This is a supermarket tomato.
Round. Red. Boring. You can get them any time of the year at the supermarket (and you should be worried about that).
These are Wild Boar Farms Tomatoes
Multi-colored. Multi-shaped. Flavor like you’ve never tasted in a tomato before.
Today, we attended the 2008 NORCATT (NORthern CAlifornia Tomato Tasting) in Fairfield, CA. Unlike previous NORCATTs, which featured tomatoes from home gardeners, this event was hosted by Brad Gates of Wild Boar Farms and showcased tomatoes grown right there on his farm.
Three Acres of Tomatoes
Brad doesn’t grow your average supermarket tomato. Sure, he has the popular cherries like Sungold and Sweet 100. But he also grows tastier heirloom varieties like Brandywine and Cherokee Purple. Then several years ago, he started developing his own varieties, ones that were not single-colored but had all sorts of beautiful stripes on them.
Wild Boar Farms “Pink Boar” Tomato
Wild Boar Farms Red
Zebra Boar Tomato
Brad’s passion and commitment is to growing tomatoes with ultimate flavor. He tested over 250 varieties of tomatoes but eventually settled down to just a few dozen varieties, selected for their flavor, which he starts himself from seed and plants on his farm. This year, he’s growing 15,000 plants in the rich soils and full sun of Solano County.
15,000 plants may seem like a lot, but Brad is actually a small farmer. He doesn’t have a lot of wholesale tomato business, especially since his tomatoes don’t look like your typical, supermarket variety red globe. So he sells his tomatoes directly to select local markets and restaurants. While the recent salmonella scare hurt lots of larger tomato growers throughout the state and country, Brad’s local, small-farm status actually benefited him. Red globe tomatoes disappeared off of supermarket shelves but savvy East Bay customers could still find Wild Boar Farms tomatoes in their local markets.
He took us out into the field for a private tour of his tomato vines.
Some of the nuggets of tomato growing wisdom we learned:
- With its hot days, cool nights and rich deep topsoil, Solano County in his experience is the best place to grow his tomatoes.
- Brad plants cover crops like fava beans, vetch and clover over the winter, then tills them under to amend the soil before planting.
- The tomatoes are under a strict watering regimen: lots of irrigation by drip system in the first few weeks after planting, gradually tapering off to once every three weeks. His theory is, you have to force the plant to drive its roots deep into the soil to find moisture. Too much watering will lead to weak, wimpy plants and, “wimpy plants make wimpy tomatoes.” (I couldn’t agree more.)
- He prunes suckers from the lower parts of the vine, which he feels forces the tomato to put more energy into fruit production than leaf and stem growth.
It seems that Brad has found a system that works for him. Wild Boar Farms tomatoes are in demand by restaurants like Chez Panisse and Brix. Yet in all this, Brad remains as down-to-earth and generous as ever.
He even gave us a flat of his best tomatoes to take home with us!
Wild Boar Farms “Pink Berkeley Tie Dye” Tomato
Wild Boar Farms “Pork Chop” Tomato
Wild Boar Farms “Freckled Child” Tomato
Wild Boar Farms Unnamed Plum Tomatoes
This year, the tomato tasting event also featured samples of food by Fumé Bistro, a Napa Valley restaurant which utilizes Brad’s amazing tomatoes in their dishes. This was seriously good food:
Fumé Bistro Double Pork Burger and Bruschetta with Heirloom Tomato Salad
The “double pork” burger patty was made from ground sirloin, ground pork and bacon. Yum! It was grilled and served on a ciabatta bun with heirloom tomato ketchup and dijon mustard. The heirloom tomato salad used fresh mozzarella and chopped basil.
Fumé Bistro Balsamic and Heirloom Tomato-Marinated Quail
The quail pieces were marinated in balsamic vinegar and heirloom tomato juice, then grilled. It was a very sophisticated flavor. Annie tried to get the recipe out of the chef but he kept it secret. (I hope Annie will try and replicate this dish soon!)
Not seen is the excellent summer fruit crisp with fresh whipped cream.
All in all, it was a great event, well worth the drive up from San Jose. I did get to meet Chef John from FoodWishes.com plus his lovely wife. We didn’t get to chat much though, so I hope we do get a chance to meet up again.
Find Wild Boar Farms tomatoes at the Grand Lake farmer’s market on Saturdays, Village Market and Piedmont Grocery, all in Oakland. Check out his website for a list of restaurants which utilize his wonderful tomatoes.
Take a walk with Brad through his tomato forest: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ksA17-G56X