Monday, January 23, 2012

Not exactly walking on eggshells

I’ve gotten quite a food education talking with my main egg supplier, Tom Hubric, over the course of the past few years. He’s shared some pretty thoughtful ideas on things like egg regulations. It’s actually kind of fascinating. And a bit scary. For instance, lthough one cannot legally sell anything less than “grade A” eggs – those less than 40 days old – in Maryland or DC farmers’ markets, there is a bit of a habit of egg farmers from West Virginia, Virginia, Delaware, and Pennsylvania selling mixed sizes of eggs as “unclassified” (no date stamped on the package) and “ungraded” (no uniform size requirement) in DC.

And that’s just at farmers’ markets. I was startled when I learned of the common practice of supermarkets to denote “fresh eggs” as those that had been on the shelf for up to nine months! NINE MONTHS?? Even before becoming a devoted local foodie that shelf life would’ve scandalized me.

In fact, it is standard practice in large-scale operations – aka egg factories – to remove the thin protective coating on the egg (known as the “cuticle” or “bloom”) using a power washer before spraying each egg with a light coating of vegetable oil to seal the egg’s shell. In grocery stores, such eggs usually stay on the shelf from 6 weeks to 2 months before they’re sold… but they can still be sold as “Grade A Fresh” for up to nine months. (Sorry for the repetition here, but I am still flabbergasted.) Tom, in contrast, cleans but doesn’t “wash” his eggs, and because the shells are not made porous by removing the protective cuticle, they could theoretically keep for longer. However, my egg farmer’s wares are consistently grade AA (less than 21 days old, according to Maryland grading standards), and labeled accordingly.

You can read more about Tom (and his mentee farmers, Ned and Eileen – my other favorite local egg farmers) in the February issue of Acres, USA. Yup, next month marks my fourth article for Acres. Guess that makes me officially a food writer. Or something. (Dang, did I not even mention the article on gourmet garlic that I wrote for the January issue? Guess it's tough for us food writers to keep track of all of our writings.)

Should you want to meet these local celebrity farmers and understand what the hullabaloo surrounding farm-fresh, pastured eggs is all about, you can pick up a dozen eggs of your very own, even during the winter months, from Ned in front of Meridian Pint (Feb 4 & 18 from 11am-1pm) or from Tom at the Dupont Circle farmers' market (any Sunday from 10am-1pm). Maybe I’ll see you there. I’ll be the short person bundled up against the winter chill and invariably talking about recipes... including the one for a familiar and much-beloved flourless chocolate torte (using 5 pastured chicken eggs) in the upcoming Acres article....

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