Steven Rosenberg can easily describe the cold pasteurization process that makes the Rosehill Dairy milk sold at Liberty Heights Fresh so sweet. And the store’s self-titled Chief Eating Officer has seen the red angus cattle herd in Altamont, the sole fresh beef he sells, and knows the only grain they eat would be the seeds off a wild grass head.
But it is before the wall of extra virgin olive oil where the 53-year-old distills his food philosophy.
Liberty Heights Celebrates
To celebrate its 20th anniversary, Liberty Heights Fresh is offering daily deals throughout the month of September. The store also will host an open house and festival with free tastings from local artisan food producers.
When » Friday, Sept. 6, 4-8 p.m., and Saturday, Sept. 7, 3-8 p.m.
Where » Liberty Heights Fresh, 1290 S. 1100 East, Salt Lake City; 801-467-2434.
The best olive oil is pressed as the fruit starts to turn from green to purple, he says. That’s also the time olives have the least oil to give.
This emphasis on quality over quantity — and charging top dollar for it —is the hallmark of the Salt Lake City specialty market that is celebrating its 20th anniversary this month.
Amid Utah’s bulk-buying culture, Rosenberg was a pioneer, seeking out not the least expensive goods but what he considers the best authentic, hand-crafted cuisine. All the while, he pressed Utahns to "Hey, eat" — and eat well.
The impact of the store is felt beyond its 2,100 square feet. When publications like Zagat label Salt Lake City an "up-and-coming food city," the roots were planted at this former gas station.
Beginnings » Liberty Heights opened before food journalist and author Michael Pollan — whom Rosenberg has shared a meal with and admires— was writing books that questioned America’s industrial food production and popularized eating traditional foods with real ingredients.
Back in 1993, few Utah shoppers cared about local ingredients; bigger was better.
"It was, how heaping could my plate be for $3, instead of [considering] the integrity and quality of the food," Rosenberg recalls.
When Rosenberg opened, selling fresh fruits and vegetables and cut flowers, food distributors told him he would close if he didn’t sell candy and cigarettes.
But he knew there was a better way to eat, and the Jewish transplant made it his mission to show Utahns the way.
He had grown up on a 425-acre fruit and vegetable farm in southwest Michigan, where he picked fruit, harvested vegetables, pruned trees, hoed fields.
Orchards still have a magical hold over him. "If there were chores to do, I could climb a tree and nobody could find me. I could fill my belly with good fruit, sitting on a limb out in nature, hearing birds sing and seeing the clouds and blue sky," he says.
Family meals were made of food from their farm, along with eggs from neighbors and milk in glass bottles delivered by the local dairy, he says.
Rosenberg carries the 50-year-old scar where his left thumb was reattached after an accident in the apple packaging shed, as well as a deep love and respect for people who work the land.
But economic uncertainties led him to leave the farm and seek a job with a food wholesale company, after earning a degree in agricultural economics from Michigan State University. His employer relocated him to Utah. He moved to Miami for a time to work in the cut-flower industry and then returned to Salt Lake to work on films in production management.
But instead of pursuing a career in Hollywood, Rosenberg returned to his roots. He found the empty gas station for rent at 1290 S. 1100 East, which is not so strange, since one of his first jobs outside his family farm was selling produce at an open-air market in a former gas station.
Best of the best » To work at Liberty Heights Fresh, applicants are required to write a one-page essay about their feelings for food. If Rosenberg had to apply, he’d share his revelation that came from eating sausage.
He was 8 or 9 and family friends from Chicago had come to the farm bearing homemade calabrese sausage, packed with fennel seed. As Jews, the family didn’t eat pork, but they made an exception.Next Page >
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