In the dairy section of your neighborhood grocery store is a collection of eggs in medium, large and extra-large sizes, with either white or brown shells and of various terms describing rearing practices. Some chickens have been fed diets with sources of Omega-3; others, a vegetarian diet. Some cartons say "cage free," which means just that: these chickens have not been confined to a cage. But that does not mean the chickens are outside — ever. Free-range eggs come from uncaged hens that typically have outside access. But it's important to note that the free-range designation is for meat-producing chickens and not egg-laying hens. There are no standards for "free-range" egg production. USDA-certified organic eggs come from uncaged hens that have outdoor access and a 100-percent organic, all-vegetarian diet. Additionally, certified organic standard compliance is audited by a third party.
When did buying a dozen eggs become so complicated?
Even the most expensive and descriptive carton of industrial eggs will pale (literally, in both yolk color and taste) in comparison to the eggs you can buy directly from a farmer at any of our area farmers markets. Since egg production is linked to hours of sunlight, spring begins the season for eggs.
At the farmers markets, you will find cartons with assorted eggshell colors. Shell color is related to a hen's earlobe color. Breeds with white earlobes, like Leghorns, typically lay white eggs. The Araucana, a South American fowl, lays blue or bluish-green eggs, while the red-lobed Rhode Island Red and Plymouth Rock lay brown eggs.
Shell color has little to do with flavor or the color of the yolk, though. Pastured hens' egg yolks have a perceptibly more intense and deeper color than store-bought egg yolks. Additionally an egg's nutritional content, and perhaps flavor, is dictated by the diet: Pastured chickens are natural omnivores and forage for worms, insects, grains, broadleaf plants and grass. Many argue that the flavor is the same, whether the egg is super fresh from a farmer or a 30-day-old egg from the grocery store. I disagree. Farm-fresh yolks are full-flavored, with a creamy mouth feel, not runny and flat-tasting. They cost more, but are worth it. Farm eggs will run from $4 to $6 per dozen.
Local Eggs: Saturdays, local section of Building "B," Charlotte Regional Farmers Market, 1801 Yorkmont Road; or any area farmers market.
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