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Ag Lunch Presenters Highlight Local Products

POSTED March 24, 2010 12:16 a.m.

Attendance hit the 150 mark as attendees flocked to the community center Thursday, March 18 for the 37th annual Oakdale Ag Scholarship Luncheon to listen and learn about the “locavore” movement.

Locavore is described as a local food movement that creates a collaborative effort to build more locally based, self-reliant food economies.

Among the attendees were businesses, Con Agra, OID, and Fiscalini Cheese, which also provided a speaker, and many others offering food samples, giveaways and informational displays.

“With the increasing awareness of the type of food available to consumers, the locavore movement was a targeted topic,” Mary Guardiola, Chief Executive Officer for the Oakdale Chamber of Commerce explained. “More people are aware of locally grown products and want to not only shop local but buy locally grown products. Attendees appreciated hearing about local products.”

Topic speakers included: Marge Zylstra from Zylstra Farms, John Fiscalini from Fiscalini Cheese, Steve Kistler from K Arrow Ranch, and Jack Bozzano from Bozzano Olive Ranch.

Each speaker talked about their individual businesses that offer locally grown and sold products.

Zylstra, who farms pomegranates, earned a few chuckles as she talked about how she and her husband stumbled into their unexpected career, noting that they’ve since learned a lot about pomegranates, including that it makes good jelly and equally good martinis.

Chamber president Steve Knell joked, “My mom used to tell me to wear old clothes to eat pomegranates.”

Zylstra Farms offers unpasteurized juice that within three minutes of being squeezed goes into the freezer for maximum freshness.

“There are many health benefits to pomegranates. They’re full of antioxidants,” Zylstra shared.

John Fiscalini, a man whose family has Central Valley roots in the dairy business since 1914, actually discovered a love — and a knack — for cheese making in 2000 but with the first batch garnered the highest accolades, calling their San Joaquin Gold their gold medal mistake.

But as it turned out Fiscalini, whose ancestry hails from Switzerland, found cheese making wasn’t so far-fetched, as his Swiss family have been making cheese since 1705.

Today, Fiscalini makes hand-crafted, award-winning, European-style cheeses that delight the palate with their varied flavors.

“People are becoming a lot more aware of American cheese,” Fiscalini said. “Our cheese has a whole lot of good things going for it.”

Knell agreed, saying, “When you taste high-quality cheese that ham and cheese sandwich is never quite the same.”

From cheese the panel turned to grass fed and finished beef raised at the Kistler Ranch. Steve Kistler came to the panel with years of ranching experience to talk about the health benefits of cattle allowed to grass finish, which although is a longer process, makes for a better beef product.

“There is a growing interest in people wanting to eat healthier,” Kistler said. “People are asking questions not just about their beef but about all agricultural commodities.”

Kistler added that the health benefits of grass finished beef as compared to grain finished beef include: 60 percent more omega-3, twice as much Vitamin E and A, a higher concentration of unsaturated fatty acids and fats.

Finally, Jack Bozzano educated attendees on locally grown olives and the tasty oil they produce.

California, as it turns out, has a lovely climate conducive to growing olives.

Bozzano said, “There’s a big market here in the United States for olives. You can smell the freshness of California olive oil. But there aren’t that many organic olives around.”

Bozzano went on to explain the designation of extra virgin in relation to the olive oil.

“It means it has zero defects. If it’s got the seal, you know it’s good,” Bozzano said.

Recently, Bozzano said, olive oil has hit a new popularity as cooking shows have featured the oil in their kitchens. Bozzano’s olive oil has found its way into many Bay Area restaurants for its high quality taste, spurring a local wave of interest.

The same was true for Fiscalini Cheese.

“Chefs are always looking for something fresh and new,” Fiscalini said.

Guardiola was pleased with the turnout, saying, “We are always looking for agriculture topics for the next year and any suggestions can be addressed to the Chamber office.”

For more information on any of the four locally grown products, call the Chamber office at 847-2244 for contact details.

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