Monday, April 19, 2010

Unique Farm Products from Rockridge Orchards

Wade Bennett of Rockridge Orchards has a reputation for bringing quirky crops and products to market. I've known Wade since 2005 and his unusual market offerings--bamboo shoots, hops, banana leaves, tea and his amazing line of cider, wine and vinegar--always keep me coming back for more. (I'm just sorry he didn't bring his hearty winter greens this year--I love the zippy, wake-up flavors of these.)

Anyway, last week I missed the market because of a writing retreat, so I was surprised when I read this blog about Rocksalmic vinegar. "Look what I missed in just a week!" I'd said to Tom. After reading the blog's post, I thought Wade was turning his Island grapes (a native Northwest variety) into balsamic vinegar since balsamic vinegar is made with gapes and the good stuff is aged in wooden barrels for years. But Wade's Rocksalmic vinegar, made with Washington apples, is even better than that.

I had two questions.

1. How did he make it?
Wade told me that fermented his traditionally made apple cider vinegar in French wooden casks for 7 years.

2. How could he keep the secret for so long?
One thing that plagues small-scale farmers is the need to move into unique markets so they can make top dollar for every product. (Every week it seems market manager Chris Curtis stops by and asks what's new.) When more farmers begin bringing similar products, sales fall off. Much as many people don't like to talk about it, farmers' have a bottom line that needs minding and farmers must think creatively to hold on to their sales and create their own trends. Farmers like writers must stand out in a crowd and get into the market ahead of other farmers, defining their farm brands.

Rocksalmic vinegar is the one in the skinny smaller bottle in the photo. It's the same size as Fini, one of my favorite balsamic vinegars (which looks deceptively larger in a short fat bottle with thick glass.) Marketing and packaging--people don't often realize the work that goes into that aspect of products.

Anyway, the price for the two, Fini and Rocksalmic, is about the same--$15.00 a bottle. While I was talking to Wade another farm vendor stopped and told Wade he should raise his price on his new vinegar. (Should farmers really encourage price gouging in front of market shoppers who may be in one or no-paycheck families these days?) But Wade is fair about his prices and knows $15.00 for high-quality vinegar is a fair price. Pricing products at the market fairly is one of the traits that I really appreciate about Wade Bennett.
Wade also brought some Sweet Strawberry wine and an awesome Blueberry Apple Cider vinegar. I couldn't resist any of these. I also got some of Wade's two varieties of rhubarb. The really red stalks are mild and the green stalk varieties are heirlooms with much more tartness. Seattle chefs are often the first to buy many of Wade's unique farm products, so be sure to look for Rockridge Orchards cider, wine, and exotic vinegars on high-end restaurant menus.

The asparagus wasn't from Wade but that is what Finn likes. And since everybody has their price for doing things, I offer asparagus and other fresh vegetables to Finn so he quickly hops on his bench and looks interested. Yes, that is his interested look.

These asparagus stalks came from Alm Hill Gardens. I thought about pairing asparagus and rhubarb because I have this fantastic recipe from Donna Weston, another forager who sells at the University District market. Then I remembered that Donna's asparagus-rhubarb recipe from my book also lists morels. These should appear at Found and Foraged or Wild Things (Donna's booth) any week now.
After giving Finn his obligatory asparagus stalk, Tom and I roasted the asparagus in olive oil at 325 for about 15 minutes, stirring it occasionally. Then we lightly sprinkled Fleur de Sel over the top, dusted with freshly ground pepper and drizzled Rocksalmic vinegar over it. That's the recipe, pure and simple. We both wanted more.

Finn gives asparagus and Rocksalmic vinegar four paws up. The vinegar could seriously be addicting. It's thick, slightly sweet and with the flavor of apples, yet it's reminiscent of the best balsamic vinegars with deep earthy tones vibrating and tingling. It's a truly unique farm market product and worth the price. You don't need much because it's so flavorful. If they offered awards for the most unique farm products, Wade would win every year. Wade you've done it again! Thank you!

What unique market products inspire your cooking?

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