I was recently asked by the California Strawberry Commission if I’d like to spend the day at one of their local farms…with my two kids, ages 7 and 3. I really only had to think about it for a minute. Both of my children love berries and strawberries are high up their list as a favorite, so for them to be able to visit an actual hands-on farm as guests was fantastic. Wait, did I mention their age? Did I mention how happy they were to be on a strawberry farm? Did I mention how hyper and excited they were all.day.long!
From the moment they hit the field, red faces were in abundance, and I don’t mean from embarrassment. Red from the juicy berries that they hadfree reign over and by the end of the day I think my little guy ate his own weight in strawberries – seriously…I must emphasize I’ve never seen anyone eat so many strawberries ever!
The California Strawberry Commission is responsible for overseeing all relations and activities relating to over 400 Californian growers. From the food safety and production side of the business to public and trade relations, the commission covers the whole spectrum. California harvested almost 2 billion pounds of strawberries last year, accounting for 88% of the U.S. strawberry business.
Quinn was waist high in a sea of leafy green strawberry plants. He had so much fun picking the strawberries straight from the plant and popping them in his mouth. They were so juicy and ripe, it was hard to tell him to slow down.
Miranda was a little more of a lady picking her strawberries, including this one which she examined thoroughly! There was even a face painter on hand… I loved how kid friendly the California Strawberry Commission made this event!
This is Farmer Bill Reiman. A fifth generation, locally born farmer who really knows his strawberries. He explained in detail about how the farm works and how it not only produces strawberries, but raspberries too. We paid a visit to their packing and cooling facility nearby where technology here has saved many hours. Pallets of berries are stacked and packed in a matter of minutes. I wish I could have listened to more of his stories, but remember that little guy who kept eating strawberries? Yeah, he kept me busy.
A big juicy Californian strawberry…which escaped Quinn. It was a hot day and the fruit was a perfect temperature for eating. Once the strawberries are picked, they’re rushed to the cooler and huge fans suck out all of the hot air from them, bringing them down to a temperature of around 32 degrees which is ideal for shipping.
Dinner was, of course, strawberry-inspired and prepared on site by Chef Tim Kilycoyne, executive chef and owner of the farm-to-table SideCar restaurant in Ventura. We dined on braised chicken enchiladas with a roasted strawberry mole and black bean quinoa salad, which was fantastic. The enchiladas and mole worked so well together. We also had chocolate-strawberry genoise cake and chocolate-dipped strawberries for dessert, and not to forget the best strawberry basil lemonade!!
I decided to make some strawberry goat cheese bars with my California strawberries. This basic recipe has served me well and is really adaptable to any fruit. I sauteed the strawberries with some balsamic glaze until they became soft and thick like a jelly. I kept on thinking about that strawberry basil lemonade and how well the flavors went together, so I added some chopped basil to the shortbread base of the bar.
After being on this tour, it made me realize that strawberries aren’t just for eating straight out of the pack, there’s so much more they can be used for. I read in one of the cookbooks from the California Strawberry Commission that you can treat a strawberry like a tomato. So for every tomato dish (almost) try swapping it out for some strawberries. I already tried this with a bowl of guacamole and loved it!
Thanks California Strawberry Commission and Farmer Bill for a fun, educational and stomach-filling day!
Strawberry Balsamic Goat Cheese Bars
For The Base
- 1 cup unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons fresh basil chopped finely
For The Filling
- 3 1/2 cups strawberries hulled and halved
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 tablespoon balsamic glaze
- 1 1/2 tablespoon sugar
- 4 ounces chevre goat cheese
- 4 ounces cream cheese
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon flour
- 1 large egg plus 1 yolk
- Zest of two lemons
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Powdered sugar for dusting
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line a 13x9x2 baking pan with foil, leaving enough hanging over the sides to lift out after baking.
In a stand up mixer, beat the butter until soft. Add the brown sugar and salt and mix until combined. Turn the mixer off and add the flour and the basil. With the mixer on low speed, mix until the dough just comes together.
Break the dough into clumps and spread over the base of the baking tray with your hands, making it as even as you can. Bake for about 20 mins or just turning golden brown.
As the base is baking, prepare the strawberries.
Heat a large saute pan over a medium heat and add the butter. Add the strawberries, sugar and balsamic and toss to coat the fruit.
Cook for about 10-12 minutes and the mixture has turned thicker. Set aside.
Beat the cream cheese and goat cheese together until soft. Add the white sugar and tablespoon of flour and mix well.
With the mixer running, add the egg, egg yolk, zest, lemon juice and vanilla.Beat until smooth.
When the base has baked, drizzle most of the strawberry pan liquid over it. Pour the strawberries into the cheese mixture and gently fold once or twice. You want to keep it marbled.
Pour the whole mixture over the base and make sure it's level.
Bake at 350 degrees for about 20-25 minutes and set in the middle. Let cool for at least one hour before storing in the fridge for another hour. Slice into squares with a sharp knife and dust well with powdered sugar.