NEW YORK —
When hens get older, not only do their eggs get bigger, but they lay more frequently - up to an egg a day. "During a hen's most productive egg laying period is when the hen lays large size eggs," Elisa Maloberti, the director of egg product marketing for the American Egg Board, told me in an email. So most eggs laid by commercial hens are large eggs (defined by the USDA as weighing between 24 and 27 ounces per dozen).
This doesn't explain why it's virtually impossible to find small eggs at any retailer other than FreshDirect (and the occasional farmer's market) these days. But it does hint at a few possibilities. Not all of the eggs produced in this country are sold in grocery stores - many of them are sold to "breaking plants" that liquefy, freeze, or dry them for use in processed food products. The proportion of eggs processed in this way has increased over the past 30 years. Maloberti suspects that as the industry's demand for liquid, frozen, and dried eggs has increased, the more small eggs have been diverted from grocery stores to breaking plants.
But why isn't there consumer demand for small eggs? I suspect there's a feedback loop in play. Large eggs are the most commonly available egg size. Subsequently, recipe writers (including, I'm sorry to say, yours truly), develop recipes using large eggs. The ubiquity of recipes calling for large eggs increases consumer demand for large eggs. Repeat.
There may also be good, old-fashioned ignorance and size-chauvinism involved. Most people - including me, earlier this week - don't know that small eggs taste better. And if you're working from the assumption that all eggs taste the same, bigger eggs probably seem like a better deal.