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The Joy of Masumoto Stone Fruit

It typically takes three to four weeks into California stone fruit season before the flavor of our local peaches and nectarines really starts popping with that celebrated balance of sweetness and acidity, but this year we’ve already got some great ones rolling in. Almost all of the peaches and nectarines that hit the shelves at the Bi-Rite Markets are from farms with which we’ve spent years building relationships, but last season we were able to take our peach and nectarine selection to the next level with a new farm-direct relationship.

masumoto red diamond

Mas Masumoto with his Rose Diamond Nectarines

Masumoto Family Farm in Del Rey, California is a beautiful eighty-acre orchard located fifteen minutes south of Fresno. It was purchased by the Masumoto family in 1948 and its current owner is third-generation farmer and author Mas Masumoto, who has mastered the art of building soil to support the growth of the beautiful fruit-bearing trees. At Masumoto Family Farm, fruit is always harvested at the perfect level of ripeness, and you’ll notice one thing all varieties of Masumoto stone fruit have in common: beautiful yellow flesh. The Masumoto family loves the tang of the yellow flesh of the fruit, and their fruit boasts a sugar/acid balance that is a dream-come-true for summer refreshment.

Due to the warm winter, Masumoto harvested this year’s first yellow peach variety earlier in the year than they can remember ever having done before, and this past week we received our first shipment of Spring Lady Peaches. This is a very juicy peach with medium acidity that falls into the clingstone category of stone fruit (meaning that the flesh of the fruit is attached to the pit, the best to eat but hard to work with in the kitchen, as opposed to freestone fruits where the flesh is detached from the pit, making them easier for canning, freezing or cooking). We’ve been enjoying these beautiful, delicious peaches and they’ve definitely primed our tastebuds for what’s still to come.

Soon after the Spring Ladies, we received the first of Masumoto’s Rose Diamond yellow nectarines. Mas’s daughter Nikiko, who is keeping the family farming tradition alive into its fourth generation, refers to this clingstone nectarine as a “mini firecracker.” The Rose Diamond is usually a large, richly-flavored nectarine with a dazzling red skin. This year, due to the lack of water caused by the drought, this nectarine is smaller than usual but is packing an extra-sweet punch.

masumoto peaches

Beautiful Masumoto Peaches

Early June should see the arrival of the semi-freestone Gold Dust yellow peach, considered by some to be the best early variety for eating. With its firm texture and rich, sweet flavor, it’s the textbook grilling peach. The Gold Dust will be followed shortly by one of the most popular varieties in California, the freestone Flavor Crest yellow peach, and shortly thereafter by everyone’s favorite, the freestone Sun Crest yellow peach (large with red-blushed skin and very juicy, it’s the peach that put the Masumoto family on the map). The last variety of stone fruit we’ll see from Masumoto is the clingstone Le Grand yellow nectarine, a large piece of fruit with rich, sweet flavor and firm flesh, making it great for producing nectarine ice cream!

PerfectPeachBook2

The Perfect Peach by the Masumoto Family

Tree-ripened peaches and nectarines truly are some of the most exciting treats of the summer. If you haven’t had the chance to sink your teeth into Masumoto fruit, you have the next couple months to swing by our Markets, so make it happen!

Stephany from the Produce Team at 18th Street is a huge fan of the Masumoto family’s fruit, as well as an accomplished cook, and she has pulled together a few recipes here to help you celebrate the season!

“Rose Diamond” Nectarine & Habanero Salsa

  • 6 ripe yellow nectarines, not too soft but with a little give (any bright flavored yellow peach or nectarine with medium to high acidity will work, but Masumoto’s “Rose Diamond” is particularly amazing & flavorful)
  • 1 habanero pepper, with slits cut all around sides but left whole
  • ½ bunch cilantro
  • 1 spring onion or ½ red onion, sliced finely
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Dice the nectarine into ¼ inch cubes. Add to a bowl with the slit habanero and stir around. Chop cilantro and onion finely, add to salsa. Season with salt and pepper.  Let sit for at least 15 minutes, then taste and add salt, and a squeeze of lime or honey to adjust the acidity or sweetness as needed. If it is spicy enough, you can remove the habanero, although cutting the slits as opposed to chopping lets the flavor get out without adding too much heat, and the floral notes of the habanero go particularly well with yellow nectarines & peaches. This can be done 1-2 days ahead. Store refrigerated.

Wonderful on grilled or roasted meats: chicken, pork, salmon. Try it on toast with ricotta or burrata for a quick appetizer, on fish tacos…the possibilities are endless!

Stone Fruit & Pt. Reyes Mozzarella “Caprese” Salad

  • 1 lb mixed stone fruit, ripe but not mushy: nectarines, peaches, plums, pluots, cherries…whatever you like. Or try a mix for color and flavor
  • 1 ball fresh mozzarella, such as the lovely Pt. Reyes mozz we have right now. Burrata is also delicious in this.
  • ½ bunch basil
  • A few handfuls arugula
  • Extra-virgin olive oil, such as Bi-Rite’s own PUBLIC label oils, something grassy with a peppery note is good to offset the sweetness
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Good sea salt, such as Maldon or fleur de sel…something with a crunch

Slice up your stone fruit and mozzarella. Layer the cheese and fruit on a large platter over the arugula. Tear some basil and sprinkle it around. Dress with olive oil, balsamic, and coarse salt. Eat right away!

This is a great alternative to the classic caprese while we let the tomatoes do their thing and get delicious! In the fall and winter I do the same salad with persimmons & citrus!

“Gold Dust” Peach-Ginger Shortcakes with Bourbon Whipped Cream

  • 4 yellow peaches, such as the “Gold Dust” we just got in from Masumoto (which is hands down one of the best peaches I have ever had)
  • A 1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and grated or minced finely (I use a microplane, one of my favorite kitchen tools)
  • A handful of brown sugar or turbinado sugar, depending on the sweetness of the peaches
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 cup heavy cream (I love Straus for the rich, grassy, buttery flavor)
  • 1 shot of your favorite bourbon whiskey- anything with nice caramel or brown sugar notes is delicious, like Bulleit or Elijah Craig
  • 4 shortcakes, from Bi-Rite Creamery or homemade (chopped crystallized ginger is a nice addition if you’re making your own!)

Dice or slice the peaches as you wish. Place in a bowl, and add a sprinkle of sugar and a pinch of kosher salt. If the fruit is very sweet it will need no more than 1-2 tablespoons. Add the ginger, stir, and set aside to macerate for a few minutes. This can be done up to 1 day ahead.

Whip the cream to soft peaks with the bourbon, a sprinkle of brown sugar (to taste), and a pinch of kosher salt. This is best done right before serving. Though it can be whipped a few hours ahead, the cream tends to break down after a day or so. To fix this, re-whip to desired texture.

To assemble: Warm shortcakes briefly in the oven to re-crisp (5 minutes at 375 should do it). Cut the shortcakes in half crosswise, and layer peach compote and bourbon cream over bottom half. Top with second half of shortcake and serve.  A little fresh basil or thyme adds a nice herbal note. A drizzle of salted caramel sauce is also a great addition.

Pickled “Gold Dust” Peaches

  • 6 peaches, ripe but quite firm. Masumoto says the “Gold Dust” yellow peach is particularly delicious pickled.
  • 1 cup cider vinegar
  • 1 cup water
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup kosher salt
  • 1 tsp each coriander seeds, black peppercorns & fennel seeds- or whatever spices you like!
  • 3 dried arbol chiles (or use your slit habanero left over from the nectarine salsa!)

Bring everything but the peaches to a boil to dissolve the sugar and salt. Slice or dice peaches as desired and place in a clean jar. Let the liquid cool slightly. Pour over the peaches, let cool to room temp, then refrigerate overnight. Enjoy them the next day! They are a delicious addition to a charcuterie platter, grilled pork chop, or a grilled cheese sandwich. Their brightness cuts nicely through anything rich and fatty.


Simon

Local Cherries and the Realities of the California Drought

cherriesWith the arrival of the first red sweet cherries from the Central Valley coming later than usual, the reality of the Northern California cherry crop failure has set in. Now more than ever, it’s critical that we support local, organic farms and farmers.

Over the past ten years we’ve started cherry season at Bi-Rite with the amazing Red Garnet cherry form Ed George, followed a week later by cherries from Hidden Star Orchard and Frog Hollow’s Burlat Cherry. By the time the third week of May rolls around, we’re usually knee-deep in Brooks, Bings and Rainier cherries from our favorite local growers. Unfortunately, the warm weather and drought this winter wasn’t kind to the cherry trees. Without enough cold nights this winter, the trees never met their chilling requirement after entering dormancy. The lack of cold nights, coupled with the stress of drought conditions, means that instead of beginning to produce fruit from the dormant buds, the trees go straight to preparing for the next season.

cherries 3

Cherries are currently on our Produce shelves!

Ed George, who has historically brought us our first cherries of the year from Winters, CA, had complete crop failure, leaving him with only a handful of cherries per tree. Johann Smit of Hidden Star, who usually brings us the season’s first organic cherries, said he’s gotten about 50% crop failure (we will have some of the Hidden Star cherries on our shelves this year but it won’t be the epic cherry celebration we’ve come to love). Meanwhile, Farmer Al of Frog Hollow lost about half his crop and only has enough for farmer’s markets.

We will do our best to source California cherries throughout May but the price will be a little higher than usual, starting the season at $9.99/lb. Most likely, the cherries coming in from the North West in June will be some of the best of the season. We do have some good cherries on the shelves now, but if you can’t get your hands on them in time or if the prices prove too high, “Eat a berry instead of a cherry.” And for the sake of all of our local farmer friends and all of our guests who count on us for good local produce, let’s hope that weather conditions improve soon!


Simon

Strawberries Galore! The Best Farm-Direct Berries from Organic Growers

StrawberriesChandlerWe’re pretty lucky to be living in the Bay Area considering we have access to farm-direct, organic, local strawberries for about half the year. The fun starts in the end of March to early April, and really gets going in late April. Most of the farms we work with at Bi-Rite grow in the coastal environments that are perfect for strawberries. We’ve found it really important to build relationships with numerous strawberry farms so we always have a locally-grown berry on our shelves to share with guests during the Spring and Summer months.

Here are some of the incredible farms we work with, and the strawberry varieties they’ll be providing us this year: 

Swanton Berry Farm—Davenport, CA (62 miles close to Bi-Rite)
CCOF Certified Organic, Union-Grown (United Farm Workers, AFL-CIO), and Food Justice Certified by the Agricultural Justice Project
Varieties:  Chandler, Seascape

StrawberriesSwantonYerena Farms—Watsonville, CA (90 miles close to Bi-Rite)

  • CCOF Certified Organic
  • Varieties: Albion, Seascape, Eclair

Live Earth Farm—Watsonville, CA (90 mi close to Bi-Rite)

  • Certified Organic
  • Varieties:  Albion, Seascape

Fifth Crow Farm—Pescadero, CA (46 miles close to Bi-Rite)

  • CCOF Certified Organic, Bee-Friendly Farm Certified
  • Varieties:  Albion, Chandler, Seascape

Blue House Farm—Pescadero, CA (46 miles close to Bi-Rite)

  • CCOF Certified
  • Varieties:  Albion, Seascape

Tomatero FarmWatsonville, CA (90 miles close to Bi-Rite)

  • CCOF Certified Organic
  • Varieties:  Albion, Seascape, Sweet Ann

StrawberriesJW2JW FarmsWatsonville, CA (90 miles close to Bi-Rite)

  • CCOF Certified Organic
  • Varieties:  Albion

Strawberry Varieties You’ll See at Bi-Rite Market

Albions are a dark colored red and have the most consistent sweetness. They are the most common commercial variety in California because of their flavor and yield. It’s pretty amazing how different they can taste from one grower to the next.

Chandlers are red, firm, juicy, sweet, and tangy berry. Not as common in the retail world because they are so juicy and delicate, and need to be handled with more care than the Albion. This is the main berry that Swanton Berry Farm works with and they are the master growers of this variety.

Seascapes are a longer, conically-shaped berry with a glossy finish. They’re a very delicate, dark-red berry with a complex and floral flavor. They usually aren’t as sweet as other varieties but are very juicy. Seascapes are not common in the retail world but when we get them in it’s time to celebrate!

Sweet Ann is a fairly new variety, created in 2005 to grow in the coastal climates like Santa Cruz County. Sweet Anns are usually big, conically-shaped berries with excellent sweet flavor. Tomatero is the only farm that we work with that is growing Sweet Ann right now and they are very limited.

Éclairs are medium-size berries and are very sweet and fragrant. We don’t see them often, but every once in a while Yerena Farms treats us to a handful of flats.

Mara des Bois (French variety) is a small, delicate variety with an incredible fragrance that resembles a wild strawberry. It is a gourmet strawberry that is most commonly grown in home gardens and not for commercial productions. The farms we work with don’t take the time to grow these berries because of their delicate nature and low yield which require a lot of precious labor. However, with the help of some friends who work with farms in the North Bay we were able to get our hands on some for the first time last season. Shelton Market Garden in Healdsburg sometime have a small bumper crop of Mara Des Bois and they make their way to the City.

Everyone’s Favorite, Bi-Rite Creamery Strawberry Balsamic Ice Cream!
StrawberryBalsamicScoop
This delicious seasonal flavor is the perfect combination of amazing local strawberries and extremely talented ice cream makers. Strawberry Balsamic is easily one of the most popular ice cream flavors the Bi-Rite Creamery makes and we always wait until our favorite farms have a steady supply of  extra-ripe berries to make it. The Creamery is making there test as we speak and it will be available at both Bi-Rite Markets, Bi-Rite Creamery, and the Scoop Shop at Bi-Rite on Divisadero on April 28th.


Simon

Asparagus is Here!

asparagus At Bi-Rite we love to celebrate local, organic crops, and one of the most exciting vegetable crops of the late winter and early spring is asparagus. Around this time of year asparagus gets highlighted in lush bunches and fanciful dishes at markets and restaurants throughout the Bay Area, and the shelves at both Bi-Rite Markets are no exception.

Asparagus is a flowering perennial that can be a tricky crop to grow – once it starts producing, it needs to be harvested every day so that the stalks don’t get too long. One producer who gets it just right is Full Belly Farm of Yolo County, California. Because we work with Full Belly, we are able to offer our guests extra-fresh asparagus from the end of February through May, which makes this the ideal time to stop by and pick some up.

Why is extra-fresh asparagus so exciting to us? Asparagus is high in dietary fiber and is a good source of Vitamin B, K and C.  It also has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant qualities which make it a great cancer-fighter.  And in addition to being one of the healthiest vegetables you can eat, asparagus can be prepared in many different ways. Try pairing it with other spring veggies like spring onion, peas and tarragon to make an amazing omelet. On its own, it’s perfect dressed with olive, grilled and topped with shaved Pecorino Romano.

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Beautiful asparagus and fresh Burrata proudly stand shoulder to shoulder at our Markets

But for a real treat for the palate, try pairing this excellent asparagus with the fresh Burrata available in our Cheese Department. This Italian cheese is a study in contrast in itself, combining the texture of solid mozzarella with a decadent, pleasing filling of cheesy cream. But when paired with asparagus, the combinations of flavor and texture are enthralling, and since the asparagus we have in right now has superior flavor and texture, the combo is all the better. You can find asparagus and Burrata placed conveniently side-by-side in the produce sections of both of our Market locations. Come by and let us show you how healthy, fun and gratifying this pairing can be!


Simon

Citrus Juice Everywhere!

CitrusClementinesWhen January rolls around the selection of fresh fruit and veggies from our local growers is not as abundant as other times of the year. Winter is when local farmers try to take a little time off, plan for the upcoming season and build their beautiful soil. At both Bi-Rite’s we are so excited to celebrate California’s main winter crop, CITRUS! Cali citrus season is a wonderful joy ride from local Satsuma Mandarins in November till the “sweet like candy” Pixie Tangerines in early spring and the flavors are so unique from one variety to another.  Our produce buyers are always trying to find the best tasting fruit available and they love to see how many different varieties we can get on the shelves at one time.

BloodOrangeWe also love to build relationships with farmers throughout California and promote their farming practices and amazing produce.  It’s a lot easier to build these relationships with vegetable farmers because they are all over Northern California.  Citrus farmers on the other hand are mainly in Central and Southern California and grow on a larger scale which leads to using distribution companies to get their fruit to the Bay Area. Citrus is also a less perishable crop and can be harvested and stored without the stress that the more perishable vegetable crops bring.  Well, this isn’t completely true, citrus growers deal with plenty of stress! The freezing cold weather that hit all of California in early December actually damaged citrus crops throughout the state. This  being said we are still have almost 20 varieties at our stores right now and the flavors are as delicious as ever. The peak of California season is usually in February and the Citrus Bomb at Bi-Rite will be exploding with up to 25-30 different varieties!

Moms LOVE Mandarins
One of the main reasons California citrus is the best are all the different varieties of Mandarins that are harvested for up to 5-6 months of the year.  This gives all the Moms the opportunity to give their kids sweet, seedless and easy-peeling fruit as their daily treat.  Mandarin season starts with the seedless Satsuma in late November and then rolls right Clementine Tangerines and the Algerian is the most common variety.  We are very fortunate to get most of clementine’s from straight from the Tangerine Man,” Jim Churchill who farms in the beautiful mountains Ojai which is just South East of Santa Barbara.  Jim is a top-notch specialty citrus grower who works cooperatively with other growers in the Ojai area, helping them distribute their fruit throughout California. We are just starting to get the clementines from Ojai, along with Kishu Mandarins. These little, sweet, seedless “pop the whole thing in your mouth” mandarins are about as unique a citrus variety as you’ll see. They have the classic tangerine flavor!

Mandarins vs. Tangerines: What is the difference?
This is one most common guest question in our produce department. Not only do they both originate from China and taste and look alike but they grow on very similar trees. Tangerines are a special type of mandarin, so a tangerine can be called a mandarin but the reverse of this not true. The tangerine skin tends to be thicker with bumps and the orange color is usually a little darker.

Some of the other mandarin varieties you’ll find at Bi-Rite are the Murcott Tangerine and Page Mandarins. The Murcott Tangerines from Deer Creek Heights in Porterville about are another sweet and juicy variety but the early season fruit has a nice level of tartness for the folks who love a little extra pop. The Page Mandarin is a sweet, juicy, rich flavored cross between a Minneola Tangelo and a Clementine. They do have a few seeds but are still an ea

CitrusMandarinsThe Heirloom Washington Navel Oranges from Deer Creek Heights are harvested at their peak level of ripeness and offer the perfect balance of sweet and tart.  Citrus like a lot of fruit that grows on trees need to develop their sugars on the tree before they are picked.  A lot of commercial citrus may look good from the outside but when you bite into it they are overwhelming tart and not sweet enough.  Most of the commercial growers harvest citrus according to when the market price is best and not when the flavor is the best.

PinkMandarinThe #1 selling pieces of citrus at Bi-Rite this season has been the Cara Cara Pink Navel from Tenalu in Porterville.  It looks very similar to the Navel orange but when it’s cut in half the pink flesh shows that this is not your average orange. The Cara Cara is very juicy and sweet like the Navel but is not nearly as acidic.  It’s one of the most versatile pieces of citrus, eats great out of hand, makes the yummy juice and when segmented goes perfectly on the winter chicories salad.  The other orange variety that is great with chicories and just starting taste great is the Moro Blood Orange.  This Italian variety is named after its blood-like flesh and is one of the most complex flavored pieces of citrus all year.  Bloods have a nice balance of sweet/tart but also have berry tones coming through in the flavor.

For those of you who are more creative and love to get in the kitchen and make marmalades, syrups, marinades, etc., we have the Seville and Bergamot Sour Oranges. The bergamot is widely known for the oils from the rind that is used to make Earl Grey tea but both this varieties have great skin for zest.

Got Grapefruits

CitrusCocktailGrapefruitsAt the market we love to find a new vegetable or fruit that might be popular at a handful of restaurants but hasn’t yet hit the grocery store scene. Grapefruits are one of these crops and growing up back east my only experience with grapefruits was cutting a red-flesh variety in half, sprinkling sugar on it and eating for breakfast. The sugar always came along to mask the bitterness of the fruit. We are lucky in California to have numerous grapefruit varieties that different flavor profiles and really change the way we can enjoy grapefruits.  Cocktail Grapefruits (a cross between a Frua Mandarin and a Pomelo) from Cunningham Organic Farm in Fallbrook continue to create a buzz their delicious and much sweeter and less acidic flesh than traditional grapefruit. The Chandler Pummelos from Tenalu have beautiful large segments of flesh that aren’t overly juicy and are lot less pithy than is typical. The Oro Blanco Grapefruits is a white-flesh, low acid piece of fruit, great for eating out of hand, juicing, and in cocktails.

Citrus season at Bi-Rite is a blast and we just lit the wick some come on in and let all the terrific flavors explode your mouth!


Simon

Fall Produce Arrives!

The changing of the seasons always means there’s a lot of new, exciting stuff going on in the produce aisle at Bi-Rite. Since opening Bi-Rite Divis in spring, we’ve had the opportunity to stock displays with local farm-direct produce at not one but two market locations. We’re excited to welcome the very first fall crop for our new Divisadero produce department and guests this year.

The new produce team at Divis, the veteran crew at 18th Street, and our loyal produce-craving guests at both locations all get excited about fall for the same reasons. Fall means that the produce Holiday Season has officially begun. It’s time to issue a fond and grateful farewell to the fun stone fruit that graces our shelves each summer and take a hearty bite out of the crisp, stately fall fruits that come in to take their place.

apple scruffs

Fuji apple totes from Hidden Star

 

When many of us think of fall fruits, apples are the first thing to leap to mind. This season we have an especially bountiful selection, including tote bags brimming with crunchy Fuji Apples from Hidden Star Orchard for $10 per bag—the perfect apple to grab for a juicy snack with a well-balanced flavor. All told, we have fourteen varieties of apples on the floor this season, including the eagerly-anticipated Ashmead’s Kernal which will be arriving soon from Oz Farm in Mendocino.  Oz Farm specializes in unique, antique apple varieties, and these rare apples have a citric acidity and aroma that brings to mind fine wines.

 

Frog Hollow Gold Bosc pears

Frog Hollow Gold Bosc pears

We’re also really into this season’s crop of pears, including:

Seckel pears from Valley View. They are firm and tannic with notes of vanilla.

Warren pears from Frog Hollow. These will surprise you with their downright candy-like sweetness.

Gold Bosc pears from Frog Hollow Farm. Our firmest variety of pear with a mild smokiness. Great for baking!

Taylor’s Gold pears from Frog Hollow Farm. Softer, grittier and bursting with juice.

Persimmons are coming into season as well, and we’re excited for the ones coming in next week from Blossom Bluff Orchards – the first farm-direct persimmons of the season. But already on the floor are the excellent farm-direct pomegranates from Balakian Farms, with whom we established our very first farm-direct relationship more than ten years ago. Their pomegranates are rich and exploding with juice.

Delicata squash

Delicata squash

Be sure to try some farm-direct squash, great roasted with pasta or for textural contrast in an arugula salad. If you want a gluten-free pasta substitute, spaghetti squash is the best thing out there. Delicata squash tastes great roasted and with the skin left on. Gio from our produce department likes it with butter and maple syrup.

 

Vincent

Vincent Family Dried Cranberries

If your palate runs more to the sweet or tart, we love the apple-sweetened dried cranberries and cranberry juice from Vincent Family. Their juice is the only one on the market that is made by actual cranberry farmers!

If you want to learn more about these fruits or farmers, stop in at either of our Market locations for a taste. Tasting sustainable, local, good produce is pure pleasure, and one best shared among friends. Come on by!


Simon

Bay Area Cherries: Sweet but Fleeting!

Our produce team always waits patiently for the first crop of local cherries to come our way each spring. Over the past ten years, we’ve spent a lot of time building relationships with amazing cherry growers throughout the greater Bay Area.   There’s nothing like a cherry that has been harvested “tree ripened” in the morning and then delivered to Bi-Rite Market that afternoon.

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“The Bing is King!”–Farmer Al, Frog Hollow

Local cherry season is always unpredictable and exciting, and it goes by quick! The first cherries on our shelves always come in around the last week of April or first week of May. Most small cherry orchards grow a handful of varieties so that their harvest is spread over the course of 1 ½ to two months, depending on the weather. They’re a very challenging crop to grow, delicate and prone to rainfall damage.

Ed George Peach Farm in Winters (just 70 miles from San Francisco) has brought us the first cherries of the season for the past 8 years and this year has been no different. Ed uses a lot of sustainable farming practices and knows how to harvest a “tree ripe” cherry.  He sends out a small crew in the early hours to harvest before the sun warms up the fruit. His crew hand packs as they harvest, a technique that brings down the cost of the cherry because the grower is not using extra labor to bring them back to the warehouse to sort through.  This also means that each case of cherries has a little variance in size, but the flavor stays consistent. Ed’s already dropped off Burlats, a dark red, sweet variety with a medium-firm texture. The Red Garnet, also dark red and sweet flavor but a bit firmer in texture than the Burlat, will follow; on any given year these can easily be the best cherry of the season.

farmer al frog hollow

Farmer Al with his blossoming cherry trees

After two to three weeks offering Ed’s cherries we’ll celebrate the arrival of cherries from two of the best organic cherry growers in Northern California: Frog Hollow Farm in Brentwood and Hidden Star Orchard in Linden are less than 100 miles from our markets and are masters of growing big, plump cherries with perfect flavor. Like Ed George, both of these farms start their season with early varieties like the Burlat and the Brooks, which were developed at UC Davis in the 80’s and have a very balanced, rich flavor.

Finally, after whetting our whistle with these early varieties the really exciting part of the season begins. The Rainer cherry, a cross between the Bing and Van, has been around since the 50’s and is the only white cherry on the market (they look more yellow/pink on our shelves).  They are the most delicate variety but are still firm with a creamy sweet flavor. The Bing cherry is California’s most commonly grown variety; Farmer Al from Frog Hollow likes to say that “the Bing is King.”  It’s usually the sweetest cherry of the season and is very firm but also extra juicy.  Both the Rainer and Bing start up around mid-May and can go through most of June.

The local cherry season usually ends with late season specialty varieties like the Stella. Farmer Al’s Stella cherry only makes a brief appearance at the market in the end of June, but its extra-dark flesh and rich flavor is worth the wait.

rainiers

Rainiers come in a few weeks down the line

Northern California cherry season usually comes to an end with fruit from the foothills of the Sierras.  Our cold-wet weather of recent seasons has damaged the crops, but hopefully the nice weather this year will lead to a bumper crop. When the local cherry season finally dies down in the end of June we start sourcing organic cherries from the Northwest. Most of the growers there are larger farming operations than the Bay Area farm-direct partners I’ve mentioned above, but they sure know how to take advantage of their amazing growing climate.

Cherry season is short and sweet, so please come enjoy these wonderful flavors over the next couple months. The Creamery’s also playing around with them; stay tuned to see what ridiculous cherry desserts come out of the bakeshop!

 

 


Simon

Si’s April Produce Outlook

Springtime is always exciting around Bi-Rite Market, but this spring is particularly exciting because for the first time I can say, “springtime is exciting around both Bi-Rites.” With the one-month anniversary of the new Bi-Rite Divis just days away, we are busy building up our local seasonal produce displays in both stores.  After a winter full of amazing citrus, apples and greens, the tastes of spring have arrived.  All of our local growers continue to fine tune their farming skills, and every year the spring crops come earlier.

Veggie Madness

The early spring vegetable selection is my favorite! Winter crops like chicories and brassicas really kick in as the days get longer and the air stays cool.  Spring alliums, green garlic and artichokes start sizing up and add wonderful flavors to our produce section.

Full Belly Farm (Yolo County, CA) takes advantage of the early spring and is one of our featured farms this time of year:

  •  Full Belly’s asparagus is so fresh when it arrives at Bi-Rite that you don’t have to cook it to enjoy its tender, sweet and grassy flavor.  We’ll have the local grass until the end of May.spring asparagus
  • Their spring cippolini onions and green garlic are always extra flavorful and taste great paired with spring veggies.
  • The red leaf and romaine lettuce is super tender with a nice, crispy heart. Early spring can be a challenging time to source head lettuce.  Most of the larger organic lettuce growers are switching from Southern CA plots to land in Central Valley, so the market price is high. Local growers like Fully Belly have a limited supply but offer fresher lettuce at a better price.Keep an eye out for specialty bunched greens like arugula, mizuna and spinach that come and go all summer long.
  • I can’t forget to mention Full Belly’s amazing organic flowers. The Ranunculus bunches have a million colors, the Tulips are bright, and the Anemones are reminiscent of snorkeling along a coral reef.  Look out for beautiful, seasonal bouquets!
  • There are plenty of other small farms harvesting delicious veggies:
  • Tomatero Farm (Watsonville, CA) has big and beautiful bunches of Lacinato, Green and Red Russian Kale.  These tender leaves are great raw in a salad, sautéed or added to a super juice.
  • Our good friend and local farmer Martin supplies both stores with his SF famous arugula.  Even with the arugula and lettuce ‘capital of the world’ just south in Salinas, Martin always bring us the freshest product we can find.
  • Willey’s Farm’s (Madera, CA) super successful crop of baby artichokes is going strong until May.
  • Catalan Farm (Hollister, CA) continues to be the “Brassica King” with their tender sweet broccoli, big heads of cauliflower and crisp cabbage.
  • Happy Boy Farms (Watsonville, CA) harvests plump and juicy Little Gem lettuce and delicate greens like rapini greens and watercress.  Only a handful of growers consistently pull off high-quality greens like these – Happy Boy nails it!
  • The sugar snap peas from John Givens Farm (Santa Barbara, CA) are perfect and will be in until May. The English peas just started up down south; they’re surprisingly big, sweet and starch-free.  Most of the local growers will get going later this month.

DSC_2897During spring, all of the wild-foraged crops sprout up throughout the country.  Two veggies that we love to bring in for our creative cooks are ramps and fiddlehead ferns fronds.

Ramps are wild, pungent baby leeks with a tender, edible green.  Due to their strong flavor, you only need a few to spice up a dish.

Fiddlehead fern fronds
are the baby shoots of a fern tree; they have a crisp texture and nutty flavor.

The first organic rhubarb of the season usually comes from Washington in the first weeks of April.  Just in time for the start of local strawberry season!

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Fruit For Thought

  • Swanton, Tomatero and Yerena Berry Farm (Watsonville, CA) are our main berry growers this season.  These farmers grow varieties that work well in their climate, such as the “Albion” and the “Chandler”.  Our farmers always harvest a perfectly ripe berry that stays fresh for our guests.  Come try the first “melt in your mouth strawberries” today!
  • California citrus is still juicy and delicious; both Markets have over 15 different varieties. 
  • The Pixie tangerines from Jim Churchill in mountains of Ojai, CA, are sweet like candy and a nice treat for the little ones — enjoy them until the beginning of May.
  • Many varieties of specialty citrus are winding down.  If you want to enjoy the Moro blood oranges, Cocktail grapefruit, Murcott mandarins and the Cara Cara pink navels stop in soon!

Simon

Easter Blooms from Bay Area Farms

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We’ll make a custom arrangement for your Easter table

Spring has come to the market in full force!  We’re super excited about the array of spring beauties we’ve been able to offer our guests in the last couple of weeks.  We are now carrying local and organic tulips, ranunculus, anemones, lilac, sweet williams, freesia, and irises. We’re thrilled to feature these flowers direct from Thomas, Full Belly, and Oak Hill Farms.

Also in season at the market are a wide variety of protea, grown by Resendiz Brothers Protea Growers in Fallbrook, CA.  These protea come in a wide range of shapes and colors, from spiky to soft, hot pink to orange and canary yellow.

DSC_4814We source our roses exclusively from local grower Neve Brothers in Petaluma, CA.  Unlike most imported florist roses, which are bred for longevity, these roses are bred for beauty and scent–the true essence of a rose!

Our flower team will be on hand this weekend to assist you in creating a beautiful custom arrangement for your or your host’s holiday table.  You can also pre-order a bouquet or vase arrangement by emailing our florist Eleanor.

HELLO SPRING!

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Thomas Farm’s amazing spread of ranunculus and tulips


Simon

Moro Blood Orange Upside Down Cake & Other Citrus-y Delights

Our Citrus Bomb has exploded, with up to 20 different varieties of California citrus on our shelves as we speak. The uncharacteristically cold weather of the past few weeks has slowed down vegetable production statewide, but it has also resulted in some of the most juicy and flavorful citrus in the past ten years.  The flavor profiles of our citrus selection range from the tart & extra fragrant Bergamot Sour Orange to the super sweet & tiny Kishu Mandarin. We’ve got everyone’s taste buds covered.

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Jessica’s success with Moro Blood Orange Upside Down Cake

My favorite piece of citrus so far this year is the slightly tart and berry-like flavored Moro Blood Orange. The flavor, juice and texture on these have been out of this world this year. We’re getting our Moros from Deer Creek Heights Ranch in Porterville, in the San Joaquin Valley 260 miles southeast of San Fran. Their fruit is picked only when it’s fully ripe and ready to eat, and delivered to us within days of harvest.  Instead of using artificial wax and fungicides, the fruit is simply brushed with horsehair brushes and drenched with a natural compound, using only the fruit’s own natural wax. This produces a fruit that is full of its own natural flavor, like you picked it right from the tree–the way it used to taste.

The New York Times recently published a recipe for Blood Orange Upside Down Cake, and our HR guru Jessica gave it a try, with great success! In her words: “I felt like I was building a stained glass window. Every layer I sliced off of each orange revealed so many new splashes of color that I had to stop and stare at the pile of carvings, just to savor the visual splendor.  The juice from the Moro Bloods I used for the recipe was so abundant that it spread beautifully through the cornmeal batter.  The result was a tasty blend of sweet and tart throughout a deliciously moist cake.” She’s urged us all to give it a try! olsen clementines

Like most Americans, I grew up on classic pink grapefruit; my Mom would cut it in half and sprinkle sugar all over and I would take the time to cut out each little tart/sweet segment. That was in New England, but out here in California we have numerous grapefruit varieties. My favorite over the past few years has been the Cocktail Grapefruit; this flavorful cross between the Fru Mandarin and the Pomelo Grapefruit is super juicy and has a low acid, sweet and buttery rich flavor.

The success of our produce department relies heavily on all of the farm direct relationships we have built over the past 10 years, but one of the most difficult crops to get directly from the farms is citrus.  The majority of citrus growers are located from the Central Valley all the way down to Southern California, and it’s unrealistic for them to drive all the way to us just to deliver 20 cases.  However, this season we reached out to Jim Churchill, who grows amazing citrus in the hills of Ojai. Most commonly known for his extra-sweet, late-season varieties like the Pixie Tangerine, Jim also grows the easy-peeling Kishu Mandarins which are so tasty that the kids in the neighborhood can’t get enough.

We are mid-way through citrus season and there are so many varieties I didn’t mention, so come by and sample all the flavors!


Simon

Si’s December Produce Update

The winter weather has hit the Bay Area and after the recent cold weather and rain, local crops like strawberries and raspberries are official done for the season.  However, with every crop that disappears with the weather, something new like the Olsen Organic Clementines  comes along to make our taste buds happy.

Fruit

As we head deeper into the winter months, citrus is the main fruit crop throughout California; we love to celebrate all of the sensational varieties in our produce department. Varieties like Satsuma and Clementine mandarins usually kick off our local citrus season.  Satsumas are the first mandarin variety  harvested in Northern California, and have a short season from November to early January.  These seedless, easy-peeling pieces of fruit offer the perfect balance between sweet and tart. We just started getting Satsumas from Terra Firma Farm in Winters and will have them through the New Year.

Cara Caras, aka red navels, have become one of the most popular pieces of citrus the past few years.  The combination of the sweet, low-acid and firm, juicy texture makes the Cara Cara super enjoyable.  Beck Navels have also just started up and they’re so juicy and sweet.  Both of these navels will only get more flavorful as we get closer to the end of the month.

The Mandarinquat from Deer Creek Ranch in Porterville is a small tear-drop piece of fruit that’s a little bigger than a kumquat.  The tart flesh and sweet, edible skin make for a delightful combination of flavor.  They’re the perfect holiday garnish, and throwing them into the freezer makes an awesome ice cube for your cocktails.  Deer Creek Ranch also grows beautiful yellow Sweet Limes which are super juicy and have a low acidity compared to regular limes.

Although the first Blood Oranges have been spotted at the SF produce market, most of the organic growers are still waiting for their crops to ripen up. Like most fruit, it’s very important to let the citrus develop their sugars on the tree and not harvest them too early.  Unfortunately, due to supply and demand, a lot of the large growers harvest early just to beat the rest of the growers to the marketplace.  We always taste the new citrus when it hits the scene to make sure the flavor is there before we bring it on to our shelves.  Stay tuned for Bour annual “Citrus Bomb” which will explode with over 20 varieties later this winter!

Apples and pears are at this point coming out of storage as most of the California crops are finished, but we’re very lucky to still have sources of local apples and pears for the holidays. Farmer Al from Frog Hollow has been bringing his Bosc and Warren Pears, which eat great out of hand and bake up nicely.  Johan form Hidden Star Orchard just started bringing us his late season Nagafu Fuji, and the Pink Lady Apples have been eating so well.  With the end of California apples and pears in sight, we’ll set our sights on amazing fruit from the Northwest like Jazz and Pacific Rose Apples.

With the winter local fruit selection less bountiful, we keep our eyes open for unique fruits.  Over the past couple years, more and more growers are harvesting flavorful crops like Passion Fruit and Pineapple Guava aka Feijoas, which add a nice tropical touch to fruit platters and cocktails.   A Bi-Rite staff favorite, the Black Sphinx Dates from Arizona just arrived; these rich and creamy dates are such a special treat and will make any cheese platter come alive.

Veggies

Porcinis & Matsutakes!

We’ve been working really hard to source specialty varieties of California avocados.  This year the Sir Prize avocado, grown by the 5th generation Tenalu Orchard in Porterville, makes its Bi-Rite debut.  The Sir Prize is a large avo with a small seed, which means a lot of yummy high-oil, creamy flesh.  The skin turns dark black when the fruit is ripe and ready to eat.

Rain earlier this month finally got the wild mushroom season going.  We’ve been fortunate to have a steady supply of local Porcini Mushrooms from an old-school forager who knows how to find the nice and firm, bug- free mushrooms. The Matsutake Mushrooms have also been very abundant this year and the price has been very reasonable.  A few Matsutake mushrooms thinly sliced can go a long way in a gratin or risotto; they’re extremely aromatic with hints of pepper and nasturtium.

Greens, greens and more greens! This is the time of year for healthy, extra-flavorful greens; they’re one of the only crops that get better with the cold weather.  The Lacinato, Green and Red Russian Kale from Tomatero Farm in Watsonville have been beautiful and the nice big bunches go a long way.

Winter at Bi-Rite has become an Escarole party the past few years.  It seems to be the best green for salads when local farmers are having a hard time growing baby lettuce in the cold rain.  Escarole is a broader leaved, less bitter member of the endive family and makes a great substitute for romaine in a Caesar salad.  Escarole is an awesome green to braise and add to soups.  We will have escarole from the Bi-Rite Farm in Sonoma through January.

Local organic Brussels Sprouts can be hard to come by, but our favorite growers are about to be swimming in brussels.  We are currently getting brussel sprouts from Rodoni in Santa Cruz and later this month both Bluehouse Farm in Pescadero and Swanton Berry Farm in Davenport will be harvesting.  There is nothing like a fresh picked brussels sprout that is harvested small to medium in size, before they lose their tenderness. When shopping for brussels most people look for sprouts with a solid green color, but the ones that are a lighter shade of green/white have been blanched by the outer leaves of the plant, which usually signals more flavor and tenderness.


Simon

Si’s November Produce Update

November is by far the most exciting time of year at Bi-Rite Market, due to our most food-centric holiday of the year coming at the end of the month. We’re very grateful to be able to provide so much amazing local produce for our guests’ Turkey Day celebrations!  The weather this past month has been perfect for most of the farmers in Northern California–the combination of hot sunny days with a little rain here and there really make the vegetables growing in the field happy.  Most local summer crops like tomatoes, eggplants, squash, and peppers are usually gone by November, but this year a handful of farms are still harvesting these crops.  Here’s a quick breakdown of some of the fresh veggies and fruits that will be on our shelves for Thanksgiving week.

Fall Fruits

Balakian Farm in Reedley has been driving over 250 miles each way over the past 10 years to supply us with their pomegranates.  Everyone should have at least a few of these for their Turkey Day fruit basket.  They’ve been eating so well this year and are extra juicy!

The Fuyu Persimmons that we get from our favorite farms are always tree-ripe and great for eating out of hand.  Although most Fuyus look the same, there are always subtle differences in flavor, so our produce crew loves to taste and compare the Fuyus from different farms; this year the Fuyus from the Bi-Rite Family Farm in Placerville are the front runner for best flavor, but the season isn’t over yet….

Hachiya Persimmons are similar in flavor to Fuyus, but usually sweeter and completely different in texture. Hachiyas are ready to eat when the texture of the flesh is soft like pudding; they’re a great piece of fruit for pudding or persimmon cake.  Hachiyas are harvested firm and usually take up to two weeks to ripen, so we take it upon ourselves to ripen them up for our guests.

Apple Pie Time! DeVoto Gardens in Sebastopol is just finishing up the harvest and their availability is starting to dwindle.  Stan did promise us that he’ll have plenty of their fresh picked Rome apples for Thanksgiving week, which are great for pies.   Hidden Star Orchard in Linden just started bringing us beautiful Pink Ladies, and we have a good supply of their Fuji and Granny Smiths.  Late season apple varieties form the Northwest are about to start up, so keep an eye out for more unique apples.

Frog Hollow Farm in Brentwood always has the best pears for fruit platters and desserts.  The Warren Pear is perfect for a fruit platter,  its silky smooth flesh and sweet flavor always a treat.  The Bosc Pear is probably the best cooking pear from Frog Hollow and has good sugar even when firm.

Last year we started a new farm-direct relationship with Vincent Family Cranberries in Oregon.  They’re a small family farm that dry-harvests extra-sweet cranberries for both the fresh berry market and their own bottled cranberry juice.  Cranberries are one of the crops that have been taken over by large companies like Ocean Spray, and it’s really challenging to know exactly where the cranberries we consume come from.  The Vincent Family is one of the only farms in America that actually makes juice from the berries they grow. Most cranberry juices are made with berries that are sourced from growers throughout the country.  This Holiday season we will have two Vincent Cranberry juice blends: Cranberry/Blueberry and Cranberry/Agave Nectar, both which have a mild-sweetness and are perfect for cocktails.

We’re waiting patiently for the start of local citrus season!  Usually the first citrus is the Satsuma Mandarin from Side Hill Citrus in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas.  This easy peeling, seedless mandarin offers the perfect balance between sweet/tart and kids love them.

The Veggie Scene

Yams are often mistaken for orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, but they’re not even related to the sweet potato. Instead, yams are thick, white tubers with a lot less flavor than sweet potatoes, and are rarely available in the United States.  Sweet potatoes originated in South America and over a dozen varieties are cultivated for the marketplace.  This year we’ll be highlighting several varieties of sweet potatoes from Doreva Farms in Livingston, including the dark red-skinned Red Garnet, along with the light skinned Hannah Sweets. All of these sweet potatoes offer classic flavor and texture; don’t be afraid to cook them up together.

Brussels Sprouts are one of the more challenging crops to grow organically, as they’re very susceptible to pests and take a lot of labor to harvest and clean.  We’ll be getting over 400 lbs. of organic brussel sprouts from Rondoni Farm in Santa Cruz.

At the Bi-Rite Farm in Sonoma, we’re tending to our baby lettuce and chicory crops on a daily basis to assure that they’re perfect for Thanksgiving week.  Escarole, the least bitter of the endive family, has leaves that are very tender and sometimes a bit crunchy. Escarole is perfect in a salad and really delicious when braised or added to soup.

Yes, we still have local dry farmed tomatoes from Dirty Girl Farm in Santa Cruz County!  The flavor is awesome and hopefully the rain that’s falling as I write this won’t end the harvest. Come on, sun!

Last but not least, everyone’s favorite cold weather veggie: winter squash! Full Belly Farm has been harvesting all kinds of perfectly ripe winter squash.  The Delicatas have been so yummy and roast up great, skin and all.  Butternut squash is plentiful and our kitchen’s been all over them, making their butternut and apple soup.  The Acorn, Kabocha, Spaghetti and Red Kuri Squashes are all yummy and very versatile. We also have some locally grown heirloom pumpkins like the Cinderella and the Musquee De Provence. These beautiful pumpkins can be used as decoration, then roasted up and turned into a delicious soup.