The farm-to-table movement consists of two essential contributors, the growers or farmers and the chef’s. Not many of the growers are as acclaimed or mentioned as often as the chef’s who hand select, prepare and deliver the perfect product to the table adding their distinctive style.
Urban farms have sprouted in the suburbs and on rooftop gardens atop city buildings. I visited the small agricultural community of Winters to meet Brent Wolfe. Brent began buying chickens and small game birds as a young boy; his paper route provided the funds for his ever-growing menagerie of fowl.
The premier bay area quail grower, Brent has become to go to guy for his Japanese Farrow Quail for over 20 years. He supplies birds to Chez Panisse, The French Laundry and a handful of other exclusive foodie restaurants.His quail ranch is situated in a sprawling meadow just below the Julia Morgan house he moved from Cordelia in six pieces on a flatbed truck. That’s another blog post! The tour of Wolfe Ranch begins with the rotating egg incubator; the temperature controlled ferris wheel which rotates fertilized eggs for 14 days. Hatching chamber follows; imagine little wobbly speckled eggs rolling about, beaks protruding as fuzzy chicks poke out of the shells.
Circus-size tents and pens house the chicks for another seven weeks until they reach maturity. Brent has distinguished the process with his selective breeding program and a personally developed high protein diet, which produces a very meaty quail, twice the size of average. These are, in the truest sense, free-range birds; the familiar call is heard through the barn as you pass each open pen, chubby birds scooting around pecking at feed and random bugs off the ground.
Once the birds are ready for market, 85% are boned; the birds are transported to a processing plant off site. To ensure stock protection, Wolfe keeps his breeding quail at another ranch.Brent also has a few pens of husky pigs – the mama pig has free reign of the oak tree studded hillsides and when she is in heat, the local Russian wild black boars pay a visit. Acorn feed supplemented with Brent’s own mix result in a flavorful well-marbled product.
Wolfe Ranch Quail is available at Bi-Rite Market 3639 18th Street; and at their second location at 550 Divisadero. Dining: Chez Panisse and French Laundry.
Farm raised quail, for the uninitiated home cook, is deeply flavored and delicious and not difficult to prepare. Recipes – my favorites from David Tanis:
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