Napa Valley: Come for the Wine, Stay for the Apricots

 
Napa Valley, world famous for its wines, is also a Mecca for artisanal food created from local farm produce. And, one of the best kept secrets in the fancy food business is Katz & Co., creators of olive oil, fancy vinegars, honey and preserves.
 
I met Kim and Albert Katz several years ago when I did magazine story on Orleans vinegar—a centuries-old technique using live yeast and nearly a year’s aging in oak barrels to produce bright, fruity and versatile wine vinegars. Very little vinegar using the Orleans method is produced in the U.S., which makes Kim and Albert’s vinegars all the more interesting. Of course, I fell in love with them and the high-quality food they create.
 
Katz & Co. is tucked into an artist’s community along the Napa River, out of the way from the usual tourist haunts, but easy to find. I was recently invited to an open kitchen and tasting and since I needed some Cabernet sauvignon vinegar decided to drop by. My nephew Justin’s wife, Teresa, went along. We picked up some preserves for Justin, who has a sweet tooth when it comes to jams and jellies. I couldn’t wait for Teresa to meet Kim and Albert. They’re real and funny and served us strawberry preserves over homemade vanilla ice cream in their kitchen.
 



More artists studio than food manufacturing plant
Kim and Albert have just released their latest batch of apricot preserves made from heirloom Blenheim apricots…delicate, flavorful fruits that for nearly 100 years were synonymous with California apricot growing. But as you may know, they’re rapidly vanishing from the market as urban sprawl gobbles the Bay Area’s once abundant orchards and development of new varieties, with firmer flesh,  but lighter flavor, are taking their place.

Beautiful Teresa Claire on the Napa River
 
 

“We’re pretty stubborn around here,” Albert said. “We continue—as we have for nearly 30 years—to to seek out these little jewels that once graced the Luxembourg Gardens in the 19th century where they were known as Royals. They represent our transition into summer and as my ‘salty-mouthed’ father would have said, ‘it will be a cold day in hell’… before I use a variety other than Blenheim’s to make our preserves. OK, I added the last part!
 

The couple was fortunate to have met a family of farmers in Brentwood, CA ‘back in the day,’ that still refuses to take out their Blenheim trees even though they would do better in the market with the newer varieties. First Ken, then his son Mark, and now the third generation, Patrick, are still happy to offer Kim and Albert their apricot harvest every summer.

Albert said this year the crop came in a bit early as the warmer spring has pushed all the California stone fruit ahead. Albert said this year the fruit flavor is complex and reaches its height of tastiness for only a few weeks. The finished preserves are a balance of sweetness and acidity dancing with the aroma and singing out its true apricot flavor.

If you long for the taste of California summer, Katz & Co. has the answer. Most of their small batch preserves sell out, even at a fancy price. It’s best to buy now, available online for shipping, and stick a few jars in the back of the pantry. Pull them out when it seems winter will never end and feel the warm kiss of California on your lips.

 

 

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