Christopher Ranch

  (Gilroy, California)
Gilroy's finest. Family owned since 1956
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Christopher Ranch Garlic FAQ

On any given day, I get several questions on the care and feeding of garlic. Most consumers know the basics of garlic “how to” but if you’re not quite sure or you’re a novice in the ways of garlic (yes, there are a few of you out there…) here are the answers to some of our most frequent queries.

•WHAT IS GARLIC?  Garlic has been called many things throughout the ages, e.g. the “stinking rose”, the “king of seasonings”, but it is sometimes put in the spice or herb category. The dictionary defines spice as a pungently aromatic vegetable substance that adds zest, flavor and interest to food. Sounds right so far… An herb is defined as a soft-stemmed plant that usually withers and dies each year, an often-pleasant smelling (we think so!) plant used in medicine or cooking. Again, that sounds right… Well, both definitions work for me, but garlic is above all a vegetable. After much thought, however, I think I’ve come up with the best description of all: garlic is in a class by itself!

•HOW DO I STORE FRESH GARLIC BULBS?  Keep fresh bulbs in a cool, dry, well-ventilated place. Garlic needs air circulation so store it in an open container, basket, net bag or open cardboard box. A small wicker basket is ideal for storing garlic conveniently on a kitchen countertop as long as it’s not near heat or moisture (like the oven or sink) or in the sun. Refrigeration is also an option but store garlic in an open container, keep it dry and do not store in a plastic bag. Garlicia’s option: don’t store it, use it!

•HOW SHOULD PEELED GARLIC BE STORED?  Peeled garlic must be constantly refrigerated at cold temps – 34º to 38º – for best storage. Under ideal conditions (cold temps and no break in the cold chain), it can stay fresh for several weeks (more or less), but look for the “best by” date on the bag when purchasing. As long as peeled cloves are not moldy, “slick”, mushy or overly fragrant, they’re good to use even past the expiration date.

•CAN I FREEZE PEELED GARLIC?  You can freeze peeled garlic but it changes the consistency. Frozen garlic can turn mushy when thawed, but the good news is that most of the flavor remains. It’s best used in sauces or dishes that don’t need chunks or pieces of garlic. Store in the Christopher Ranch bag or any airtight plastic or vacuum-sealed bag (get all the air out first) and freeze for 3 to 6 months. It may be necessary to double bag it so the aroma does not “travel”.

That’s our garlic primer for the day, my friends, and if you know someone who’s garlic-challenged, please pass on the info. Knowledge, like garlic, should be shared!

 
 

Culinary New Year's Resolutions - More 2010 Trends & Christopher Ranch Still on Track

As 2009 nears its close, bracing to pass the baton to 2010, chefs and culinary experts alike are reflecting on 2009’s culinary influences and speculating about the impending year.
California heirloom garlic, interestingly enough, is on par with the majority of emerging trends.
Nutrition, sustainability and locally sourced ingredients are three concepts predicted to take precedence in 2010, according to the “What’s Hot in 2010? survey conducted by the American Culinary Federation.
Staf Chefs – a publication for the culinary world – released its 2009 Trends Report, highlighting such notions as “in-house” creation, “street food inside,” “pastry chefs emerging from the ashes,” “Bahn Mi blow up” and many more.
Finally, The Food Channel released its top-10 list for the new decade, reinforcing several ACF and Star Chef trends, while providing its own spin, including:
*Keeping It Real - The idea of reintroducing basic ingredients that will provide chefs – in restaurants and at home – with a high-quality, fresh, functional base to start from. Home cooking will continue increasing, and thus, people striving to create scrumptious, healthy food. However, the meaning of basic ingredients is likely to morph – rather than a tomato, perhaps an heirloom tomato? Rather than a mushroom, an enoki mushroom? (The same is true for California heirloom garlic.)
*Experimentation Nation - Restaurant overpopulation is facilitating a need for differentiation when eating out. The days of playing it safe are gone – consumers appear ready for a new approach, and restaurants are daring to distinguish. Taco trucks, gastropubs, fusion dining and communal tables are among the new faces of dining. In other words, eating out of a truck and sharing food are no longer passé.
*More In Store – The grocery store is revamping its style and selection, catering to an on-the-go lifestyle that is looking for flavorful, healthful “fast food” and fresh options. See delis, takeout sections and the modern-day butcher claim a renaissance, while the consumer brings back daily shopping, seeking fresher products and creativity in their cooking. Stores will likely begin appealing to the older generation, with larger aisles for mobile chairs, and the multi-generational use of social networking – like Twitter – will give stores increased instantaneous exposure. Stores like Whole Foods, HEB Central Markets and Ralph’s have found success in establishing an efficient deli/to-go area, with a plethora of delicious, healthy and convenient options. Watch out McDonald’s and Subway.
*American, The New Ethnic - A more global philosophy is sweeping the American pallet, with a bolstered desire for infusions from Africa, Japan and Asia, in addition to the traditional influences from Mexico, Italy and China. The melting pot that is the U.S. is truly beginning to show in menu options and will continue to do so in 2010. (California heirloom garlic is a popular, versatile ingredient for all cuisines.)
*Food Vetting – People are finally grasping the importance of food, where it comes from, how it was made and what steps it took to get to their plate. Are there pesticides? Were animals treated humanely? Fair labor? Any hormones? Organic? These are questions consumers will be asking, and those who want to meet newfound demands better have answers. (Christopher Ranch keeps its pesticide and fertilizer use below standard levels, abides by fair labor practices, including minimum wage regulation, and farms organically. We love to vet.)
*Mainstreaming Sustainability - Sustainability has been the “it” word for a few years, but, if you’re like me, there’s a good chance you didn’t really grasp the term for at least a year. Well, the idea of reducing waste, enhancing environmentally friendly practices and doing our part to create a better society has taken hold. Businesses are starting to make sustainable changes because it’s the right thing to do – as opposed to marketing advantages – and consumers are looking for sustainability in their dining and shopping decisions. Time to ride the green wave. (Christopher Ranch follows a comprehensive sustainable program throughout all levels of operations – read more here.)
*Food With Benefits - People traditionally like any “free” perks they can get, and their food is no different – especially if it’s a nutritional perk. Food with added nutrients – like probiotic-filled yogurt – or free of anything deemed harmful – such as preservatives and gluten – are on track to be mega hits among consumers. Awareness of food-related health issues has encouraged consumers to seek increased nutritional value from their food. (California heirloom garlic is 100% natural and FREE of any preservatives.)
*I Want My Umami – Umami, what? The flavor sense has been awakened and umami – a savory taste (considered the fifth flavor beyond bitter, sour, sweet and salty) naturally found in meat, fish, vegetables and dairy products – is becoming a fan favorite. As foodies – newly defined as someone who loves the culture of food – become more widespread, they also are becoming more adventurous in their quest for innovative flavors and food combinations. (The bold, sweet, smooth flavor of California heirloom garlic can enhance the flavor of nearly any dish – at least we think so.)
*Will Trade For Food - The days of bartering for goods along the Oregon Trail are upon us. The poor economy and technology spike – making people and products more accessible – have encouraged a barter-exchange system, wherein people are swapping skill and time for food – and the other way around. Companies like BizXchange are even redefining traditional monetary exchange with “trade dollars.” Hmmm….thanks for mowing the lawn – here’s a box of garlic. Not a bad idea.
*I, Me, Mine - We’ve been told we are our own best friends, and the Food Channel’s final trend caters to that concept. The rise of the individual – the personalized cupcake, creating our own wine, making our own breads, etc. – is paving the way for personal gratification. Nothing wrong with a selfish mentality, every now and then – particularly when it comes to eating.

It’s the advent of a new decade, and the culinary world is storming the globe like never before. Stay tuned to see which trends thrive – and how Christopher Ranch meets these concepts. The upcoming year is going to be an interesting, innovative, crazy ride, and we’re looking forward to it.

Happy New Year!

 
 

Flavor Renaissance

2009 was a tough year for the restaurant industry, and many operators responded by going back to the basics: streamlining operations and keeping menus simple. New data from the NPD Group supports this strategy, indicating that one of the most effective ways to boost sales is to renew the emphasis on bold flavors.

This is exciting news for growers because the top flavors diners seek are produce items, and fresh produce happens to be an incredibly cost-effective way for restaurateurs to inject flavor into their dishes. Leading the way is garlic, a perennial favorite cited by 36% of diners as the flavor they’d most like to see more in restaurants. At Christopher Ranch, we supply California grown heirloom garlic year-round to answer this call from our restaurant partners. Also appearing on the list are citrus and berry flavors, at 21% and 17% respectively, an encouraging jump from last year’s report.

Industry leaders project that the demand for fresh, great tasting produce will continue to be the dominant menu trend moving into 2010, and the data from the diners themselves confirms these forecasts. As growers, we embrace our responsibility to provide the freshest, most flavorful, and most nutritious produce available. We encourage our colleagues in the restaurant industry to heed foodservice trends and consumer data and source ingredients that deliver the flavor experience diners seek when they eat out.

 We wish a happy holiday season to all of our friends and customers, and look forward to an exciting year in 2010!

 
 

White House Dinner Showcases Local Produce

 

The Obamas hosted their first official state dinner last night in the White House garden, and fresh vegetables were a key ingredient. The menu was created by First Lady Michelle Obama, White House Executive Chef Cristeta Comerford, and NY celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson as a tribute to the best of American Cooking.
Some of the highlights included a potato and eggplant salad with arugula and onion seed vinaigrette; roasted potato dumplings with tomato chutney, chickpeas, and okra; and green curry prawns with caramelized salsify, smoked collard greens, and coconut aged basmati rice.
Most of the ingredients were sourced from local farmers and purveyors. The White House garden provided fresh arugula for the salad as well as mint and lemon verbena for garnish. Chefs even used honey from the White House beehive to make some of the desserts.
Nutrition and healthy eating has been a top priority for First Lady Michelle Obama since the family moved into the White House, and one of her first projects was the creation of a vegetable garden on the South Lawn with the help of local school kids. The garden covers 1,100 square feet and features 55 different vegetables used by White House chefs to feed the first family or host official dinners.
Since ground was broken on the “first garden” in March, it has been applauded by proponents of sustainable agriculture by American farmers.
No word yet on whether the garden includes any garlic plantings, but we sure would be glad to run a truck up to Pennsylvania Avenue to deliver fresh, flavorful, and wholesome California-grown garlic!

 
 

Ingredients Matter

 

It’s somewhat ironic how quickly the Slow Food concept – and everything it embodies – is gaining momentum.

The Slow Food movement has caught peoples’ attention worldwide, by upholding the appreciation and awareness of quality, clean, ethical food and its origins; using fresh, sustainable, seasonal ingredients; and cooking in a manner that emphasizes flavor, health, patience and enjoyment. In other words, it is the antithesis to fast-food eating.

There are long-time pioneers who have been leading this crusade, such as Michael Pollan, author of “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto” – a book questioning the sustainability, flavor, nutrition and structure of the current food system and praising the good old days, when people cooked from scratch and only had access to items in season, like apples in the fall, oranges in the winter, asparagus in the spring and tomatoes in the summer.

There’s also Alice Waters (chef, author and owner of Chez Panisse), who has revolutionized the food world in her mission to educate about the environmental, societal and health benefits in sourcing and eating good, clean, fair food that is grown sustainably and seasonally at local farms.

Most widespread, perhaps, is the Slow Food organization, which has chapters in more than 30 countries and represents 100,000 members – all of whom are united by their desire to practice, restore and promote the Slow Food concept through relationships, education and events, including farm tours, dining at sustainable restaurants, movie screenings and more.

One such screening, as offered by my local Slow Food Los Angeles Chapter, is the showing of Ingredients – the latest documentary highlighting the health, economic and environmental importance of growing and consuming local food, establishing relationships among local farmers, chefs and consumers and the dangers of continuing down an export-oriented, processed, genetically modified, mass-produced, tasteless food path.

Ingredients features input from all facets of Oregon’s supply chain, including several farms, such as 47th Avenue Farm and Ayers Creek Farm, chefs, like Alice Waters and Greg Higgins, agricultural organizations, such as Oregon Sustainable Agriculture Land Trust, grass-roots movements, like Slow Food Portland, and community representatives, such as Lake Oswego mayor, Judie Hammerstad.

One of the major concerns in the documentary is that because food is “shipped from ever-greater distances, we have literally lost sight of where our food comes from and in the process we’ve lost a vital connection to our local community and to our health.”

The domestic garlic industry understands this, as the majority of fresh garlic in the U.S. is shipped from China, which can take between 30 and 60 days to reach U.S. markets, traveling 7,300 miles to get to California. There is little to no sight of where the garlic originates, there is a huge disconnection to the local community and farmer, and the garlic’s time travel eradicates health, flavor, safety and the environment.

As a family run farm that puts the land first in operations, grows our garlic as sustainably as possible and selected our heirloom seed (which originated in Italy) for its flavor – as opposed to volume capabilities – we support the Slow Food movement.

Unfortunately, I can’t claim that I’ve seen this film, but I’ve heard and read enough about it to know that I fully agree with its premise and am waiting in eager anticipation to see it. However, it’s only shown in select locations, or you can purchase the DVD on the Web site. (For local listings, click here.) So, in this case, do as I say, not as I do. I encourage everyone to check out Ingredients – it might transform the way you look at your food, for the better.

 
 

Fresh Crushed Garlic More Heart Healthy than Dried Garlic

For a healthy heart, make sure your garlic is fresh crushed and not dried.

That’s what we California garlic growers have been preaching for years, but new research published in the
Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry shows the “first scientific evidence” that freshly crushed garlic is more beneficial for the heart than dried garlic.

The study also contradicts the perception that the majority of garlic’s “heart-healthy” attributes are linked to its high-antioxidant content. Rather, the study points to hydrogen sulfide – a chemical compound that forms once garlic is crushed or cut.

Apparently, hydrogen sulfide behaves like a “chemical messenger in the body, relaxing blood vessels and allowing more blood to pass through.” The more blood that flows to the heart, the happier the heart.

(Numerous studies also indicate that allicin – a sulfur compound that also is generated when garlic is chewed, crushed and cut – is largely responsible for garlic’s nutritional value).

Dried and cooked garlic, however, are not able to produce hydrogen sulfide.

Therefore, science has spoken: for a healthier heart, fresh garlic is the best. Ditch the dried.

We suggest California heirloom garlic.

 
 
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