The Wood-Fired Blog

Olive oil and bread at the San Francisco Ferry Building

We went to the San Francisco Farmers’ Market at the Ferry Building this weekend, and had a good time. It was a balmy, sunny day with the temperature hitting 79ºF (hot weather seems to be following me), and it was nice walking down around the city—we also have fun taking BART across town at one point.

The market at the Ferry Building is an interesting cross between a traditional farmers’ market, with lots of outdoor stalls selling organic produce, and a European Mercato Centrale, think Florence, Valenica or Athens, with permanent indoor stalls housing restaurants and shops selling a range of foods-related products. There were a number of food stalls outside the market, but no portable Forno Bravo pizza oven. Oh well :-( We’ll get there.

Along the streets leading up the market are stalls with arts and crafts, jewelry and photos, including a fun shop called Purely Akademic that sells T-shirts with chemistry equations, the molecular structure for chocolate, the elements, etc. It’s pretty nerdy, but when you’ve got kids interested in science, it was great.

Any time I’m in a farmer’s market (at least when I’m not home and buying vegetables) I always migrate toward the bread and olive oil—where the Ferry Building’s main attractions are Acme Bakery and McEvoy Olive Oil. The market was packed and there was a line at Acme, but I was able to wander around and take a few photos and get a wonderful whole wheat boule.

I went around to the back of the bakery to see how they were laid out, which flour they use, etc., and I was pleased to see that they use flour from Central Milling—our supplier for the Panissimo Tipo 00 pizza flour that is available in the Forno Bravo Store.

It’s always fun seeing a very high quality, hand-crafted product being used in good quantities (lots of pallets in this case) to make a wonderful product. Earlier in the weekend we had been talking about why McDonald’s puts an entire chemistry set of artificial ingredients in their “oatmeal” and soft drink companies use high fructose corn syrup. As our teenage daughter quickly worked out, if you save $.001 per serving on millions and millions of servings, it adds up—which is sad. I find the intersection between food and business to be an uncomfortable place, where food companies use very large marketing budgets to create demand for food products are that profitable—and bad for you.

At the other end of the food spectrum from McDonald’s, you will find McEvoy Ranch. Founded by the heiress to the San Francisco Chronicle publishing fortune, McEvoy produces a very nice organic olive oil in Sonoma county in California. They use the most advanced oil production technology and wonderful farming practices, but while the olive oil itself is very nice, it is very (very) expensive. Think perfume. I have no idea how well their business has worked out, but I can’t help but think about the old winery joke—that the best way to make a small fortune in the wine business is to start with a large fortune.

I also sometimes wonder how much of McEvoy’s production is given as presents, where it is put on a shelf and never actually used. If you paid for it yourself, you might be afraid to use it. “I am not worthy”. haha.

For me, McEvoy olive oil is the poster child for the gap between luxury foods and mass produced foods in the U.S. Our luxury foods are wonderful, but they are so expensive that they are really only accessible to a small percentage of people—while cost cutting keeps pushing down the quality (and cost) for the mass market foods. I guess that’s why I am always looking out for excellent products that we can all actually afford to use. After all in Italy and Greece, wonderful extra virgin olive oil is a part of daily life.

Still, seeing those small olive trees in pots in the McEvoy store made me feel good all over. I planted a 200+ Arbequina olive trees (a cultivar originally from Catalan that makes a wonderful, golden, nutty oil) when we lived in Sonoma county, and I think olive trees might be the best plant on the planet.

Time to make some schiacciata for dinner tonight with our wonderful Forno Bravo olive oil–imported directly from the family-owned frantoio just south of Florence and priced really fairly. :-)