Moses Wolfe, the bearded egg guru at the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market who works for Petaluma Farms, is eager to tell you almost anything you'd like to know about eggs and egg production. The owner, Steve Mahrt, pioneered cage-free fertile egg production and has just been certified as the first organic egg producer in California. In addition to being the largest cage-free producer in Northern California, Petaluma Farms also has a small caged production facility featuring high quality pullet eggs for San Francisco's finer restaurants.
Moses is a knowledgeable and colorful presence at all the Bay Area's farmers' markets and also oversees egg deliveries to about 25 restaurants including Postrio, Campton Place and the Grand Hyatt.
A Hen's Laying History
Petaluma Farms has two types of hens: White Leghorns, which produce white-shelled eggs and Rhode Island Reds, which produce brown-shelled eggs. A typical pullet hen, an "adolescent" hen of either variety, starts laying eggs at about 18 weeks of age and continues to lay the highest quality eggs for the next 13 weeks, until it's 31 weeks old. The hen is considered "adult" when it reaches the age of 31 weeks and continues to lay eggs for an additional 69 weeks until its reaches the age of 100- 102 weeks. The hen is considered "over-the-hill" in terms of its egg-laying life when its about 2 years old. By then, the frequency of laying and quality is so low that it's time to ship the hen off to the meat market.
Pullet Eggs are Best
During the first 13 weeks of its egg-laying life and until it reaches 31 weeks of age, pullet hens produce their best quality eggs. After that, quality begins to drop off. Because the hens are still quite small, their eggs are generally small, but can be graded into pee wee, small, medium and large sizes. According to Moses, these are the only eggs to buy. He promotes the benefits of pullet eggs to anyone who stops by his stand at the market long enough to listen:
"Soufflés will rise higher!"
"Ice cream will be more luscious!"
"Omelets will have a lighter texture!"
He also readily points out that many chefs around the Bay Area see a noticeable difference in recipe performance when they use pullet eggs. He's so passionate about promoting pullet eggs that he teaches an egg appreciation class to budding chefs at the California Culinary Academy.
Consumers have been conditioned to think that "bigger is better" so they go for the large and extra large sizes in the supermarkets. These eggs are likely to be from older, adult hens and will be lower in quality than the smaller eggs from the adolescent pullet hens
What makes a good egg?
According to Moses, a good egg will have these features:
|Outside||Smooth shells, no bumps or ridges|
|Uniform oval shape|
|Inside (White)||Thick and gelatinous; doesn't run out; light greenish yellow tint which means high riboflavin content|
|Prominent chalaza, the thick white albumen string that centers the yolk in the shell|
|Inside (Yolk)||Firm to the touch (push it and it squirms around)|
|Stands tall and round|
|When poached, has no wrinkles and is still standing tall|
|Sexually active vs. celibate||No difference in appearance or taste|
|Red Spot doesn't mean egg is fertile|
Caged vs. Cage-Free Eggs
Moses personally thinks that the good husbandry practiced at Petaluma Farms enables them to produce excellent quality eggs from both their caged or cage-free hens. All hens at Petaluma Farms eat the same laying formula which changes with the season and with the progressive aging of the flock.
But because cage-free hens are allowed to roam free in the hen house, cage-free production is more labor-intensive and land-intensive which accounts for the higher price of eggs from cage-free hens.
Moses says (with a wry chuckle) that one of the most important differences between caged vs. cage-free hens is that some cage-free hens are treated to a rooster (one rooster per 10 hens that have been selected to enjoy a rooster). Those hens produce fertile eggs. Unfortunately, all caged hens remain celibate, Moses notes.
So Many Choices
Many types of eggs not available at grocery stores are available to choose from at the Saturday Market -- including a full range of pullets, pee wees for the kids and super jumbos (too big to fit into a standard egg carton) for customers who opt for size over quality. Actually, the quality of the larger size eggs that Moses sells at the Market is "OK", says Moses, because they're very fresh. But jumbos or super jumbos are from older hens so the eggs themselves age more quickly, losing quality, taste, nutritional value and recipe performance.
Eggs Available at Petaluma Farms Stand
|White-shelled and Brown-shelled|
|Serendipity (double yolked; not always available)|
Petaluma Farms' eggs are also available at Bay Area supermarkets under several labels, including "Rock Island Fertile". They have a new brand of organic fertile egg, called "Judy's Organic Eggs", from cage-free hens that have been fed a specially formulated organic feed. These truly special eggs are available in finer supermarkets around the Bay Area and -- of course -- at San Francisco's Ferry Plaza Market!
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