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My egg dilema

So, I complained recently that the egg-lady at the LJ farmer's market sold eggs that were far below the quality I expected. The shells seemed weaker, and the whites and yolks didn't stand up like I expected. Last week, I tried the Hillcrest market, and bought two dozen from the egg stand there. Very similar results. On closer look at both cartons, I noticed the eggs were graded AA, not A. (Grade AA eggs are inferior.)

So my question is this: WHY are farmers selling lesser quality eggs at a farmers market? Where do the Grade A eggs go? And if I can't get them at my farmer's market, where exactly do I go to buy fresh, small-producer eggs that are Grade A? I am so surprised (and frankly, bummed out) by this. Does anyone have any background or insider knowledge they can share with me?

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  1. The only really good eggs I've found are at the Little Italy farmers market. Not sure if you can put much stock in carton, as many vendors recycle cartons, when I go to the Poway market I usually bring an armload for the egg lady there, her "free range"brown eggs are pretty good.

    1. Grade AA eggs are superior to A eggs. However, it's unlikely that the description on the carton applies to the eggs they're selling. I buy Curtis Womach's eggs at the Hillcrest FM when he has them (he sells out quickly), and the cartons, if any, are random leftovers or brought in by other customers. I usually bring my own cartons to pack the eggs or he packages them in a paper bag.

      It's possible that the eggs you bought were less fresh, as the older they get, the more the shells and the albumen weaken.

      4 Replies
      1. re: Auriana

        This is good info, I have never seen Curtis with eggs, and never thought to ask (duh).

        1. re: Auriana

          Gasp! You are right. My mistake. Still, these don't look like reused cartons. The sticker from the Hillcrest batch says: Gama Farms. Free Range Eggs, Grade AA. Packed (with a number that I think says: 261; Sell by: 10/18
          Arvin, CA Then a code: CA5318AN <--tracking, I'm sure.
          And then instructions to refrigerate after purchase.

          Do you think it could be a regional thing? I know the color of the hen determines the color of the shell. But my lament is more about the strength of the shell being noticibly weaker than what I was used to on the East coast; and the whites spread out in the pan far more than what I think they should, based on my experience with other straight-from-the-farm eggs. Maybe it has something to do with the weather, bugs, plants -- the terroir of these eggs? Could it be??

          1. re: DipCone

            You can actually go straight the egg farm and purchase there. Hillikers in Lakeside sells retail from their egg ranch. It is a commercial (i.e. large scale) venue. You generally have to purchase by the flat which is 30 eggs.

            Edible San Diego did an article about backyard chickens in one of their 2009 issues. There was a sidebar to the article that listed private egg vendors, i.e. backyard/small scale chicken ranchers that also sold eggs retail. IIRC, most of these folks have regular customers and rarely have excess production. I couldn't find the article in the Edible web site archives; you might try Googling for local egg vendors to see if you get any hits.

            1. re: DipCone

              The color of the egg shell is determined by the color of the hen's earlobes. White earlobes mean white eggs, red or brown earlobes mean brown eggs. The exception is the Easter Egger or Americauna, which lays eggs that range from blue to olive green. We have a white chicken that lays brown eggs.

              The strength of the shell and the color of the yolk are determined by the hen's diet. A diet rich in bugs and greens will give you a darker yolk. A diet lacking in calcium will get you a weaker shell.

              If your whites are spreading a lot, the eggs are most likely not as fresh.

              I'm not familiar enough with the various egg vendors at the farmers markets, but I think the quality of the eggs have more to do with the hens' diet rather than weather or regional issues.

          2. The grading process includes many different tests, shell thickness etc. Here's a link, hope it helps.
            I guess the real questions is, 'Where did the farmers market eggs come from?'

            www.incredibleegg.org/egg-facts/eggcy...

            1. Don't bother with eggs from farmer's markets here, they're just regular eggs. Most of the eggs at Japanese and Korean markets in town are far superior.

              6 Replies
              1. re: dmckean

                Second this. I bought a dozen for 99 cents at a Vietnamese market (Thuan Phat) on Saturday and so far, 5 have had double yolks. All very orange rounded in the pan yolks.

                1. re: dmckean

                  That's not true for all the eggs at the farmers markets here (though it is true for some/many of them). For instance, Curtis Womach's eggs and Schaner Farm's eggs are comparable to backyard eggs, they're not regular eggs.

                  It's unfortunate that there are vendors who sell bland, semi-industrial food at farmers markets, because it makes people think that there's nothing great about properly raised food, when there is. Unfortunately just because something is sold at a farmers market (of which there are countless in town) doesn't mean that it is done right. You've got to get to know your farmers, ask them (nicely) to explain what methods they use, try their food, use your palate, and go from there.

                  Also note that in a few weeks we'll be in moulting season, when naturally-raised (non-factory) chickens will lay a lot fewer eggs, so the great egg farmers at the markets won't have enough to meet demand.

                  1. re: dmckean

                    I haven't tried any of the FM's sources, but my favorite eggs for the longest time has been those from Nijiya Market, packaged (if I recall correctly) under their own label. I forget the details of the packaging (they sell several kinds), but it says something like "golden yolk", which indeed they are. Their yolks have a nice deep and saturated orange-yellow color with a good amount of surface tension to keep it's shape until broken...

                    -----
                    Nijiya Market
                    3860 Convoy St # 109, San Diego, CA

                    1. re: cgfan

                      The color of the yolk really has nothing to do with the quality or freshness of the egg. The color completely depends on what the chicken was fed so it can easily be manipulated or dyed. You could even get a purple yolk by feeding it purple flowers. I suppose this is kind of like sushi restaurants dying their fish to make it look more attractive.

                      1. re: DougOLis

                        Understood, and thank you for the caveat. If only we lived in simpler times where such manipulations could be ruled out!

                        In the end I'm taking into account the appearance, performance, taste (where almost all of my egg usage is raw), and the vendor's (Nijiya Market as both brand and vendor, whom I hold in high regard) reputation. And at the risk of oversimplifying, in my experience Japanese producers tend to be, and in particular specialty producers such as Nijiya, sticklers regarding quality. While aesthetics is also highly valued in the culture, seldom is it likely to get in the way of delivering on taste and performance...

                        1. re: DougOLis

                          Indeed, in many parts of Europe, they like their yolks to have a much more orange color than Americans are used to, so it is fairly standard practise to adjust the chicken feed accordingly.

                    2. Seabreeze Organic Farms in Carmel Valley sells fresh eggs. I've never tried them, but it might be worth checking out.

                      www.seabreezed.com

                      1. There are many different egg vendors at local farmers' markets - I wouldn't write off all farmers' market eggs because you got one unsatisfactory lot. I like the ones from Rose Cottage at the North Park market.

                        6 Replies
                        1. re: juantanamera

                          Hi Juantanamera, I wasn't writing off all farmers' market eggs, but I was saying that buying my eggs at a market was how I was attempting to insure that I was getting really great eggs, and that just was not happening. I was willing to pay a premium for small-produced, free range to cage-free eggs, and the quality I was getting in return was sorely disappointing. Until this weekend. I tried the Little Italy Mercato market and bought two dozen from the Descanso Ranch guy, and ding-ding, we have a winner! The shells had excellent strength. The yolk had a deep yellow color and stood up beautifuly. Both the inner and outer white held their shapes and didn't run all over the pan, and the Descanso guy couldn't have been nicer. He even threw in a giant double yolk egg, which I'm going to surprise my kids with tomorrow morning. :) The farmer said he's dry farming and so the food the chickens eat and scavage for is still bugs and whatever, but it won't really be peak season for eggs soon.

                          1. re: DipCone

                            Anyone know if this Descanso Ranch egg guy gets to any other farmer's markets, closer to La Jolla? I'm trying to get off the factory-farmed egg thing.

                            1. re: bizzwriter

                              Learned much about eggs by reading this blog:) Also checked around for A eggs and founds lots of Brown and White eggs of all sizes at Trader Joes in Northpark. Are they that hard to find or was I lucky?

                              1. re: bizzwriter

                                I don't know, but I'll ask him next time I go to Mercato.

                                1. re: DipCone

                                  Thanks, DC!

                                2. re: bizzwriter

                                  I braved the LJ Farmer's Market this morning -- decided that if a parking space just happened to open up as I was driving up Girard, I would stop. No spot, no stop.

                                  So a spot magically opened up, and I parked and wandered in against the rising human tide.

                                  Anyway, I was VERY pleasantly surprised to find Descanso Ranch selling their pastured chicken eggs there. Bought a dozen and am looking forward to trying them out soon. They also sell butchered chickens and chicken feet.

                                  Lots of people selling strawberries, most of which looked not so great. I think the recent rains have created more rot than usual. I decided to pass.

                            2. A little egg science - the thickness of the shells has a whole lot to do with the age of the chicken. Pullets (young female chickens) sometimes lay eggs that don't even have shells and older chickens may lay eggs that have thinner shells - so basically, hens at the peak of thier child-bearing years lay the eggs with the best shells.

                              The other thing that affects the shell thickness is the amount of calcium the chickens eat (the shells ARE calcium). Free range chickens may have more calcium - if they truly are free range - because they can eat dirt, bugs and other little critters (WTF is a vegetarian chicken anyway?), but many chicken farmers supplement the chicken's diet with ground oyster shells to add calcium. I don't know if this is true, but I'm pretty sure the breed of chicken also has an impact on the thickness of the shells. There are some breeds that just simply lay more eggs and I gotta figure that it has an impact.

                              As far as freshness - can't help you there. I buy most of my eggs at the farmers market because I SUPPORT THE FARMERS, not Safeway. My best recommendation is to form a relationship with a farmer - I go to the same one each week - and tell them when you're not happy. I've bought eggs that I didn't think were up to par and told them the next week and was reimbursed. These people are not there for charity, so they're going to try to move all the product they have, just like any other business. Ask them for the freshest dozen they have.

                              And bring the carton back. Why not recycle it?

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: krisinsd

                                Thanks for the info Kris -- here's a question: Which chickens are more apt to lay jumbo or double-yolk eggs?

                                1. re: bizzwriter

                                  My grandparents owned a chicken ranch when I was growing up. They had Rhode Island Reds exclusively. We got jumbo eggs pretty regularly and double yolk eggs were not that uncommon. We even got triple yolk eggs, now *those* were pretty rare.

                                  1. re: DiningDiva

                                    TRIPLE yolks??? Wow!

                              2. Wow, what an in depth discussion! I'm a cheerleader for the shaner farm eggs, sold at the little italy farmers market. I find that I can usually perch outside their stand at the 3 min parking at the church and run and get eggs and goodies without getting too caught up in the crowds!

                                I'm always amazed at how much thicker their shells are, they are actually hard to break sometimes! They also come in wonderful colors, blues and a pretty green in the spring and summer months if you're lucky!

                                This brings up something that makes me pretty sad, I remember a while back at the la jolla farmers market I asked if they were free range and they didnt even know what I meant and I was very sad. I think its important to ask the vendors as they may be battery eggs that are fed all kinds of rubbish even if they are sold at the farmers market and you'd be better off at your local supermarket.

                                9 Replies
                                1. re: jennywenny

                                  Yeah -- I was scouting out the eggs at the LJ Farmer's market yesterday VERY closely. That's why I was so happy to find that Descanso Ranch was there -- they will teach you a CLASS on free range and pastured chickens if you give them the chance. A couple of other people had eggs too -- one a seller of bread. I steered clear of those folks.

                                  1. re: jennywenny

                                    + 1 Shaner Farms eggs, my favorite in the county.

                                    1. re: jennywenny

                                      I recommend getting some birds. I have a mix of bantams and other breeds, not many, 7 actually. The eggs are tasty and they "free range" in my yard, HA!

                                      Spring thru fall I end up with more eggs than I know what to do with so i give out cartons to the neighbors.

                                      Actually quite a few folks in GH area have chickens.

                                      1. re: kriot

                                        Isn't it illegal to raise chickens in the city of San Diego?

                                        1. re: DougOLis

                                          No its not illegal in the city of SD. If I remember correctly you can have up to 25 chickens and the coops need to be something like 50ft away from neighboring houses or something like that. Roosters however are illegal. besides, they make an incredible amount of noise.

                                          If its eggs for just yourself and like another person, 2 larger birds would probably be enough. Rhode Island reds pump out an insane amount of eggs.

                                          In the middle of the summer I probably get anywhere from 5-8 eggs a day from 7 birds. I dont eat nearly that many eggs so I give most of em away.

                                          Egg production aside, I love having them, they're pretty great.

                                          1. re: kriot

                                            Yeah, but given the property size of most houses in the city it seems difficult to find a place that's not within 50 feet of another house (much less your own).

                                            1. re: DougOLis

                                              If there are no complaints from neighbors, then it won't be an issue.

                                          2. re: DougOLis

                                            If it is it's not being enforced. More than a few home-based chicken flocks wandering the hills and dells of La Jolla. No roosters allowed, however, unless you want to piss off your neighbors! The only reason I don't have chickens is that we have a large group of raccoons (up to 12) that visits us daily for a late-night snack.

                                            1. re: bizzwriter

                                              Yup, there's a few skunks here that try to get into the coop every now and then. Since I dont have very many its easy to put them in the coop but they all go in as soon as the sun starts to go down anyways.

                                              If you're going to have loads of birds then I'd suggest running it by the neighbors first but if its just a few, I wouldnt worry. You only have noise issues if you have a rooster.

                                      2. Curtis Womach was selling his eggs at the Hillcrest FM yesterday and he had quite a few of them.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: DougOLis

                                          Good to know, thanks.