Thanks for your question.
When purchasing almonds, the question of which country to buy from is
probably not a crucial consideration. The great bulk of the world's
almond supply is grown in California, and virtually 100% of the
almonds available in the US are California-grown.
You can see some basic information about the amounts and sources of
almonds at the Almond Board of California website at:
CALIFORNIA ALMOND INDUSTRY OVERVIEW 2003?2004
...California produces more than 80% of the world?s almonds and
virtually 100% of the domestic supply.
As to the different quality grades of almonds, these are precisely
specified by the US Department of Agriculture, as can be seen here:
United States Standards for Grades of Shelled Almonds
I'm providing the USDA link for the sake of reference, but the
document itself is hard to read or make sense of.
In a "nutshell" (sorry!) almonds are ranked by quality factors such as
appearance, whole vs broken pieces, presence of "doubles" (nuts that
grew together), and the amount of foreign material in the nuts. There
is also a convention for specifying the average size of the almonds.
An easier-to-digest overview of the USDA grading system can be found here:
in the table towards the bottom of the page, where the grades range
from US Fancy and US Extra No. 1 at the top of the chart, down to No.
1 Whole and Pieces, and No. 1 Broken at the bottom. These are the
grades one would specify when purchasing shelled almonds.
The dercofoods link is also useful in that it provides information on
other types of buying choices that a potential customer would have to
consider, including the important question of whether you want to
purchase shelled almonds, almonds still in the shell, or what the site
refers to as "manufactured almonds: which can include combinations of
the following characteristics:
I would add to the above list the fact that a purchaser generally also
has the option of specifying organically-grown almonds.
One of the major suppliers of nuts from California is the well-know
Blue Diamond brand, and they have a helpful website that provides a
lot of additional information on almonds:
and in case that's not enough, there's the site of the Almond Board of
California which makes available a virtual library of information
I trust this information fully answers your question.
However, please do not rate this answer until you have everything you
need. If there's anything else I can do for you on this topic, just
post a Request for Clarification, and I'm at your service.
Now...where I can I get a piece of your almond cake...?
search strategy -- Google searches on:
almonds fancy extra shelled