For many in modern America, the egg-buying routine is pretty simple: Grab a dozen chicken eggs during your weekly shopping trip and call it a day. Eggs from the grocery store make for easy one-stop shopping — but you’re missing a whole array of eggs produced by farmers across the state.
Eggs in the Granite State basket
Jon Dowie, co-owner of Dowie Farm in Derry, has sold duck eggs for the past six years and quail eggs for the past year. The Coturnix quail eggs are available year round, while the Metzer, Cayuga and an array of other duck breeds — each producing a different colored egg like black, gray or blue-green — are available from April to November.
With just over half an acre of space on their farm, Dowie said they decided to focus on niche egg markets from the start.
“But on the same note we liked ducks from the beginning. They’re just fun to watch,” he said. “They’re really like a flock of clowns.”
Jim Czack, owner of Élevage de Volailles in Rye, has seasonal chocolate turkey eggs, as well as year-round Leghorn chicken eggs and Khaki Campbell or Peking duck eggs. The duck and turkey eggs he sells because he raises both of those birds, while the chicken eggs he added purely for their popularity and demand.
Max Benedikt of Benedikt Dairy in Goffstown sells standard brown chicken eggs simply because that’s what people want.
“It’s something that people really like [that] we can produce [and] make a notable difference,” he said. “The egg quality is better than what you can get in a large-scale quantity distribution system.”
Available year round, he currently has 400 laying hens that could get up to 700 starting in April.
Chicken eggs are the most familiar to most people, and lately Benedikt has noticed the state making a turn back to local eggs.
“Commercial egg production was a real economic factor [in New Hampshire], and I think that changed around the ’60s and ’70s,” he said. “You can still see [poultry barns] when you drive around. … You can see the remnants of the egg industry.”
Appreciating the uptick on more than an individual level, Benedikt thinks access to local farm products fosters a better understanding of how people, food and the region are interconnected.
“You’re actually eating the food that the land produces around you,” he said. “It’s important that farms are viable economically and operating in our neighborhood so the farmland is being taken care of and preserving the farming heritage.”
The shift to the eat local movement has influenced local chicken egg producers like Terry Yianakopolos, co-owner of McDougall Farm in Goffstown, who says more people now want to know exactly where their food comes from.
“Whether it’s vegetables, beef, our own meat, the eggs — everybody is worried about the living conditions of the animals [or] if they’ve ingested any form of chemical. People are trying to stay away from anything injected with anything,” Yianakopolos said.
The experience of buying local eggs — going to a farm and seeing the chicken that lays your eggs — may give more meaning to the food, Benedikt said.
Duck egg dynasty
Unlike the commonly known chicken, local producers of other eggs have had a harder time finding or even making a market in the state. Czack estimates he sells 700 dozen duck eggs each year.
“That’s very small scale,” Czack said. “The profit margin doesn’t even buy you lunch, to be honest with you.”
Eggs are not his main focus on the farm, he said, but since he raises ducks and turkeys and they’re going to lay eggs whether he hatches them or not, he figured he might as well sell them to help pay for the breeders.
Czack said he and Andy Roberts of Emergent Farm in Kensington are working to create a market for duck eggs on the seacoast.
“It’s all education,” he said. “You just have to keep talking to people.”
Education played a big roll for Dowie Farm’s eggs as well. When they first started selling duck eggs, they always had an excess. Selling them for $5 a dozen, they were losing money.
“I looked at [my fiancee] and said, ‘People don’t know what duck eggs are around here,’” Dowie said. “We’re going to create a market.”
So they started selling in downtown Derry and talking with people about the benefits of duck eggs. At first they filled the niche market at health food stores — the protein level and non-alkaline aspects were a big draw — and now the market has grown to the point where last year they sold hundreds of dozens of duck eggs.
If you’re unsure about substituting a new egg into your recipe, you’re not alone. Fortunately, most changes are minor and only alter the heat or cooking time.
“The … catch with a duck egg is it’s more protein so you want to cook it on a lower heat and slower,” Dowie said. “With quail you’re going to do the same with chicken eggs, but [for less time]. I do all the quail sunny side up … don’t even bother flipping them.”
If you want to bake with quail eggs in a recipe that calls for chicken, just use more eggs. Dowie said you can substitute three quail eggs for one chicken egg.
One of his favorite ways to eat fresh eggs is a homemade shake recipe he came up with that calls for duck or quail egg. To start, take eight quail eggs, six ounces of heavy cream or milk (almond, goat or coconut will work), half a teaspoon each of cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla and turmeric, and a sweetener of choice (he uses stevia, but you can try honey, maple syrup or sugar). Put everything in the blender, mix on a low speed and voila. You can also substitute some of the cream or milk with cold coffee or add some raw organic cocoa powder for a twist.
“I eat a lot of raw eggs here because I know where they come from and have never had an issue. … [I] wouldn’t go to a store and eat raw eggs,” Dowie said. “With quail … salmonella is supposed to be unlikely because the body temp of the quail itself, they are not a host for it.”
Cooking with duck egg is an easy substitution for chicken — it’s a one-to-one ratio — but both Dowie and Czack said that with the higher fat content and albumin they make for much fluffier baking.
“What you’ll find is your pastries and cakes will stay moist longer at a much softer consistency,” Czack said. “Anything you taste becomes more voluminous.”
For Benedikt, nothing beats cooking with a fresh chicken egg.
“When you crack it open the egg white should hold together, the yolk should be a nice ball in the middle,” he said. “The thing is, if you can make a good poached egg with it, it’s a good egg.”
His favorite way to eat eggs is poached with salt and pepper served on a piece of bread with butter.