Unless you are buying straight off a produce stand, or build your salad from scratch, the chances are good that the salad ingredients you buy at the grocery store came from Taylor Farms, the world’s largest producer of cut vegetables. Chains like Chipotle and McDonald’s depend on them, as do school lunchrooms across the county.
With their main office in Salinas, Taylor Farms, a BenitoLink intern program sponsor, is also one of the most important businesses in San Benito County. Their packaging plant in San Juan Bautista draws from nearby growers as part of their network of over 100 local farms. Taylor Farms is a major local employer and has over 20,000 workers across the country.
The vegetables in these creatively planned salads are all sourced from San Benito and Monterey counties.
This author and sampler has been an avid fan of Taylor Farms Chopped Salad Kits for a while now—with a little chopped meat added for extra protein, they make a fast and simple breakfast when I am trying to hit deadlines. And they are great for light dinners too, when you don’t want to cook but still have something tasty and fresh to eat.
I was invited by Rachel Molatore, director of sales and communication, and Charis Neves, director of innovation and product management, to come to their kitchen at the Salinas headquarters to try a selection drawn from the nearly 30 different kits they produce.
With flavors like Creamy Dill Pickle, Tangerine Crunch, Strawberry Rosé, and Buffalo Ranch, some of the salad kits take totally unexpected directions in a bid to brighten taste buds.
“We have tried to reinvent salads with fun, cool, hip flavors,” said Neves, who has been working at Taylor Farms for six years. “We ask ourselves how can we get people excited about eating salads and we work to come up with flavors they would not have anticipated historically.”
Neves scours cooking blogs and recipes on websites, but her greatest source of inspiration is local grocery stores.
“My favorite thing to do is to pursue the craft beverage, ice cream, and potato chip aisles,” Neves said. “I think they are doing a lot of creative and fun things with foods like those and that is how our Maple Bourbon kit was developed. Maple bourbon is very on-trend right now. You see it in ice cream, potato chips, candy bars, and things like that, so we decided to see if it would work as a salad.”
The first kits were first produced in 2012, with three versions that are still available: Broccoli Crunch, Southwest, and Asian.
“We were looking for a way to chop and dice vegetables that had never been done before,” Neves said. “Traditionally, salad kits usually were the whole leaf with a very rudimentary course cut. We started working with shredded and diced vegetables which you could do in your own home but would take you a lot of time. We also are able to incorporate herbs, like cilantro in our Asian and Southwest kits.”
Finding the right combinations of veggies and ingredients is an art in itself.
“When I develop the kits, I start with the dressings,” she said. “For example, I think that vinaigrettes work better with romaine lettuce because you want a light flavor, but with something like kale, you want creamier dressings like poppyseed because it breaks down the bitterness. The sweetness of the dressing balances it out.”
One thing about the kits that I particularly like are spot-on dressings and the combination of vegetables. They have gotten me to eat things I never would have eaten before, like broccoli. For Neves, this is one of the best reactions.
“We hear from parents a lot that this is a great way to get them to eat their vegetables,” she said. “The way everything is chopped makes it more ‘forkable’ as well, so they can get all the flavors in their mouths at the same time.”
Both Neves and Molatore say that currently, their favorite salad is the Dill Pickle Kit.
“A lot of people think about dill pickle and their faces kind of scrunch up,” Neves said. “But we took the dill flavor and a little of the pickle brine and we mixed it with ranch dressing and added a cornbread crouton crumble—I could eat a bag of it in one sitting and not give it a second thought.”
Some of the salads are seasonal. The watermelon will be available through September, for example, and will be replaced by a salad with a spiced apple dressing. But most of the versions are available year-round at markets across the county and can be found locally at the major chains as well as Windmill Market in San Juan Bautista and Hollister Super in Hollister. (Note: See Eat, Drink, Savor series underwriter info at the bottom of this article.)
All of the salad kits come complete with dressings that have sophisticated flavor for a kit and excellent texture. A lot of thought has also gone into the refreshing variety of toppings like croutons, nuts, or bacon bits, and vegetables come pre-washed and ready to serve.
The Salads of Taylor Farms
Asian Chopped Kit – Made with Savoy cabbage, green cabbage, carrots, celery, and green onion with wontons, seasoned, toasted almonds, and a sesame vinaigrette. “You don’t see the Savoy cabbage very often in salads and the light dressing really works well with it,” said Neves. I like the sweetness of the dressing and there is a little bit of pineapple juice in it to add some tartness. The crispness of the veggies and the brightness of the dressing make it a perfect summer salad. There is a little spice kick to the dressing that would complement a chilled white wine nicely.
Sweet Kale Chopped Kit – Made with kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, radicchio, cranberries and pumpkin seeds with a poppyseed dressing. According to Neves, this is currently the best-selling salad kit across the country. I had avoided buying this one because the three main greens have never been favorites of mine, but this salad won me over. The leathery kale makes this a denser, chewier salad than the Asian salad and Neves described it as substantial enough to be a main meal option. This would be great served with grilled flank steak and full-bodied red wine.
Watermelon Crunch Chopped Kit – Made with romaine lettuce and radicchio with roasted almonds and roasted white watermelon seeds along with feta cheese and a watermelon-lime vinaigrette. Another one I have seen and not bought, this one seemed too whimsical for my tastes. And I was wrong. This seasonal salad, introduced last year and available for a limited time, is my strongest recommendation of any of the salad kits. The dressing is the star here, with the lime in the vinaigrette helping the watermelon from being too sweet and it adds a delightful tartness. The crunch of the nuts and seeds is countered by the creamy feta cheese. With some grilled chicken or shrimp you have a perfect summertime meal—so be sure to grab it before it goes away in September. There’s a little bit of San Benito County in every kit.
Maple Bourbon Bacon Chopped Kit – This is one of my favorites at home. Made with romaine lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, green onion, and carrots, it is topped with bacon bits and toasted honey almonds along with a sweet maple bourbon vinaigrette. The composition of the vinaigrette is in the style of a rich BBQ sauce and I could see serving this with tri-tip or prime rib. I like to toss in some warmed cubed ham and have it for dinner. There is actual bourbon in the dressing, so there is a very slight alcohol content which Neves said is the equivalent that you would find in vanilla.
Mediterranean Crunch Chopped Kit – This one is produced at the San Juan Bautista facility and is made with organic romaine, chicory, broccoli, cauliflower, red cabbage, and carrots. There is some crunch from flatbread strips and some creaminess from feta cheese. It comes with a beautifully aromatic sweet basil vinaigrette. Unlike the other kits, this is a Costco exclusive.
Organic Lemon Parmesan Chopped Kit – This is the newest salad kit, made with romaine lettuce, kale, and radicchio, and topped with parmesan cheese and garlic Romano crouton crumbles. The key to this one is the herbed lemon vinaigrette, more for a mature palate than for kids who love ranch dressing. The lemon is somewhat subdued but still bright. This can be served with fish or chicken but I think it would go nicely with grilled tofu as well. This is another San Juan Bautista-made product.
BenitoLink thanks our underwriters, Hollister Super and Windmill Market, for helping to expand the Eat, Drink, Savor series and give our readers the stories that interest them. Hollister Super (two stores in Hollister) and Windmill Market (in San Juan Bautista) support reporting on the inspired and creative people behind the many delicious food and drink products made in San Benito County. All editorial decisions are made by BenitoLink.