Testing the quality of produce we sell is always an interesting challenge. In some cases, like peas or cherry tomatoes, it’s easy. But we’ve always found lettuce a tougher item to judge. Often, our taste buds consider what we harvest to be a bit strong or bitter, but find that chilling sweetens the flavor. Also, taste buds are so subjective that what’s strong to us may be excellent to others.
Another difficult factor with lettuce is the wide variety of ways in which people use it. Someone who puts our lettuce in a salad covered with strongly flavored vegetables and ranch dressing is going to have a different experience than someone who eats it straight with a light drizzle of oil and vinegar (as we do). So do we aim our product solely at the oil & vinegar folks, discarding stronger-tasting product that would be fine in a heavy salad or sandwich, or do we not worry too much about it and risk selling something that’s too strong for pickier customers?
The final problem here is waste. We’ve had a significant amount of lettuce that we just didn’t think passed our taste threshold, and that was fed to the chickens. But it probably could have been sold to folks who were going to thoroughly combine it with other items; it was fresh and crispy and otherwise perfectly good. If I could know who it was going to, I’d be more likely to sell it. But I’d hate to sell a stronger head to someone who would take it home, eat it straight, and hate it.
So far, I’ve had many customers return week after week to buy the same lettuces, praising their quality and taste, so we must be doing something right. But like any business person, we often wonder who might have bought something once and never came back because they didn’t like it. And we’d love to sell more lettuce to those who would enjoy it.
So my question to our readership is, (1) what do you look for in fresh market lettuce, whether from us or others, and (2) how do you handle a market product that isn’t what you wanted?