PHOTOGRAPHY BY MICHELLE MAGDALENA
A duck egg business in Hollister and Gonzales takes flight
Duck, duck, goose. The children’s game comes to mind while touring the Gonzales ranch that is home to thousands of waterfowl and other birds. It also is the birthplace of the Metzer Farms hatchery and its recent spinoff, Olinday Farms. Ducks shuffle around their covered pens and eye visitors suspiciously, letting out low quacks of alarm.
Their attitude does not faze Olinday president Marc Metzer as he walks through the ranch, pointing out some of the more unusual breeds, like the Rouen, a meat duck that is twice the size of mallards, and the white golden, developed by his father to produce lots and lots of eggs. It’s the white golden and another breed, the golden 300, that are Olinday’s premier fresh egg layers.
The younger Metzer is now setting out to make Olinday a household name—or if not quite that, then at least a familiar and trusted name in culinary circles.
Many local chefs are already on board, like Todd Fisher, who uses Olinday eggs in his offerings at Carmel Valley’s Folktale Winery and Seventh & Dolores steakhouse in Carmel. Chef Brandon Miller also uses them at Il Grillo in Carmel, as does Soerke Peters at Mezzaluna in Pacific Grove. “It’s a unique item that chefs at white tablecloth restaurants really like,” says Metzer.
Metzer, 33, grew up along with his family’s business on the east side of Gonzales in south Monterey County. Metzer Farms, founded in 1972 by Marc’s grandfather Olin and now run by Marc’s father John, is a top U.S. hatchery, supplying live ducklings and chicks to farms, and really, to anyone who wants a duck (minimum order two).
From the beginning, though, the ranch also sold duck eggs on the side—brined eggs and balut for Asian cuisine, and some fresh eggs as well. Several years ago, the Metzers realized that requests for fresh eggs were on the upswing and Olinday was founded to keep up with burgeoning demand from chefs and consumers.
Ducks and duck eggs are all the rage right now, a trend helped along via eco blogs and Instagram. Organic farmers have discovered the birds to be an easy and sustainable way to control bugs and slugs, which ducks gobble up avidly as they forage. Ducks are less destructive to gardens than chickens tend to be, and they also live longer, are subject to fewer diseases and parasites, and produce a higher quantity of eggs.
Followers of the paleo diet love the higher fat and nutrient content of duck eggs, and people who are allergic to chicken eggs like having duck eggs as an option. Home cooks who take their craft seriously enjoy the opportunity to experiment with the creamy, rich flavors that duck eggs lend to dishes that range from frittatas to crème brûlées. Duck eggs are slightly more expensive than chicken eggs—currently the supermarket price runs about $6.99 for a package of six—but you also use fewer eggs per recipe, with two duck eggs substituting for three chicken eggs.
That’s because duck eggs are about a halfounce larger and due to their thicker shells, have a longer shelf life of up to 10 weeks.
Duck eggs also have a slightly higher yolk-towhite ratio and the whites are thicker and less watery, and have almost twice the protein of chicken eggs, in addition to generous helpings of vitamin A, choline, iron and folate.
Right now, Metzer and his crew are playing a guessing game, trying to determine where sales will be in six months so they can make sure to meet the demand. Currently, Olinday produces 25,000 to 30,000 eggs a week for distribution to numerous restaurants as well as 70 grocery stores throughout Northern California, including Andronico’s in Monterey, Staff of Life in Santa Cruz and Hollister Super locations in San Benito County. Plans call for expanding to markets in Southern California.
You could say Olinday has a lot of lucky ducks. Currently, 9,000 egg producers are housed at the Olinday ranch in Hollister, where they live in large open-sided barns that protect them from weather and predators, and Olinday staff takes pains to keep the birds in good spirits.
“Ducks need to be content and happy for good egg production,” says Metzer. “They need a stress-free life. So they have feed and water any time they want it, and our employees are trained not to frighten or spook them in any way.”
The ducks at the Hollister facility get conventional feed, but Olinday will soon have a flock in Gonzales that will be fed an organic mix and will be able to forage in a grassy pasture. Metzer is putting the finishing touches on a duck pen that can be moved from place to place, constructed from a carport kit and “pieces from Amazon,” and will have solar panels to provide lighting. That way, Olinday will be able to offer organic eggs to consumers in the near future.
Next challenge: convincing packaging manufacturers to produce six-pack duck egg cartons made from paper fiber, a more sustainable choice than the current polystyrene type. “People are asking for that,” Metzer says.