We at Lassen’s love to support both local and family companies, and Santa Barbara Pistachio Company is both! High in the mountains above Ojai in Maricopa, their groves withstand some harsh conditions. But Josh, Tristan, and their parents work to bring these very special nuts to our shelves. Josh welcomed me to their beautiful farm to watch the harvest late in the fall.
Challenges and Benefits
The family bought 40 acres in the 1980s, producing a crop of delicious salted nuts. As they grew, they branched out into unique and delicious flavors. Today they farm 430 acres. At an elevation of 3000 ft, their growing season is somewhat shorter than the Central Valley operations. But up there, bugs and fungi are less of a threat to the health of the trees. Occasionally the biggest threat — a deep freeze — will take the whole crop.
Despite the difficulties, Josh feels that they exist in a grower’s sweet spot, just right for smaller retailers and farmer’s markets. Certified Organic by CCOF, Santa Barbara Pistachios are healthy, nutritious, delicious, and produced using environmentally friendly practices. The blue skies are an added bonus!
There’s so much to learn!
The trees, which take six years to produce the first crop, are harvested by shaking the ripe nuts off of the branches. A large harvester, equipped with giant trays, clamps onto the trunk and shakes quickly. The nuts, with a fuzzy pink outer husk, fall into the trays, then are transported to a warehouse for processing. Trees are fully mature at fifteen years. The farm plants one male tree for every 27 female trees, and the trees are pollinated by wind during a 14-day pollination period. The trees also have alternating high and low production years.
The nuts grow inside the hard shell that we know so well. As the nut fills out, it outgrows the shell and cracks it open. A cracked shell is an indication that the nuts are ready for harvest. Josh and I tasted some nuts right off of the tree, and the taste and texture reminded me of pine nuts, without the pine part 🙂
Great Care and Creativity
Once harvested and sorted, the nuts are hulled (the pink husk removed) and dried within 24 hours. The pink of the husk can stain the shells if it is not removed right away. If you are old enough, you may remember that most commercial pistachios used to be bright red. That was an old practice to hide that the nuts were not processed in a timely manner and the shells were stained. The producers decided to just dye everything instead of processing quickly!
Once hulled and dried, the nuts are held raw in cold storage until roasting. This keeps the moisture and oil levels just right. Nothing is roasted until needed by their retailers. SB Pistachio company is really proud of their flavoring process, and their flavors. There is so much creativity and care! Flavors are not just sprayed onto the nuts, but carefully incorporated. Slow roasting with low heat preserves the oil content, and same-day packaging and sealing increases the quality of the nuts.
Josh and his family take care every step of the way to make sure the pistachios on our shelves are the tastiest and best quality pistachios around. And bonus, they are local, independent, and family-owned and run! Wins all around!