Becoming Certified: Four of Macrina Bakery’s Breads Are Officially Organic

PCC Whole Grain Baguette

For years we’ve been using more and more locally milled whole grain and whole wheat flours in our breads, all of which are organic. They just taste better. Until our recent collaboration with PCC Community Markets on our organic Whole Grain Baguette, we hadn’t considered going through the official certification process. Sharing PCC’s dedication to local organic farms, we decided it was time to make it official for our breads that already feature 100% organic ingredients: Whole Grain Baguette, Skagit Sourdough, Sour White, and Sour White Ficelle 

Organic Cairnspring Mills Flour

Becoming certified is no small feat. The USDA’s National Organic Program sets the standards. Foods that are certified organic are based on farming methods that don’t rely on toxic pesticides, and that maintain soil fertility and replenish it with only natural fertilizers. Independent third-party officials routinely inspect organic farms and processing facilities to ensure they are meeting all USDA organic standards. Not only is it good for the local ecosystem, but it often produces the best tasting food. 

Organic Cairnspring Mills Flour

We worked with Quality Assurance International (QAI) to obtain our certification. First, we had to ensure that every ingredient, from farm to supplier, is organic and handled in strict accordance with all USDA organic standards. We also had to be sure that all of our internal processes met the same USDA qualifications. There can be no risk of cross-contamination with non-organic ingredients, which meant designing an organic-only section of our bakery, a dedicated organic-only mixer, strict tracking procedures for all ingredients, and an exhaustive cleaning process for our ovens before baking our organic loaves.  

We received our official organic certification on December 26, 2018, it took about six months to make it official. Blake Gehringer, Macrina’s Food Safety General Manager, oversaw the intensive process. The application alone was 30 pages. Then a great deal of thought had to go into everything from color-coded storage containers to new baker’s couches and intensive training for all of our bakers. 

Skagit Sourdough

I’m proud of our decision to certify these breads as organic. Walking through the wheat fields at the Williams Hudson Bay Farm, one of the largest Certified Organic and Salmon-Safe farms in the region located near Walla Walla, it’s hard not to be humbled by their dedication to organic farming. It’s not the easiest way to do things, but it ensures a healthy and sustainably grown product and promotes soil and water conservation. We’re also fortunate that we have local mills, such as Cairnsprings Mill and Fairhaven Organic Flour Mill, that can produce small-batch organic flours for us. And most of all, I’m excited our customers and partners are interested in quality artisan organic products.  

Leslie 

A Valentine’s Day Treat: Chocolate Cherry Almond Heart Bread

Chocolate Cherry Almond Heart Bread

One of my favorite things about Valentine’s Day is that we get to make our Chocolate Cherry Almond Heart Bread. This bread is inspired by a Greek Christmas bread I began baking in Macrina’s early days. It has evolved into one of my favorite Valentine’s Day gifts. The aroma coming from our ovens while it is baking is irresistible— sweet and buttery mixed with the scent of cherries and bittersweet chocolate, and that hint of brandy is the kicker. We bake the golden-brown bread in the shape of a heart. I warm it up slightly before serving and have difficulty restraining myself from eating the whole loaf.

For those who don’t eat the entire thing in one sitting, or are looking for how best to use this bread, I have a few suggestions:

Chocolate Cherry Almond French Bread

1. This loaf makes incredible French toast served with fresh raspberries, maple syrup or a drizzle of chocolate ganache and slightly sweetened whipped cream.

2. Sauté one-inch slices with butter until caramelized to a golden brown. Serve warm drizzled with chocolate ganache and slightly sweetened whipped cream.

3. For a decadent dessert, toast one-inch slices and serve them with rich chocolate or vanilla ice cream and top with plumped dried cherries and drizzle of chocolate sauce

4. For a savory treat, cut half-inch slices and sauté in butter to golden brown and top with a slice of brie. The heat of the bread will warm the brie.

Our Cherry Almond Heart Bread is available at our cafés through Valentine’s Day.

Enjoy!

Leslie

From Field to Table, Our New Whole Grain Baguette

Macrina’s Whole Grain Baguette

Our newest loaf is the result of an inspiring partnership with PCC Community Markets. Using organic wheat grown on PCC Farmland Trust land, we collaborated with PCC to develop a field-to-table baguette that takes advantage of the fantastic food resources that Washington State offers.

Scott Owen, the Grocery Merchandiser for PCC Community Markets, was the creative force behind the partnership. “I’m trying to knit together all of these great local partners, but really put the farmer at the center,” says Scott.

The result is an airy, crusty whole grain baguette with a tender, moist interior and open crumb. The natural sweetness and the rich, complex flavor of whole grain flour shine through, complemented by just a hint of sour from the natural leaven. Not only is it one of our best-tasting breads, but it’s nutritious and supports sustainable local farming.

The Farm

We think of bread as coming from the bakery, but it would be just as natural to talk about the field from which it comes. The Williams Hudson Bay Farm, located near Walla Walla in what may be the best wheat-growing land in the world, is one of the largest Certified Organic and Salmon-Safe farms in the region. It is also a beneficiary of the PCC Farmland Trust, which supports farmland preservation, organic production, and sustainable practices.

Tom and Ray Williams, the third generation to work their family farm, grow the two types of wheat—Edison and Expresso—we blend for our whole wheat baguette. “We’re fortunate that the Walla Walla Valley is an excellent place to grow food,” Tom says. “We have great soil, water, all of the resources that it takes to grow organic crops.”

The Wheat

Organic Edison wheat is a dark northern spring flour developed by a professor in Bellingham and improved by the internationally renowned Bread Lab, located in Mount Vernon. Edison wheat is sweet and buttery with a lovely golden color, and it gives our baguette a robust whole wheat flavor.

Organic Expresso wheat is a hard red type 85 that gives the chewy crust of our baguette its dark, caramel color, lends suppleness to our dough and adds loft and tenderness to the interior of the baked loaf. The slow ferment of our dough helps bring out the rich, earthy flavor of the mildly sweet grain.

“Freshly milled whole grain flours provide the best flavor,” Leslie says. “When I started Macrina in 1993, flours like these weren’t commercially available. What is happening now in the heritage grain movement is one of the most exciting developments in baking in a long time.”

The Grain Mill

A hundred years ago there were thousands of wheat farms across America supplying thousands of local mills. Now, most of those mills have closed. Milling is centralized and flour has become an international commodity. Fortunately, in Washington State we have Cairnspring Mills. Located in the scenic Skagit Valley, the mill is a technologically modern flour mill with the throwback philosophy that the local flour mill is an essential part of a vibrant food economy. They work with local farmers committed to sustainable farming. Every batch of grain is milled separately to preserve the integrity of the grain and the unique flavor of each field.

“Cairnspring works directly with the baker to customize the milling process to their needs,” Leslie says. “Unlike most millers who process whole grain, Cairnspring removes some of the bran, while still keeping the integrity of the flour. They provide a steady supply of the high-grade flours we need and the consistency is remarkable.”

The Dough

Freshly-milled whole grain flours work best with a slow fermentation, which helps develop subtle, bright flavors and hydrates the bran. We use our Casera starter, which is the original Macrina starter Leslie created from Champagne grapes planted in her backyard. A slow rise is a critical part of developing the grain-forward flavor and airy crumb of the loaf. Then, as with all our breads, we hand form each baguette and bake it until the crust is dark and caramelized.

The Bread

“I am as excited to be baking today as I was when I opened Macrina 25 years ago,” Leslie says. “Developing our Whole Wheat Baguette was a fun challenge. I visited the Williams Hudson Bay Farm to meet Tom and Ray. Standing in the wheat field gives you a whole new appreciation for what it takes to create a delicious product. We are privileged to be able to use some of the incredible wheat grown there and to have Cairnspring Mills to mill it freshly for us. Through PCC Community Markets, our Whole Grain Baguette will be widely available and bread lovers will taste just how good freshly-milled whole grain flour tastes.”

Holiday Entertaining: From Simple to Spectacular

Sometimes when I’m entertaining, I’ve got the time and energy to spend all day in the kitchen making something wicked good. Other times, I need something great that I can whip out in almost no time at all. Macrina has all kinds of things that will help with your holiday entertaining, from grab-and-go treats to key elements of more elaborate creations. By keeping a few essentials like crostini and flatbread in your pantry and savory spreads and tapenades in your fridge, you’ll be ready with many possibilities for snacks and appetizers when friends drop by or you need to bring a dish to a gathering.

Here are a few of my favorite combos for the holidays:

• Macrina’s Holiday Quiche with side salads from our case (a great impromptu lunch).

• Macrina’s Cranberry Apricot Nut Crostini (or Wheat Herb Walnut Crostini, if you prefer) with Macrina’s warmed Holiday Brie.

• French toast made with your favorite Macrina Brioche: plain, cinnamon swirl, or raisin (our Panettone will also take your French toast up a notch – check out December’s recipe of the month).

 

• Macrina’s Grilled Winter Pear Crown with Cambozola Black Label cheese and our Fig & Olive tapenade.

• Macrina’s Seeded Baguette warmed and sliced thinly, brushed with melted butter and topped with our Smoked Trout Spread and sautéed capers

• Macrina’s Skagit Sourdough sliced, brushed with olive oil and toasted, topped with prosciutto or serrano ham, goat cheese and our Fig & Olive Tapenade.

• Macrina’s Greek Olive Crostini with burrata cheese, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and flaky salt.

• Macrina’s Warmed Dill Scones with goat cheese, scrambled eggs and smoked salmon

• Macrina’s Sardinian Flatbread with truffle salt and roasted artichoke spread (recipe in More from Macrina cookbook) that is topped with fresh crab meat.

• Macrina’s Rye Crostini with our Smoked Trout Spread and chopped preserved lemons (Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi has an excellent recipe for them).

• Strata made with Macrina’s Holiday Porcini Stuffing Mix, caramelized onions, grated gruyere and kale.

• Macrina’s Brioche Slider Buns with curried chicken salad.

• Sliders made with pulled pork and coleslaw on Macrina’s Sodo Rolls.

• Rare roast beef and tarragon aioli on Macrina’s Cheesy Garlic Pull-Apart Rolls.

If you find yourself in a pinch for brunch, a box of Macrina pastries can save the day. Leftovers also reheat the next day wonderfully. Call us to place an order or visit one of our cafes where our crew can help you find what you need and let us help you with your holiday festivities. Also check out PCC, Town & Country Market, Whole Foods, Metropolitan Market or one of the many retailers who carry our products. You won’t be disappointed!

Happy Holidays!

Leslie

Fuel Coffee: Coffee Done Right

Fuel Coffee is a perfect example of the independent coffee shop, full of personality, passion, and community. I’m honored that Fuel Coffee has been carrying Macrina products for so many years.

Leslie

 

A Favorite Spot

In Seattle, where coffee flows like rain, coffee shops are almost cliché. Yet, despite their prevalence, just about everyone can name their favorite spot. Some are drawn to a particular vibe, others to velvety foam, some to their favorite single-origin pour over, and others to the neighborhood gathering spot. Fuel Coffee is one of those neighborhood gathering spots that has gained fans citywide by offering excellent coffee and food, unpretentious comfort, and an independent spirit. Also, a steady team of experienced baristas spoil the many regulars with velvety foam, perfectly drawn shots of espresso, and even pour overs.

Dani Cone started Fuel Coffee in 2005 after 13 years of slinging coffee at one place or another. Her first barista job was at a deli on Mercer Island while still in high school. A barista job helped her through college in Oregon, and when she returned to Seattle, she worked at Caffe Vita for several years. She loved the subculture of coffeehouses and the kinetic nature of the whole industry. She loved the way coffee houses fostered community and inspired companionship. So she applied for an SBA loan, got it, and opened the first Fuel Coffee on 19th Ave E on Capitol Hill.

“I love how coffee brings together people from all walks of life,” Dani says. “No matter what type of person you are, there’s a place for you.”

Coffee Done Right

Even back in 2005, Seattle had a surplus of coffeehouses, and many told her she was crazy to open another one. But Dani was determined. “I love that there are so many great coffeehouses in Seattle,” Dani says. “There are lots of people and everyone drinks coffee. I wasn’t worried about what everyone else was doing. We just wanted to focus on what we were doing and make sure we were doing it the best, each day, for each customer.”

Fuel Coffee drew a loyal following immediately. Not more than a year after the café opened her landlord offered her a space in Montlake. Dani says, “My original business plan was to open a coffee shop and live out my days as a barista, happy as a clam. That was it.” But the opportunity felt too good to pass up and the second Fuel Coffee was born. Then just six months later a space she’d looked at in Wallingford opened up and that landlord reached out to her. Crazy as it was, she opened her third café in as many years.

While Dani couldn’t possibly be in all three places at once, her personality fills all three locations—in the well-trained staff, the carefully chosen items for sale, and the decor, a mix of hand-picked thrift shop gems, like the old Mobil oilcans and iconoclastic selection of picture books and tchotchkes that line the floor-to-ceiling shelves at the café on 19th.

Fuel Coffee and Beyond

Building on the success of Fuel Coffee, Dani has also gone on to create High 5 Pie (which she has since sold) and Cone & Steiner, a neighborhood market with locations on Capitol Hill and downtown. Dani says, “I love creating places for people to come together over good food and drink. That’s the common denominator. I also just really love coffee and eating.”

Thirteen years later, in this rapidly growing city, Fuel Coffee has become part of the fabric of the city. It feels like the prototype of so many of the city’s neighborhood gems. “I wanted Fuel Coffee to be a welcoming place for all people,” Dani says. “I wanted it to be a place where people would gather over great coffee and food, slow down for a little bit, and enjoy the company of others.”

You can find Fuel Coffee at:

Capitol Hill: 610 19th Avenue East, 98112

Montlake: 2300 24th Avenue East, 98112

Wallingford: 1705 North 45th Street, 98103

October Recipe of the Month

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Toasted Sesame Semifreddo with Mini Ginger Molasses Cookies

A semifreddo is an Italian, rich gelato-like dessert that is frozen overnight in a loaf pan, sliced and presented like the best ice cream cake you’ve ever had! This recipe is a fun fall dessert inspired by Gina DePalma’s cookbook, Dolce Italiano. The late fruit harvest of figs plays well with the toasted sesame flavors in the semifreddo. To top it off, enjoy with our new Mini Ginger Molasses Cookies. – Leslie Mackie

Ingredients:

Serves 6
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1-1/2 cups heavy cream
4 eggs yolks
1/2 cup tahini
Pinch of salt
6 tablespoons sugar, divided
3 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons water
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
5 ripe figs, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon fresh ginger, finely diced
1 tablespoon amaretto, port or brandy
1 package of Macrina’s Mini Ginger Molasses Cookies

Directions

Preheat oven to 350°F and line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

Place the sesame seeds on the prepared baking sheet and toast in the oven until golden brown, approximately 15 minutes. Let cool and set aside.

Line a 9″x 5″ loaf pan with plastic wrap extending 5″ on each end to cover the top after it is filled.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whip attachment, whip the heavy cream to medium stiff peaks. Transfer to another bowl and refrigerate until needed.

Add the egg yolks, tahini and salt to the bowl of the stand mixer. Using the whisk attachment, mix for 3-5 minutes.

Add 5 tablespoons of sugar, the honey and water to a shallow saucepan. Mix well and bring to a boil for 1 minute.

With the mixer on low, slowly add the hot sugar mixture, aiming to directly hit the egg mixture (as opposed to the whisk or sides of the bowl). When all the sugar is incorporated, increase speed to high and mix for 2 minutes to aerate and cool. Add the toasted sesame seeds and vanilla extract.

Remove from mixer and gently fold in the whipped cream. When well incorporated, spoon into the lined loaf pan. Cover top of container with the extended plastic wrap to seal the semifreddo. Freeze for 6-8 hours.

Place figs in a medium bowl and add 1 tablespoon sugar, the ginger and amaretto. Toss gently and let steep for at least 2 hours at room temperature.

Unwrap semifreddo and cut into 6 slices. Transfer each slice to a chilled plate, spoon on the spiced figs and serve with a Mini Ginger Molasses Cookie. Enjoy!

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Celebrating 25 Years: The 7 days of Macrina

Celebrating 25 Years: The 7 Days of Macrina

What began as a neighborhood bakery has grown tremendously over the last 25 years. This is the week leading up to our 25th anniversary on August 27th and we want to celebrate each day with a product give away! These products represent some of the first products ever sold at Macrina, and they have stayed around and become customer favorites. Stop by our cafés and grab your free gift, while supplies last!

The Schedule:

August 21 – Mini Macrina Casera

This was Macrina’s first bread. The Casera loaf was inspired by a bread from Poilâne, the famous Paris bakery. In 1994, our Macrina Casera placed second in a Sunset Magazine sourdough competition. This 10 oz. size is great for dinner for two or hollowed out and used as a bowl for soup or dip.

Aug. 22: Lemon Bars

Our Lemon Bars are a variation of our signature Lemon Tart, a favorite we’ve been making at the café since day one. The lemon custard is thickened with semolina. It’s rich in flavor and the tartness of fresh lemon juice nicely balances the sweetness of sugar.

Aug 23: Half Demi Sandwich

When we opened we had one alternating panini sandwich daily. We used a combination of fresh roasted vegetables, local cheese and select roasted meats. But one simple sandwich required a permanent place on our menu: the Demi Sandwich. It features Giuseppe panini bread with Dijon mustard, sliced ham, fontina cheese and organic greens.

Aug. 24: Rick’s Cookies

This cookie is named after Rick Katz, an acclaimed pastry chef in Boston. Leslie worked with Rick and fell in love with this cookie. He granted her permission to use his recipe when she opened Macrina. The diced apricots, semisweet chocolate and fresh ground espresso play off each other and make for an extraordinary taste combination. A longtime customer favorite.

Aug. 25: Rustic Potato Loaf

This bread was inspired by a recipe from the late Carol Field, in her wonderful cookbook The Italian Baker. Its soft crust and velvety texture make it one of our most popular loaves.

Aug. 26: Mini Budapest Coffee Cake

Macrina’s take on the classic sour cream coffee cake— made with low-fat yogurt instead of sour cream. We also add a swirl of cinnamon sugar, raisins, toasted walnuts and cocoa powder.

Aug. 27: Skagit Sourdough Loaf in Macrina’s Anniversary Tote &
25% off all items in the cafés.

Leslie is as creative in the kitchen as ever, and this new loaf proves it. Months in the making, the Skagit Sourdough celebrates the bounty of the Pacific Northwest. Organic and made with all local ingredients. The day-long ferment, with a light dose of our Sour White starter, gives the loaf a light sour flavor that is balanced out by the sweetness of the natural grain and the nuttiness of the bran. The result is one of our most grain-forward and flavorful loaves.
Thank you for helping make our 25th anniversary the best that it can be! We can’t believe so much time has gone by so fast. Looking forward to the next 25 years together!

25th Anniversary Loaf: The Gathering Process

Macrina turns 25 on August 27th, and I can hardly believe it. I never imagined baking as many loaves as we do now, not to mention the pastries, cakes, and so much more. Our values have always been tied to supporting the community, so creating products made with local ingredients has always been a priority. We know where we get our food matters, so for years and years, the origin of our vegetables and meats has been a focus. In bread, however, we weren’t asking the important question: who grew the wheat? We’ve been working hard to close this gap and making the effort to learn about the farmers who grow the wheat we use. In turn, they can tell us which wheat varieties they’re growing. This makes all the difference when making artisanal, hand-formed bread. To celebrate our milestone, I’ve been creating a Macrina Anniversary Loaf, made only with grains grown and milled locally.

Local Grains

Since Macrina started in 1993, our local grain ecosystem has also come leaps and bounds. Washington is one of the largest producers of wheat in the country, and the current number of grain varietals grown in Washington State is staggering. This abundance has paved the way for specialized local mills to spring up, meeting the growing demand for freshly-milled, whole-grain flours.

At the heart of this change, just north of Seattle in the Skagit Valley, is the Bread Lab. Chief wheat breeder, Dr. Stephen Jones, runs the lab, which is an extension of Washington State University. Jones approaches the subject of locally grown wheat from every angle: with a farmer’s knowledge of the fields, a scientist’s discipline and a chef’s passion for food.

Over seven years ago, the Bread Lab invited me to be on their advisory board. Back then I had no idea how impactful it would be. For many of us on the front lines of baking, Jones has been a leading advocate for the benefits of local wheat.  It has been remarkable having a front row seat to observe what they do.


Bread Lab’s Grain Gathering

Every year, the Bread Lab hosts an annual conference called Grain Gathering. Professional bakers, bread enthusiasts, brewers, farmers, and chefs from around the country gather in the Skagit Valley to talk all things bread. A few years back, Dr. Jones had a group of six of us taste a bunch of loaves mixed up by resident baker, John Bethony. Until then, I hadn’t tried a bread made entirely from whole grain milled wheat. Whole grain milled flour is usually blended with conventional flour to enhance baking, otherwise the bread tends to bake inconsistently. That wasn’t the case for the Bread Lab, where they had come up with wonderfully flavorful and beautiful loaves. It was an introduction into a whole new world.

We contrasted each loaf for taste, texture and appearance. The natural flavor of the grain blew me away. The range of flavors matched the range of wheats and each distinctive loaf tasted of the type and terroir of the wheat used. From that point forward I’ve incorporated more native wheats and whole grain flours into Macrina’s breads. It was that tasting that lit the fire for the soon to come anniversary loaf.

Anniversary Loaf: Leslie’s Gathering Process

I always have several bags of different flours open in the kitchen. They have names like T-85, Yecora Rojo, Expresso Hard Red Spring Wheat, and Skagit Magic. This is how my gathering process works. My notebooks are full of new techniques I’ve been learning. I also have bags of various locally-produced malts, oats and barley.

Baking is a mix of science, rigorous precision, intuition and feel. I’ve experimented with many variables: adding diastolic malt powder (produced locally, of course), oats and emmer, blending native wheats in varying ratios, baking earlier with longer ferments. Of course I’m using the Macrina Casera starter, the starter I created 25 years ago from champagne grapes planted in my backyard. Many of the loaves I’ve tested have had a wonderful crumb and great flavor, but they’re flatter and denser than I want. My goal is to make a voluptuous whole grain bread, one with a stunning presence as well as a stunning flavor profile.
For me, so much of baking is tactile, so it takes time. I need to feel the dough in my hands when I mix it for the first time, or after a long rise. I’m inching closer and closer, and will keep working until it is just right.

Stay tuned…

Azeite Esplendido: Gold-Medal Winning Olive Oil from Portugal

“There are many good olive oils out there, but few that are exceptional, especially at a reasonable price. I tried Azeite Esplendido at the Fancy Food Show earlier this year and was blown away. Sheila Fitzgerald, the importer, impressed me with her passion and knowledge for all things olive oil, from its health benefits to the advantages of small-scale artisanal production. I love the balance this oil has. It’s assertive, with that great peppery spice, not bitter, and low in acidity. I am proud to add Azeite Esplendido to the small curated line of products we carry at Macrina.” 

Leslie

Azeite Esplendido: Gold-Medal Winning Olive Oil from Portugal

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A great extra virgin olive oil is as different from the typical pale yellow stuff sold in supermarkets as pure maple syrup is from Aunt Jemima’s. Good olive oil is alive and peppery, not bitter, and taken straight can make you cough. If you’re accustomed to bland commodity olive oil one spoonful of the real thing will transport you to another gustatory plane where flavor defies known parameters.

That’s sort of what happened when Seattle resident Sheila Fitzgerald was hiking through northern Portugal en route to the shrine of Santiago de Compostela in 2012. In the high hills above the Douro Valley, a soaring majestic patchwork of cultivated agriculture and natural, craggy slopes, she found herself in a grove of olive trees. Some had massive trunks, their limbs twisted and magnificent with age. She introduced herself to the property owner, Henrique Cardoso, a fourth-generation farmer, who then introduced her to his olive oil.

fullsizeoutput_3e9a “I knew good olive oil, but I’d never tasted anything like his,” Sheila says. “The golden-green oil had a peppery spiciness to it, no bitterness, and a complexity and balance that I’d never experienced.”

That revelatory moment kicked off Sheila’s four-year journey to become the sole US importer of Henrique’s olive oil. The first challenge was winning Henrique’s trust, persuading him that she would uphold his fierce commitment to quality. Next came an extended process of gaining FDA approval, an involved study of the existing US market, selecting bottles, and designing a label.

Since that first visit, Sheila has been back many times, including at harvest time, which starts in November and goes through January.

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“Henrique picks his olives early and makes Azeite Esplendido from the first harvest,” Sheila says. “That means the olive is picked when they’re very green. Most farmers wait until the olives get plumper. That way they get more oil out of it. But the olive loses flavor as it ripens. My oil has a peppery spiciness to it. That’s indicative of an early harvest. It can bring tears to your eyes, even make you cough. That’s a good thing.”

Harvest is a time of celebration. An autumnal chill in the air, the groves often laced with tendrils of fog, pickers go from tree to tree using long rakes to pull the olives into nets. An old tractor hauls them to the press, no longer one of the picturesque stone mills, but a state-of-the-art stainless steel centrifuge.

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“The olives are washed then ground into a mash before they’re dumped into the centrifuge,” Sheila says. “Henrique continually adjusts the revolutions per second, which changes the oil. He’s always testing it.”

Before the bottling, which is done within twelve hours of pressing, comes the blending. Azeite Esplendido is composed of first cold-pressed oil from four types of olives: Transmontona Verdeal, Cobrançosa, Cordovil, and Madural.

Sheila says, “Henrique guards the percentage of each olive in the blend. It’s the secret to his recipe. Along with picking at the right time, carefully monitoring of the oil extraction, and cultivating the best trees.”

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The Tras-os-Montes region, where the farm is located, is one of the six protected designation of origin (DOP) zones in Portugal. The microclimate and soil make it an ideal place for olive trees. On Henrique’s farm, the trees are widely spaced to allow each tree plenty of sun and wind and rain. Some of the trees are five to six hundred years old. These are called the mother trees. Around their base workers mound extra dirt. When new shoots come up they are transplanted, hence the name mother tree. The trees are not irrigated.

Sheila says, “Henrique told me doesn’t want to babysit his trees. It’s survival of the fittest. If it can’t grow there, he doesn’t want it.”

While Italy’s olive trees suffered through a terrible year in 2016 that halved production, Henrique’s groves fared well.

“Olive oil is a live product. It changes over time,” Sheila says. “It’s dependent on fluctuations in the weather. The new harvest is so bright green. Henrique tasted the oil at bottling and said, ‘My olive oil is so good this year we’re gonna blow the dishes off the wall.’ It wasn’t a translation issue. That’s his expression. No one makes olive oil like he does.”

Last April, at the New York International Olive Oil Competition, 827 olive oil entries from 26 countries were judged. Azeite Espledido took home the top honor, a gold medal.

Macrina is proud to carry this fine olive oil. Buy a bottle and a loaf of your favorite crusty bread, puddle a bit of oil on a plate and dip. Will it blow the dishes off the wall? Probably not. But it just might blow you away.

Ayako and Family Jam

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Ayako and Family Jam

During lunch at Sitka & Spruce some years ago, a gentle-spirited dog walked in. Taking a stroll around the restaurant, just checking things out, he seemed to be saying hello to everyone and then waltzed out the door. I asked our server whose dog it was and she responded, “Ayako. She works at Marigold & Mint next door and makes the best jam in the world. You should try some.”  I went straight over after lunch and got a bottle.  Apricot jam.  Golden in color, perfect consistency and not too sweet.  I had to agree.

A jar of Ayako Gordon’s mouthwatering jam has that special homemade quality because it is essentially that. It’s a simple thing, an age-old tradition, taking the abundant fruit at harvest and preserving it as jam. But so few take the time today, or do it with the skill that Ayako does. Done right, the result is transcendent, the flavor taking us back to memories of grandmother’s jam or that perfect juicy plum you had in Italy. If you don’t already have a reverence for plums, this jam will change that.

These days, Ayako uses a commercial kitchen and no longer has the time to create beautiful flower arrangements at Marigold & Mint. She is the sole jam maker, processes all the fruit by hand, and jars it herself. All her fruit—Damson plums, apricots, rhubarb, Coral Pink plums, Water Balloon plums, Mirabelle plums, quince, and more—comes from Mair Farm-Taki in the Yakima River Valley. Ayako considers her relationship to Mair Farm-Taki a collaboration, where her aim is to highlight the quality and the uniqueness of the organic fruit grown there and to honor both of their Japanese heritage.

ayakojam_126smallFor such a small, artisan producer news of her remarkable jam has spread from coast to coast through national press, including the New York Times. Web orders from across the country have filtered in and a few small business owners enchanted with the jam and Washington small-farm agriculture now retail the colorful hexagonal jars of jam.

The whole serendipitous endeavor began in 2010 when Ayako began helping at the Mair Farm-Taki stand at the University District Farmer’s Market. One day the owner, Katsumi Taki, suggested Ayako make jam with all the fruit that didn’t sell at the market. She played around with recipes until she found one for each fruit that brought forth its essential flavor. She began selling the jam at the Mair Farm-Taki stand, Marigold and Mint in Melrose Market, and through farm CSA’s. As word of mouth spread a few local retailers began to carry it.

While Ayako still makes all the jam by hand, her children have jumped in to help her with the business, handling web design, sales, and other administrative tasks. Damson Plum and Apricot are her two signature flavors and are usually in stock. Other offerings rotate through the year, with over a dozen different plum varieties available mid to late summer as the harvest comes in. Rhubarb is one of the earliest harvest flavors to come in. A look through the website shows how many flavors are sold out. Not being able to find your favorite flavor only makes you want it more. And really, it couldn’t be any other way. Such is the cost of local, seasonal produce, hand-selected, and carefully prepared in small batches. It’s what makes it so memorable.ayakoandfamily_02

I’m delighted to carry Ayako and Family Jam at Macrina. It is the kind of local, artisanal
product that I love. Grab a jar next time you’re in one of the cafes and try some on a toasted slice of your favorite loaf. You’ll see what I’m talking about.

Leslie