Newcastle Produce: Food Lover’s Paradise

A rainbow of fresh produce on display.

You’ve been hearing a lot from Lynn lately, happily gallivanting about Spain for a month, but you haven’t heard much from me in a while. I founded Sacatomato five years ago with Jennifer Cliff and then welcomed Lynn as a co-blogger several years later. As fellow food fanatics, we’re always excited to talk about something we’ve eaten, grown, cooked, bought, or heard about. However, just as our gardens grow and change with the seasons (and years), so my interests have been growing and changing. Therefore, I’m not going to be blogging here much anymore–just occasionally if Lynn needs another voice. She’ll be (wo)manning the Sacatomato stove for you and reporting on all the good flavors she finds. I’ll be heading towards new adventures–food related, of course–and I’ll let you know about them as they coalesce. You can also continue to find me in the pages of the Sacramento News & Review, where I write the “Eat it and Reap” column and for a few weeks the “Homegrown” column as well. As soon as my new digs are settled, I’ll do a guest post here and include lots of links and info!

In the meantime, I want to tell you about the fantastic lunch I had at Newcastle Produce this past Wednesday. It’s hard to believe I’ve never been there before, since I’ve lived in Sac for almost nine years. My friend Amber and I were lucky enough to join Joanne Neft for lunch that day. She is a legendary figure in the local farming community for her role as founder of the Placer County farmer’s markets and the Mountain Mandarin Festival. She’s also the author of the gorgeous and inspiring seasonal cookbook Placer County Real Food from Farmers Markets. And she’s the owner of the original packing sheds in the little town of Newcastle that served as the hub for California produce shipping in the early 20th century. This is where Newcastle Produce is now sited.

Just forty seconds off of 80E, between Rocklin and Auburn, Newcastle Produce is housed in a peach-colored building visible from the freeway. A few short turns and you arrive at the front of a lovely grocery store in a warehouse district. Inside are small tables and chairs, a deli, and an amazing array of local, seasonal products–particularly fresh produce. The walls are covered in hand-painted murals and old fruit crate labels. Various old farm implements decorate the tops of cold cases and shelves.

Scrumptious sauces for sale.

The deli offers a variety of sandwiches, salads, and soups, and you can combine them in all kinds of tasty ways. I chose a two-salad sampler and was rewarded with a chunky curried chicken with crisp bites of green apple and a creamy sauce. My other choice was a broccoli salad made of the smallest florets of crunchy broccoli, large hunks of crisp bacon, and golden raisins. Crackers or fresh bread come on the side and we snapped up a big ginger cookie to share. Joanne and Amber both chose an Asian noodle salad, and I remember a chickpea salad, corn and black bean salad, and flatbread sandwiches as well.

Some of the cookies for sale were the size of a baby’s head, but even more exciting was the array of authentic-looking scones. Blueberry-cornmeal, pear-cardamom, white chocolate, something with honey. They all looked fantastic. As it turns out, they were. It’s hard to find a good scone in the Sacramento area. I’m particular about wanting a crumbly texture that’s more biscuity than muffiny. Many bakers seem to think that scones are just triangular muffins, which they most certainly should not be. These were a bit crunchy on the outside after warming, with loads of buttery flavor and a tender texture. It’s a good thing they’re not closer to me.

Newcastle Produce is run by Jan Thompson, proprietor of Twin Brooks Farm with her husband Francis. As a third-generation Placer County farmer, Jan knows the region well. She showcases seasonal produce from her farm and others in the area, indicating for each its source and variety. In addition to the produce, there are shelves upon shelves of local tasties like fresh cheeses, wines, candies, sauces, jams, and dried goods. We left with some local popcorn, raisins, pickled beets, and a sampler of three kinds of basil. I spied a wall of dried spices, lots of local honey, and a variety of cookbooks, including Joanne’s.

While it may seem a bit far to go for lunch, you’ll be duly rewarded with the kind of farm-fresh, perfectly gorgeous food that we should be able to find far more frequently in this huge agricultural area. Newcastle Produce does a wonderful job of celebrating our incredible local bounty. Next time you’re headed to North Tahoe or Reno, you have to drop in for a sandwich and gourmet supplies. Next time you just want an outstanding lunch in a lovely, quiet location, you have to drop everything and head up to Newcastle Produce.

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