Don’t blink! Andy Mariani’s cherries will be gone before you think.

Don’t blink! Andy Mariani’s cherries will be gone before you think.

By Robbie Sigona

Mention the name Mariani to any one of our cherry-loving customers and you may as well prepare to head to Sigona’s straight away to pick up a pound or two for yourself.

We have customers who wait with baited breath for the arrival of cherries from Andy Mariani, an orchardist from Morgan Hill who grows some of the best, biggest, sweetest and juiciest cherries around. Even the California Cherry Advisory Board agrees with the Mariani cherry reputation: the board recently awarded him with the title of 2009 Cherry Man of the Year.

You’ll need to act quickly though; cherry harvest at Andy’s orchard this year will be quick so you’ll want to come by the store before they’re done for the season.

Andy Mariani stands near a row of Red Baron peach trees in blossom at his orchard in Morgan Hill. Photo courtesy of Allison Shea Malone.

The reason we won’t have Mariani’s cherries for long this year is due to late spring rains, which have done more harm than good to the cherry crops within our 100-l50 mile “what’s local” radius.

While rain is good for early season irrigation, late-season rain is a cherry farmer’s worst nightmare. When rain water seeps into growing cherries they swell too quickly and have a tendency to crack (or split). Unfortunately, for most local cherry growers, the rain in late May hit just as the cherries were nearly full-grown and turning from pink to deep red. They needed only a few more rainstorm-free weeks this season to ensure a great crop, but Mother Nature had other plans, bringing along rain that wiped out a large percentage of most growers’ crops.

We’re thankful the rains did not destroy the entire crop because we don’t want any of you to miss the opportunity to try a Mariani cherry. We’ve partnered with Mariani for more than 30 years, and because of our long-standing relationship we are able to bring you the best.

Mariani comes from a long line of farmers with deep roots in this area. His father emigrated in the early 1930s from Europe, settling in the Santa Clara Valley where he planted a prune and apricot orchard. In the late 1950s the family relocated to a new ranch in Morgan Hill, leaving their land in Cupertino, which was soon developed by the city and players in the tech boom.

Mariani grows more than 20 unique and heirloom varieties, such as the Baby Crawford peach and Blenheim apricot, on his ranch in Morgan Hill. It’s his passion to travel the world to learn more about the truly amazing and unique fruits that can be grown right in the South Bay area. Just wait until you taste his white apricot…wow!

Due to the smaller size of his orchard – he has 40 acres overall – on which he also grows, Mariani is able to run operations in a way that benefits the consistent quality of his fruit. His cherries are harvested daily in small batches to limit the need for refrigeration, which can dull the flavor of some stone fruits, and he has also devised his own picking and packing process to protect against bruising during transit.

I’ve seen Mariani’s cherries, both Bings and Rainiers (the yellow & blush-colored cherries) stop people in their tracks at our store. They are always large with great color and look simply irresistible. It’s always great to see how, year after year, Mariani’s cherries generate more excitement than almost any other produce item that arrives in early June.

Remember, this local cherry season is short so be sure to stop by to try one of Mariani’s cherries to find out for yourself why our customers say they’re the very best.

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