conventional growers use crop dusters to spray chemicals and eliminate the insects. Meanwhile, organic growers have two main ways to cut back on the number of worms in their corn: crop rotation and bacillus thuringiensis (BT), a bacteria that’s harmless to humans but produces toxins that kill certain insects.
• We’re lucky to have Catalan Farm in Hollister and Full Belly in Guinda on the forefront of the local organic corn movement; they’ll start harvesting in mid-July.

Can you say “LOCAL ORGANIC APPLES IN TWO WEEKS??” Johan from Hidden Star Orchard can!
• He’ll start harvesting his first Gala apples of the season in mid-July, and will continue to supply us with a wide variety of specialty apples through the New Year. Johan is also a master table grape grower; this is another crop that was slowed down by the cold weather in May.

Every growing season the produce buyers get so amped up to find new local farms to build relationships with. This year we have two farms that have helped us increase our local produce selection: Yerena Berry Farm in Watsonville and our newest addition, Free Wheelin’ Farm located just north of Santa Cruz on Highway 1, a stones throw away from the Pacific. At Free Wheelin’, the young farmers work nine acres on the chilly coast, and farm soil that was abused in the past, limiting what they can grow. They have found the crops that grow best in these conditions and are supplying us with some of the most amazing local lettuce we’ve seen.

Diggin’ Deeper: The Business of Farming

Hey there. 18 Reasons checking in on the Diggin’ Deeper Blog.  We run Farm Summer School with Simon (and Garden for the Environment) and, man!, things are looking great up in Sonoma. Before I get to what plants we got in the ground, trellised, and otherwise tended to, I wanted to let you know about the other part of Farm Summer School: the classroom time.

Each month our future farmers meet on the second Thursday to learn about the business of farming. This month Darryl Wong from Freewheelin’ Farm blew us away with his presentation (he also drove some students to pour an extra glass of wine when he showed us his spreadsheets detailing revenue, profit, and costs of starting a farm).  Did you know the average return rate for farmers is $0.10 on the dollar? But did you also know that passion can make that return feel like 10 x as much?  Darryl was honest about the real ups and downs of starting a farm, and told us all the nitty gritty with good humor. It you ever get the chance to hear Darryl speak, jump at it! He can really break down why a bunch of organic kale, grown responsibly, costs $2.99 in a way that makes you laugh but also drives the point home (hint: he uses Mad Libs!)  Darryl taught us all about the real price of food and the real work of being a farmer.

Two days after Darryl’s great visit, we headed up to Sonoma where our group of 12 got to work, and got to work hard! In just under 6 hours we trellised thousands of tomato plants, hilled potatoes, weeded like we were possessed, and planted row upon row of seeds and seedlings.  Here are the varieties we planted – get excited about eating it all from the Bi-Rite deli case later this summer:

Carrots: Nelson, Rainbow, Atomic Red

Beans: Tongue of Fire, French, Romano

Cucumbers: Diva

Already in the ground are eggplants, tomatoes, squash, peppers, potatoes, and flowers.  With this heat and sun, we are expecting that in one month when Farm Summer School meets again, we will see some major growth and even be harvesting our first veggies.

Note: Farmer Simon is eye-high in produce and plants, so Diggin’ Deeper is guest written this month by Rosie Branson Gill, from 18 Reasons.


The McFarland Springs Trout Tri-fecta

Kenny Belov of Sausalito’s TwoXSea fish company visits me every week to hand-deliver McFarland Springs Trout, which has grown quite the following at our fish counter. Our guests can attest to the fact that this is one of the best fish available- the flavor and texture is that of wild trout, with a lighter, firm flesh–and this week 7×7 caught wind of the news– check out their article here. If you have a moment, it’s pretty cool to see what McFarland Springs’ trout farming operation looks like.

We’re giving this fish the limelight, with what I’m calling the Trout Trifecta. Right now at Bi-Rite you can have your delicious trout three ways, and feel good about how it got to your plate:

1. Fresh from our fish case: It’s car camping time! Throw a couple of these whole trouts in the cooler, and then when you get to your campsite throw em on the grill!

2. Smoked: We’ve smoked a bunch of these trout filets. They’re perfect flaked on top of little gems, with a little shaved fennel for a summer salad.

3. On our early summer prepared foods menu: If you’re having a lazy moment, let Chef Eddy and the boys take care of you–they’ve put McFarland Springs Trout on our new early summer menu (available from the pre-pack case every day in the Market), serving it with a saffron rice pilaf, grilled corn and roasted red pepper relish!


Early Summer 2011 Menu

These dishes are made fresh by our kitchen and are available whenever you come to the Market!

From our Deli Case

Ginger Marinated Summer Beans with Grilled Hodo Soy Beanery Tofu and Toasted Sesame Seeds $8.99/ lb

Charred Catalan Farms Broccoli and Golden Cauliflower with Thai Chilies, Fried Garlic and Crispy Lemon $8.99 / lb

Yellow Beet Salad with Roasted County Line Farms Padron Peppers, Blossom Bluff Orchard Stone Fruit,  Champagne Vinaigrette and Capricho de Cabra Chevre  $ 7.99 / lb

Heirloom Bean and Full Belly Farms New Potato Salad with Crispy Chorizo, Grilled Leek and Piquillo Pepper Vinaigrette $ 8.99 / lb

Farro Salad with County Line Farms Grilled Eggplant, Cucumber, Dill and Black Olive-Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette $8.99 / lb

From our Self-Service Case

Cracked Farro and Herb Tabouli with Cherry Tomatoes $6.99 / lb

Red Beet Salad & Roasted Rainbow Carrots with Cherry-Habanero Vinaigrette $ 7.99 / lb

Leek, Corn and Wild Mushroom Risotto with Parmigiano Reggiano $8.99 /lb

Bucatini all’Amatriciana with House Cured Pancetta, Rustic Tomato Sauce & Pecorino Romano $7.99/each

Heritage Pork Chile Verde with Heirloom Beans and Rice Pilaf $10.99/ each

Grilled McFarland Springs Trout with Saffron Rice Pilaf, Grilled Corn and Roasted Pepper Relish $11.99 / each

Summer Corn Chowder with Full Belly Fingerling Potatoes &  Bacon $ 8.99 / qt $ 4.99 / pt

Our Mogannam Father’s Day Tradition: Mom’s Stuffed Grape Leaves

When I was growing up, my dad’s Father’s Day wish was simple: to be surrounded by his children (me, my sister, and two brothers) at the table on that June Sunday. And, as obedient first generation children, we obliged. We loved our dad, of course, but the promise of a feast made by our mom certainly didn’t hurt the proposition. Her stuffed grape leaves–perfectly timed since the leaves are at their most tender in summer–were always the star of the show and one of our favorite dishes.

If you’ve never made them, you may not realize how labor-intensive stuffed grape leaves are to craft, which is why they’re usually reserved as a special occasion food. Starting early in the morning, my mom would prepare the stuffing—a mixture of ground lamb, rice, onions, and allspice–filling the house with sweet and spicy aromas. She would then spend a chunk of the day rolling the grape leaves, one at a time, each leaf nurtured, filled, and rolled to uniform perfection. The dish took eight hours of work, start to finish, and our hands would be in the pot before it even hit the table. When the grape leaves were finally served, silence and the occasional grunt would be all you would hear. The dish was always obliterated in a matter of minutes. You’d think that would have frustrated my mother, but it actually fulfilled her. She knew we were happy and she savored that moment when my father would finally look up, and, seeing his wife and children around the table, simply sit content with a smile on his face.

Father’s Day is still the same in our household. We still celebrate at my parents’ house, and my mother still makes grape leaves, but now my wife and daughters celebrate the day with us. The meal is still devoured in minutes, although my girls tend to linger a bit on the grape leaves, now their favorite dish as well.

My dad is even happier now as he gets to share the day with his daughter-in-law and granddaughters. And as a father myself, I now completely understand that smile my father exuded at the end of each meal. He was celebrating one of life’s simplest and most important pleasures, one we don’t commit to often enough—family unity. When my family is together around the table, we focus on each other and the meal, share memories and jokes, and catch up on weeks past. They are moments to appreciate each other, and to celebrate. It is a time without distractions–no TV, no cell phones, no video games.  My father taught me to value family and to value the food we have been given. Together, my parents taught us to love and I will be forever grateful and savor every minute I get to share with them.

Thanks to Ali Slagle of The Recipe Club for getting me thinking about how special this tradition has been to me and my family!

Moroccan Lamb Meatloaf
Serves 8 to 10

This is no ordinary meatloaf. A hefty dose of fresh herbs and dried spices means it’s packed with flavor; the yogurt, tahini, and rolled oats help keep it moist. We developed this recipe as a deli sandwich special, but it’s just as delicious eaten on its own. For best results, try to get ground lamb with 15 to 20 percent fat content; ground shoulder usually falls in this range. Meat from the leg is too lean and will result in a dry end product.

1 large onion, minced (2 cups)
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
3 tablespoons plain yogurt
2 tablespoons tahini
4 large cloves garlic, chopped
2 teaspoons ground allspice
1 1/2 teaspoons ground toasted cumin (see below)
1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 1/2 pounds ground lamb
1 1/2 tablespoons harissa (see Note)
1 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat to 350°F. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment or a nonstick liner and set aside. Combine the onion, oats, cilantro, mint, yogurt, tahini, garlic, allspice, cumin, paprika, and cayenne in a large bowl, along with 4 teaspoons salt and 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper. Mix well to blend. With your hands, break the lamb into small chunks and add to the bowl. Mix gently but thoroughly; overmixing will make the meatloaf tough and dry. When all the ingredients are evenly combined, transfer to the baking sheet and shape into a flat loaf about 13 by 6 by 1 1/2 inches.

Bake until an instant-read thermometer registers 150°F at the thickest part of the loaf, 55 to 60 minutes. Meanwhile, combine the harissa and tomato paste in a small bowl. When the meatloaf is done, brush the mixture over the loaf and bake for 10 to 15 minutes longer, or until the internal temperature reads 165°F. Let the loaf rest for at least 15 minutes before slicing (longer is better, as the pooled juices will be reabsorbed into the meatloaf).

Note: Harissa is a chile-and-spice paste that hails from North Africa. For a slightly different effect, you could substitute Asian chile-garlic sauce.

Toasted, Ground Cumin Seeds
To toast cumin seeds, heat them in a small skillet over medium-high heat until aromatic and slightly darker, about 2 minutes. Let cool and grind in a mortar and pestle or coffee grinder or use the bottom of a sauté pan against a cutting board.

Taste of the Week: Beemster Graskaas

After a long, cold and windy winter, the arrival of spring in The Netherlands unveils thick and lush grasses untouched for many months.  In turn, this signals a return to pasture for the cows.  During the first few weeks of spring, the cows graze on this pristine pasture, producing exceptionally rich and sweet milk. Beemster Graskaas, or “grass cheese” is made exclusively from this very special milk.

Beemster is one of the smallest coops in The Netherlands, located on the Beemster polder—a parcel of land 20 feet below sea level that was reclaimed from the sea between 1608-1612—whose mineral-rich blue sea clay gives the milk a unique flavor.  The resulting cheese is a stunning young gouda that is sweet and pure. I’m making sure that all of our staff tastes this year’s release–come in and ask for a taste!


Cin Cin! 18th Street Bianco is Back!

Ciao Bella! Its been a while since the last vintage of 18th Street Bianco graced our shelves, but it’s finally back! This latest installment in Bi-Rite’s custom wine label is made with 100% Vermentino instead of Vernaccia, keeping with the Bianco’s Cal-Ital theme of exploring Italian grapes grown in the Golden State. 

Our 2010 18th Street Bianco “Cuvée Vermentino” ($12.99) is our best 18th Street Bianco ever! Vermentino is a lovely Italian variety found mostly in Liguria, the island of Sardinia, and increasinly in southern France where it is known as Rolle. Our California bottling hails from Lodi, where a tiny amount of Vermentino is planted. 18th Street Bianco is light and slightly floral with notes of melon, lime, and stone fruits followed by a dry finish. We love this with our house made salt cod brandade spread on a warm baguette!

Register Recipe: The Black and Stormy

I don’t often imbibe rum, which is surprising considering molasses is one of my favorite sweeteners.  Rum is a spirit made of fermented and distilled sugarcane juice or its by-products, and may be aged in oak barrels depending on whether a “light” or “dark” rum is desired.  Quite beloved in various parts of the Caribbean and South America, rum became popular among plantation slaves in the Caribbean and spread to colonial North America.

Meanwhile, in the present day Bay Area, berry season has arrived.  Tasting particularly well are blackberries, coming to us from a friend of Toby’s in Dixon, California.  As you squeeze or bite into the blackberries they immediately explode, releasing their sweet juice and staining purple and black anything it touches.  They’re deliciously messy, and my fellow cashier Matt Rupert realized how wonderfully they could flavor and color a cocktail.  Here’s his version of the Dark and Stormy cocktail that has turned me on to rum:

2oz. Myer’s dark rum

3oz. ginger beer

6 blackberries

A lime wedge

Muddle blackberries in a highball glass.  Pour ginger beer and rum over berry puddle.  Fill glass with ice, stir, garnish with a lime.  Enjoy the storm while still black and mussy.


MNP tonight with Farmer Al from Frog Hollow

Thanks to everyone who made it out for last week’s inaugural Monday Night Produce stand!  It was a huge success, although what did we expect handing out samples of Swanton Berry Farm’s fresh-picked Chandler strawberries along with mini Bi-Rite Creamery shortcakes?

Oh, the golden memories of last week's Monday Night Produce stand

For anyone who missed it (or didn’t get enough), today promises to be just as memorable. Join us on the sidewalk in front of the store from 4-8 pm to meet one of our favorite producers: Farmer Al from Frog Hollow Farms! Swing by to say hi or ask him a question and get to know a local farming legend. And while you’re here, enjoy a taste of some of Frog Hollow’s  delicious cherries (we’ll have both Rainiers and Brooks).

Cherry season is finally here, and with it comes visions of brandied cherries, cherry pies, and clafouti as well as the question of how to pit all of those juicy cherries. The latest issue of Cook’s Illustrated has a great comparative breakdown of the top cherry pitters on the market. Even more helpful, though, they give instructions for a terrifically easy D.I.Y. cherry pitter. Just place the cherry stem-side up on the mouth of an empty wine bottle. Plunge the tip of a chopstick through the top and voila! You’ll be snacking on a bowl full of cherries in no time.

Remember, we’ll be hosting Monday Night Produce events every other week for the rest of the summer. Keep checking our calendar to see what’s coming up next!

Eat Good Food research visit to Firebrand Artisan Breads

One of the best parts of working on our book Eat Good Food was going on “field trips” to meet and photograph some of the producers whose fruits, vegetables, cheeses, breads, and other products we sell at the Market. Our goal in doing so was not just to put a face to these products, but to explain what exactly makes the products so good. This video was taken on one such visit, when we went to Firebrand Artisan Breads’ facility in Emeryville, CA.

It was amazing to watch owner Matt Kreutz working with naturally leavened dough (i.e. no commercial yeast used) and a wood-fired oven. He works by hand in small batches, and really “babies” each loaf, giving it more or less time in the oven depending on what it needs. In this video, you’ll hear Dabney and I asking him questions in the background, and you’ll also see our photographer France off to the side. (She’s also the one with the accent, if you couldn’t guess.)

The real treat came at the end, when he gave us some of his incredible brioche rolls to take with us – the perfect thing to sustain us on our journey!