Monday, May 19, 2014

Farm to Table: The life of an Avocado {Photo Story & Recipes}



It's no secret: I love avocados and from now until Labor Day, we are in California avocado season. So imagine how excited I was when I was contacted by the California Avocado Commission to participate in their latest California Avocado Grove Tour. Oh yes, please!

The tour started at Persea Tree Nursery in Fallbrook, California.

Stepping into the greenhouse was like stepping into a sauna. It's about 80 degrees inside but the humidity makes it feel even hotter. Apparently, these little guys love it.




Alex Gonzalez, principal with Persea, explains the rootstock development of the trees. The rootstock is started in a dark green lit environment (below). Devoid of sunlight while they begin their life, these little guys are forced to root. The lack of sunlight means that their cell system doesn't know what exactly they are let alone what they will become. They are, in effect, a perfect blank canvas.


Once the root system has taken hold, they are brought out into the light where workers graft onto the rootstock the variety of avocado that it will produce.


This process allows Persea to develop clonal avocado trees that will be more tolerant of root rot and saline (from well water) while providing a high yield of fruit.


According to Alex, the younger the avocado trees are planted into the ground the faster (and better) they'll establish. Better growth equals a happy plant.

Our next stop on the tour was Rancho BellaSanté, a 112-acre farm in the hills overlooking Temecula which grows avocado, citrus and wine grapes.


Scott McIntyre, owner and CEO of Sierra Pacific Farms which owns and runs Rancho BelleSanté is a third generation avocado grower. Seen here under the shaded canopy of avocado trees, he explains to us that avocado harvest cannot be automated. Due to government regulations, avocados for sale cannot touch the ground. That means, avocados must be picked by hand, one avocado at a time.

That sounds particularly daunting when you consider the numbers:

5,000
The number of California Avocado Growers

90%
The amount of the nation's avocado crop that California produces

500 million pounds
The amount of avocados picked during the 2013 growing season


Here, Katherine of Bombay Blonde, takes a stab at picking an avocado.


After others failed or struggled before her, she was quite happy at being successful almost immediately.


Lunch was served on the grounds of Rancho BelleSanté and began with refreshments and appetizers. Naturally, the food was avocado centric with interesting and tasty combinations of fresh ingredients brought together by chef Adrian Halmagean of Sorrel Bistro in Temecula, California.


California Avocado Turnover (I must try making this at home!)


California Avocado Grilled Cheese (my favorite dish on the menu!)


Registered dietician, Katie Ferraro, demonstrated how to safely pit an avocado by first quartering the fruit then carefully pulling the quarters away from the pit one at a time.  Personally, I prefer the whack in the center with a chef's knife method but I've been peeling and de-pitting avocados since I was a kid and have never slipped.


Our hungry group listens to Katie's presentation while we await the main courses.


This Pork Belly and California Avocado Wedge Salad is the best wedge salad that I have ever had. The crisp butter lettuce and tangy, slightly spicy avocado dressing with a hint of bleu cheese was the perfect foil for the cold, flavorful yet rich pork belly.



California Avocado Turkey Burgers were fine but the meat needed more seasoning and the bread was too dry for my tastes but those California Avocado Tater Tots that came with it were outstanding. They were crunchy on the outside and creamy, tender and green on the inside.


Not being a fan of panna cotta in general, I wasn't sure what to make of this California Avocado Panna Cotta served with Avocado Ice Cream and drizzled with a balsamic reduction. I inhaled the ice cream and reduction but wasn't a fan of the panna cotta itself. The flavor was a bit muddled sans ice cream, cocoa and balsamic so I left most of that behind. Having just recently purchased my first ice cream maker, however, I think I will need to try creating some avocado ice cream at home.

Overall, the meal was quite enjoyable and who would have thought that avocado could be presented in such a variety of ways? Big gold star to Chef Adrian for the creative recipes.


After lunch, we headed to West Pak Avocado where we broke up into groups for a tour of the packing facility. The headquarters recently moved to this 115,000 square foot facility in Murrieta, California. Here, West Pak partner, Randy Shoup heads up our group's tour explaining the intricacies of sorting, storing, packing and shipping avocados.

Even with the modern facility, nothing beats human eyes. The initial grading of all avocados is still done by hand: Grade 1 (minimal to no blemishes, fruit sold in stores); Grade 2 (visible blemishes on skin proportionate to the size of the avocado, fruit sold to food industry) and Grade 3 (very blemished, fruit used for cosmetics).


The rejects.


A West Pak employee hand packs each avocado that has already been sorted by weight.


After the avocados are packed, they are placed in a huge temperature controlled cooling room sorted by grower. In these rooms (chilly!!) the avocados are cooled down to shipping temperature to keep the avocados from ripening during shipment.


After the holding bins are empty, they go through a large car wash looking unit that sanitizes them. This ensures that there is no soil cross contamination between grower produce.

What impressed me the most about West Pak was the amount of tracking and double-checking they do for each individual avocado. The attention to detail is just phenomenal. Even organically grown produce is handled separately and all the equipment is cleaned before the organic produce hits any conveyer belt. In addition, every avocado generates it's own tracking number as it goes through the facility and the entire process is videotaped so that at any given time, a grower can remotely log into the system and see where any particular lot number of their produce is in the process of being sorted and packed.

The tour ended up being everything I thought it would be and so much more. I learned a lot about one of my favorite fruits and now that I realize that they can be used for so much more than guacamole and smashed on toast, I am looking forward to picking up plenty of California avocados for some recipe development this summer.

Until then, if you are looking for a killer guacamole recipe, click on the photo to see one of my more popular posts featuring my family recipe. Then scroll down for a couple of recipes from our grove tour.



Some more fun avocado facts
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  • There are seven varieties of avocados grown in California 95% of which is Hass, the remaining 5% are considered heritage "limited edition" varieties: Bacon, Fuerte (which need to be grown where they are sold as they do not ship well), Gwen, Lamb Hass, Pinkerton, Reed and Zutano
  • The original Hass avocado took 40 years to develop
  • Four bee hives per acre are required in avocado groves for pollination purposes
  • If an avocado tastes green or grassy, it was harvested too early (often the case with imported fruit)
  • To ripen an avocado, place the fruit in a paper bag with an apple and leave at room temperature for two to five days
  • Hass will change from dark green to purplish-black as it ripens. Other varieties such as Fuerte and Reed retain their light-green skin when ripe
  • Ripe, uncut fruit can be stored in the refrigerator for two to three days
  • Avocados act as "nutrient booster" by enabling the body to absorb more fat-soluble nutrients, such as alpha- and beta-carotene, and lutein, in foods that are eaten with the fruit
  • The dark green layer closest to the skin is the most nutrient-rich part of the fruit


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    CALIFORNIA AVOCADO GRILLED CHEESE 

    Recipe created by executive chef Adrian Halmagean of Sorrel Bistro in Temecula, CA, 
    for the California Avocado Commission. 
    Serves:
    Prep time: 5 minutes 
    Cook Time: 5 minutes 
    Total time: 10 minutes 
    _____________________

    INGREDIENTS 

    ½ cup sun-dried tomato pesto 
    8 slices wheat bread 
    8 slices fresh goat cheese 
    1 ripe Fresh California Avocado, seeded, peeled and sliced 
    8 large basil leaves 
    4 tablespoon avocado/olive oil blend 
    _____________________

    DIRECTIONS
    1. Spread sun-dried tomato pesto over bread and layer with goat cheese, avocado and basil. 
    2. Top with remaining bread slice and press to seal. 
    3. Transfer to skillet and brown each side in avocado oil over medium heat. Slice and serve. 

    *Large avocados are recommended for this recipe. A large avocado averages about 8 ounces. 
    If using smaller or larger size avocados adjust the quantity accordingly. 
    As with all fruits and vegetables, wash avocados before cutting. 

    Copyright © 2014, Adrian Halmagean


    CALIFORNIA AVOCADO TATER TOTS

    Recipe created by executive chef Adrian Halmagean of Sorrel Bistro in Temecula, CA, 
    for the California Avocado Commission. 

    Serves: 4 
    Prep time: 15 minutes 
    Cook Time: 75 minutes 
    Total time: 90 minutes 
    _____________________

    INGREDIENTS 

    1 ¼ lbs. russet potatoes 
    1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour 
    ½ teaspoon salt 
    1 ripe Fresh California Avocado, seeded, peeled and mashed 
    ⅛ teaspoon pepper 
    1 ½ cups avocado oil, for frying 
    _____________________

    DIRECTIONS

    1. Heat oven to 450 degrees F. Place potatoes in the oven and bake
    until soft but still firm in the center, about 35 to 40 minutes. 
    2. When cool enough to handle but still hot, peel away the skin and shred the potatoes
    on the large holes of a box grater. Transfer the potatoes to a large bowl,
    sprinkle in the flour, salt and California Avocado mash, and mix until combined. 
    3. Measure 1 tsp. of the potato mixture and roll into a short cylinder, about 1 1/2” long and 3/4” wide. Place on a baking sheet and repeat with the remaining potato mixture. 
    4. Add enough of the oil to a large frying pan to reach about 1/4” up the sides and
    set over medium-high heat until hot, about 5 minutes. When it reaches temperature,
    fry the tater tots in batches of 8 to 10 pieces, turning once, until medium golden brown
    on both sides. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to the paper-towel-lined baking sheet and
    season with salt. Serve immediately. 

    *Large avocados are recommended for this recipe. A large avocado averages about 8 ounces.
    If using smaller or larger size avocados adjust the quantity accordingly.
    As with all fruits and vegetables, wash avocados before cutting. 

    Copyright © 2014, Adrian Halmagean

    Recipes provided by the California Avocado Commission

    Until next time …
    Ani


    Disclosure: I was provided transportation between locations, lunch, a gift bag with miscellaneous kitchen utensils and press release information by the California Avocado Commission 
    for participating on this tour. West Pak provided a week's worth of avocados for taste testing.
     I was not otherwise compensated and all opinions are my own.

    7 comments:

    1. You captured the tour beautifully! I went on a tour a few years ago and loved it. It was a awesome three-day weekend filled with meeting lots of new people and exploring different ways to use avocado. I don't think I look at avocados the same way after the tour.

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    2. Thank you, Darlene. We had just the one day but it was packed full of information and fun. I am dying to play with avocados now! :)

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    3. Fantastic post with great information on my favorite fruit! What a great tour, I must go one day, thanks for posting!

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    4. Tiffany & Melissa -- Thank you!

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    5. What a fun day for you! I loved seeing all the great dishes that came through. That wedge salad ... gotta make that one!

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    6. Lisa, they actually gave me that recipe, too. I should add it to this post because it was delicious.

      ReplyDelete