Nothing but almonds
BY DENNIS WYATT
One of the biggest joys of Di Quaresma’s life is almonds.
She started working in an almond orchard as a 4-year-old on her father David Lawton’s 20-acre orchard on Northland Road just north of Manteca near New Haven School by placing milk cartoons around young trees for protection.
Her husband Daryll is a third-generation farmer who grows mostly almonds along with wine grapes on more than 800 acres.
Then there is her “baby” — the unique Almondee almond butter that is the only one on the market to be made from 100 percent pure almonds. Nothing else has been added. Not oils, not salt, and not anything to mask anything. It’s just almonds. That’s it.
To drive home the point Quaresma on the Almondee label that lists the ingredients as “dry roasted California almonds” placed larger lettering below it proclaiming “That’s it!”
“People can’t believe there are only almonds in it and nothing else,” Quaresma said.
Quaresma founded California Almonds, LCC, originally to market one-pound bags of whole raw almonds over the Internet.
Sales took off mainly because you can’t find one-pound containers of raw almonds in stores.
When looking for another product she noticed all of the almond butter brands the market added ingredients and didn’t taste as good as the almonds that she grew up with and those that her husband grows. To top it some of the leading brands aren’t even made in California where 100 percent of the nation’s almond crop is grown. That means they have little control over the quality of one of the most important ingredients — and what she believes should be the only ingredient — almonds.
So, she used knowledge gleaned from working in the family almond orchard while growing up and tapping into the wealth of information about almonds that comes from not only being close to those that grow them but also a lifetime of exploring ways of working almonds into recipes, to come up with Almondee.
Her big break came when Save Mart decided to add Almondee to the shelves of their 200 plus stores throughout Northern California and Northern Nevada that also includes S-Mart, Lucky and FoodMaxx stores.
At first they turned Quaresma down.
“They said they already carried a lot of almond butter brands,” Quaresma said.
Then she made her pitch about it being a 100 percent locally sourced product with no additives. The nuts all come from Ripon and Manteca orchards and are carefully screened for quality. They are then dry roasted at a Modesto plant.
“We have complete control of what we produce from the tree to the (jar),” she noted.
Save Mart agreed to a blind taste test.
After that, they were hooked.
So, what is her secret?
“There are 20 varieties of almonds,” Quaresma said. “We use the best tasting variety.”
After that there was endless trial and error to determine the best temperature and exact time to dry roast them. The result was the purest — and according to Quaresma and various reviews posted on Amazon where Almondee is also sold — the best tasting almond butter available.
She is working with her new partner — World Food Products based in the Manteca Industrial Park — to come up with new lines that may include flavored almond butter. They are also getting Almondee on the shelves of Raley’s and Safeway stores.
Quaresma can rattle off an endless number of ways almond butter can be used including simply spreading on crackers as well as one of her favorite ways — an almond butter and jelly sandwich.
She noted that oil separation in Almondee occurs naturally. But after you open it and initially stir it — the most effective way is using a hand mixer — it stays in butter form. Refrigeration is required after opening.
Her father worked as a food manufacturing plant manager for Laura Scudders. He took up farming as a weekend pursuit and fell in love with it. Besides almonds Lawton and his wife Jean (Cardoza) also raised beef cattle. He built a licensed butcher shop on his property where Milo Candini — Manteca’s first major league baseball player who pitched for the Washington Senators and Philadelphia Phillies in the 1940s and early 1950s and for whom Milo Candini Drive is named for that runs in front of Manteca’s Big League Dreams complex — was the butcher. Quaresma, who was a student at new Haven at the time, wrapped the meat.
As Quaresma got older her jobs in the almond orchard changed. She drove tractors, handled irrigation, raked almonds, and used bamboo poles to knock straggling almond from the upper reaches of trees.
Given that she along with her brother Mike went to East Union High School, when harvest time rolled around in the days before powered tree shakers were the norm, her dad hired East Union High football players to walk the orchard and swing large mallets on the trunk of trees to shake
Quaresma earned her degree in business administration with an emphasis on marketing at California State University, Fresno with a specialty in medical administration. She worked for Sutter Gould in administration before deciding to launch California Almonds.
Quaresma also works as a substitute teacher.
You can get a taste of Almondee almond butter throughout September to mark the grand opening of the new Save Mart store on Oakdale Road in Modesto. That’s where Quaresma will be serving up free samples of Almondee on crackers made from what else but almonds.