After filming my Creamy Lemon Strawberry Smoothie Video for Driscoll's to celebrate their Vitamix Giveaway this month, I was thrilled to travel to Monterey, and visit their headquarters in Watsonville, CA. I was joined by the wonderful staff at Driscoll's and some fabulous food bloggers, talented recipe developers, and seasoned cookbook authors for the Driscoll's "Field To Fork" tour and the Pebble Beach Food & Wine Festival 2013.
Raw food goddess, Ani Phyo, Jaden and Scott Hair from Steamy Kitchen, Maria and Josh Lichty (and their adorable pod) from Two Peas & Their Pod, Amy Roskelley and Natalie Monson from Super Healthy Kids, Marisa McClellan from Food in Jars, Cheri Loughlin aka The Intoxicologist, Dede Wilson from Bon Appetit, Allison Kociuruba - head recipe developer for Driscoll's and Whole Foods, and the fabulous Kathy Casey laughed our way through the festivities. Unfortunately, we never managed to get a complete group photo. But, here's some of the smiling faces above.
We had an absolute BLAST together! It could not have been a nicer group of people. I still have a cheek-ache from smiling, and feel like I have made some life-long friends. I was also totally blown away by Driscoll's, and inspired that this incredible company still exists in today's corporate monopoly food landscape.
This family owned and operated company has been growing berries for over 100 years. Their current chairman and CEO, Miles Reiter (a berry grower himself), is the grandson of co-founder, "Ed" Reiter. He continues to lead the entire Driscoll's team to fulfill their mission of continually delighting berry consumers through alignment with customers and berry growers through their core values of passion, humility and trustworthines. They do this in spectacular fashion.
Every single member of the Driscoll's team from researchers and developers, to growers, to top executives were incredibly knowlegable, passionate about what they do, and HAPPY. They all LOVED the company and their job! Apparently, there is very little turnover of staff at Driscoll's and I can see why. I cannot rave enough about this company and its team. The passion, good humour, comraderie, sense of community, and commitment to excellence was truly amazing.
Have you ever wondered why the Driscoll's berries look and taste so much better than other berries? Well, a LOT goes into maintaining these premium standards. I will never complain about the price of a packet of berries again after what I have learnt!
We toured almost every stage of the growing process. Unfortunately, not the picking! Not the right season. To soften the blow, Driscoll's kept us more than content with an endless supply of their "best in season" strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries. I have honestly never tasted berries this incredible in my entire life. It was like I had died and gone to berry heaven! My favourite part of the tour was in the test fields, where we were encouraged by "Dr Strawberry" (as we named Phil, the incredible berry expert) to walk one of the top test plots that will likely be one of the premier strawberry varieties for next year, and were allowed to pick as many strawberries as we liked! YUMMO! After that, we tasted some berry varieties that were all different and wonderful. It was like sampling fine wine, where the subtle notes and flavours seduce the taste buds in a slightly different way. The only difference was, NO spitting for us! You couldn't wipe the smiles off our faces as we gorged ourselves silly!
Growing and developing the world's best berries takes years, and it all begins with extensive research and development. Driscoll's uses natural breeding methods like cross pollination techniques rather than irradiation and genetic modification, and exhaustive in-field testing to create the patented varieties that are then grown by independent growers and sold under the Driscoll's brand name. It takes about five to seven years to cultivate seedlings that are ready for commercial sale.
Every season, Driscoll's tests thousands varieties, and then flavour-tests about 500 carefully selected varieties from their test plots around the world. The top 1% of those berries are chosen to farm for sale. Each of the chosen varieties must be full of delicious flavour, resistent to disease, the right size and texture, and be robust enough to travel to consumers.
These premium berries are then names and patented, and available only to Driscoll's farmers. The independent farmers pick up the seedlings from the Dricoll's nusery just in time for planting. These carefully selected berry growers (chosen because of their skill, experience, and dedication to the highest standards of farming) then shape these plants into the incredible berries that we enjoy at home. We toured the berry wonderful Sunset Bay Farms, where the fabulous Marco Cervantes shared his second-generation passion for growing berries. What a treat! WOW!
Did you know that every single Driscoll's berry is hand picked at the peak of ripeness and flavour and packaged right in the field? So, the berries are only touched once before you open your package at home. Furthermore, the strict quality testing rejects any berries that do not meet their fierce quality standards. These berries are donated or shipped to companies and made into drinks.
Driscoll's are also the largest growers of organic berries in the United States. They grow berries all over the world, but luckily for us, a huge amount are grown locally in California. In fact, in Oxnard, CA, they are grown-all-year-round. The locavore in me was extremely pleased to learn this! It only makes sense that Driscoll's are one of the premiere sponsors of Pebble Beach Food and Wine.
They had a STUNNING booth set up in the marquee, with berries cups, berry cocktails, and salads. YUMMO! I was so thrilled to catch up with my dear friend, Sandie Ward aka The Food Stalker in the midst of her latest hilarious adventure. Ani and I were also excited to catch up with our pal, Cooking Channel star, Jason Wrobel, as he was delighting vegetarian-starved foodies like Maria and me with his delectable vegan creations!
Afterwards we all walked down and soaked up the stunning views at Pebble Beach, and sat on the grass where Jaden and Scott got married. Here's a shot of Maria and me! LOVE her! It was the perfect way to end a sensational weekend. Fabulous food, wonderful companions, and an inspiring company to host us. I am so grateful for such a delightful experience. Thanks Driscoll's. You ROCK!