Last week, I was invited to attend a special dinner put on by Backyard Farms and Chef Michael Serpa from Neptune Oyster, at Cercone Brown. The evening showcased Backyard Farms tomatoes, featuring an expensive tomato tasting and talk with Pete Lewis from Backyard Farms, and a salad demonstration by Chef Michael Serpa using Backyard Farms tomatoes. It was a lovely evening, despite the sweltering heat outside – great food, great company, and lots of tomato knowledge!
Backyard Farms hails from Madison, Maine, where the tomatoes are grown in a 42-acre greenhouse all year round. They distribute all over New England and even down into Maryland – wherever they can drive within just one day, they go! You can find the tomatoes in Whole Foods, Shaws and Hannaford, just to name a few. Typically the tomatoes go from vine to store shelves in just a couple of days, meaning the product you purchase is as fresh as can be. Since they have the benefit of the greenhouse, you can get their tomatoes from July to January and anytime in between, and they will always taste the same. Exciting to know for winters when it seems like a ripe tomato is far from possible. Another neat thing about their greenhouse is the fact that it houses about 40,000 bumble bees at any given time, which are kept to pollinate the plants. There is even a dedicated beekeeper!
Backyard Farms is a unique company in that they treat their employees at a standard not typically seen in the agriculture industry. They offer generous compensation and benefits packages to all of their growers, which in turn draws growers who are very dedicated to their tomatoes. Each grower – or “personal gardener” as they are fondly known – is assigned a set of rows, which they alone can tend to and harvest, so their is a lot of ownership and personal satisfaction associated with their work.
Backyard Farms produces three types of tomatoes: Tomatoes on the Vine, Beefsteak Tomatoes, and Cocktail Tomatoes. We got to sample all three, and I have to say, they are all DELICIOUS. They all have different properties – the beefsteak being much beefier (of course), the cocktail tomatoes being much sweeter.
I learned a fun few tips for tomato use that I didn’t know – first, you NEVER put tomatoes in the refrigerator. I should have known this, because when you go to the store you don’t see tomatoes refrigerated, but I have ALWAYS kept mine chilled… and as a result always have grainy tomatoes. So if you’re ever considering throwing your tomatoes in the veggie crisper, DON’T DO IT! You will ruin a perfectly good tomato. We were also taught to always use a serrated knife to cut tomatoes, which I have since found is so much easier than other knives. It makes a nice, clean slice, and doesn’t bruise your tomato.
After we tried copious amounts of fresh tomatoes, Chef Serpa form Neptune Oyster walked us through the assembly of two salads – a lobster caprese that is on the menu at Neptune, and another salad made with olives and anchovies that he developed specially for the evening. Chef Serpa was very friendly and informative, and didn’t take himself too seriously which I appreciated coming from such a talented chef. The lobster caprese was easily my favorite thing we had all evening, loaded with lobster, tomatoes on the vine and fresh mozzarella. That salad was dressed in olive oil and lemon, and seasoned with basil and chives. It was light, refreshing, and so incredibly delicious. I need to make a visit to Neptune just to try it again.
The second salad was made with celery leaves, shaved radishes, micro greens, wild arugula (from local Verrill Farm), backyard farms cocktail tomatoes, and white anchovies. This salad was seasoned similarly to the lobster caprese, with lemon, salt and olive oil. It was served on a toasted Iggy’s baguette, with an olive puree smear. This salad was also very tasty, with a lot of contrasting flavors and textures.
Overall the night was a lot of fun, and I was glad to learn more about a really great product and company. I’ll definitely be purchasing Backyard Farms tomatoes in the future, not only because the tomatoes are incredible, but also because I like to support local businesses that are doing great things. If you’re interested in trying them yourself, look out for a little blue label on your tomatoes, or a cute little blue box which houses the cocktail tomatoes.
Disclaimer: This evening was provided to me free of cost, though all opinions and views expressed here are my own.