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.
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.
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.
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!