A few months ago I had a terrific dinner at Artisan in Paso Robles, one terrific entree featured something the waitperson called “alpine king salmon.” We found out it was carefully farm-raised in New Zealand, and it was remarkably moist and full-flavored. I was intrigued. But no one in Santa Cruz seemed to carry it. Until now.

This past week, New Leaf Community Markets has been hosting complimentary tastings of Mt. Cook Alpine Salmon to introduce its customers to the new freshwater, farm-raised king salmon that they’ve just begun to carry. And, given the woeful state of wild king salmon right now (see Maria Grusauskas’ in-depth feature in the Feb. 3 issue of GT), New Leaf’s timing is impeccable.

“We considered carrying farm-raised salmon,” says Sarah Owens, New Leaf marketing director, “but until we discovered Mt. Cook’s unique fish-farming practices, we didn’t have an option that met our standards.” Indeed, most of us have tried to avoid farm-raised salmon, given the many issues of water temperature, hygiene, food sources, and genetic mutation problems that arise in confined farming situations. Mt. Cook is one of those operations that has taken complete control of every step of its salmon, from sourcing free-flowing glacial waters to hand-feeding the salmon a healthy, non-GMO diet.

Mt. Cook Alpine Salmon is green-rated by Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program and verified by FishWise as a Best Choice freshwater farm-raised king salmon. So it makes sense that Owens says she is “excited to offer this delicious and healthy delicacy to our customers.”

Everyone loves the primal flavor of king salmon, but most of us have been forced to consider a future in which we won’t be able to enjoy this magnificent seafood much longer. Thanks to the sustainably conscious entrepreneurs of Mt. Cook, that has changed.
“I’ve visited many salmon farms around the world and by far none compare to Mt. Cook alpine salmon,” says John Battendieri, founder of Moss Landing’s Santa Cruz Fish Company, which is the local importer of Mt. Cook alpine salmon. To find out more about just why this is the freshwater farmed king salmon we’ve been waiting for, you should spend some time with the company’s website alpinesalmon.co.nz.
But here are a few highlights: the two-million-gallon sanctuary where the salmon are raised is located in a very remote landscape of the Southern Alps of New Zealand, and fed by ice-cold freshwater currents. The entire operation is sustainable, with aquaculture best practices in place at each step. The salmon’s gene pool is sourced from the wild, and densities of fish stock are kept low to give the salmon maximum freedom to swim. As far as carbon footprint goes, Mt. Cook alpine salmon is shipped by sea containers, generating fewer CO2 emissions than shipping the same weight the same distance by truck. The results of this careful stewardship are lean, delicious, and again—this is the big takeaway—sustainable. Which, in this case, means not just environmentally friendly, but also renewable into the foreseeable future. Stop by New Leaf and look for the new Mt. Cook alpine king salmon—grill some up and see what you think.

Wine of the Week

From Bianchi Bench in the Santa Lucia Highlands comes Estancia Pinot Noir 2010, a solid alliance of Pinot spice and plums. Nice balance of shape, tannins and a pretty finish. It’s a major bargain for $12.99, among the current wine bargains at Shopper’s Corner. Get it before it’s gone! Kudos to cult winemaker Tony Craig, whose Sonnet Cellars Tondre Grapefields Pinot Noir 2013 took 91 points from Wine Enthusiast and was named the Red Sweepstakes Winner at the prestigious 2016 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.

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