Ciao, bella

Mother’s Day is this weekend and we all know what that means—it’s time to show Mom just how much we care for her and appreciate everything she’s done for us. Some moms love flowers, others clothing and jewelry, and others yet love a good food basket.

With that in mind, I started looking around at various local growers’ and producers’ sites for a fun gift basket filled with local goodies. When I got to Mooney Farms, my search was complete. Since they have a gift shop on-site at their headquarters near the airport, I decided to drop by and see what’s on offer.

Upon stepping through the main entrance, the Mooney Farms operation feels a bit like Italy. The architecture is elegant and inviting, the arched entryways no doubt inspired by their Mediterranean tastes. I was immediately greeted by Sandy, who led me through the various products on sale in the store, from sundried tomato and artichoke pasta sauce to marinades (including one for Basque Norte) to bruschetta and julienned sundried tomatoes. Everything Mooney Farms makes bears the Bella Sun Luci name.

What especially fascinates me about Mooney Farms is the inspiring backstory. In 1987, the Mooneys took to selling kiwis on the side of the road, Sandy explained, in the hopes of raising $30,000 in 30 days to save the family farm in Gridley. Well, they succeeded, and after turning to an old family recipe for sundried tomatoes, they took their finished product to Costco, which bought an entire pallet that sold out within four hours.

Bella Sun Luci was born. These days, the products are sold and shipped around the world. In fact, a regular customer from New York was the one who pushed the idea of flavored olive oils. Now he collaborates with the Mooneys to make flavored oils—rosemary, balsamic and rustico garlic—using sundried tomato flakes.

That customer isn’t the only collaborator. Bella Sun Luci corporate chef Richie Hirshen (whom I wrote about a while back for his work at Sherwood Montessori School) regularly tries out new recipes using their products. In addition, they hold a recipe contest every year (this year’s ends July 1), which also yields winning dishes that get featured on recipe cards distributed in the gift shop.

Speaking of the shop, it also features a wide array of local offerings, from at least a dozen other producers, including Morse Family Farms, Maisie Jane’s, Skylake Ranch, TJ Farms, the Lavender Ranch and more. What’s especially cool is that even its gift baskets aren’t limited to Bella Sun Luci fare—they mix and match with various other brands to offer a fun, delicious basket for someone special (like mom!). Enjoy!