Friday July 5, 2013
Della Fattoria Café
141 Petaluma Blvd N
Petaluma, CA 94952
Della Fattoria is very popular bakery and café located in Petaluma about 30 minutes west of Sonoma. Aaron Weber is at the helm after garnering experience at Sonoma Mission Inn, Babette’s and of course, The French Laundry.
At any given time, there about a half dozen breads on display and as many as 25 pastries or cakes. They also have a café menu, but this trip was primarily pastry focused. We surveyed the displayed and just pointed to what looked good. Personally I wasn’t expecting much from Della Fattoria before the trip, but it didn’t take long to realize they are pumping out some high quality goods. The highlights were the raisin biscotti, the apricot & cream cheese Danish and the roasted summer vegetable galette. It’s always refreshing to have a decent danish compared to the ubiquitous offerings at Starbuck or Coffee Bean. It wasn’t at the same level as blueberry roll at Village Bakery in West, Texas, but still very respectable. I think everybody may have a favorite at the bakery, for us it was the roasted summer vegetable galette. The dough was crispy, yet full of butter. Everything else just came together so well from the zucchini and corn to the marinara and cheese. The bread was ok, but I would really go for the pastries. It was as good as any bakery in Los Angeles and on par with Cafe Besalu in Seattle. We’ll definitely return on our next vacation.
Angelo’s Wine Country Deli
2700 Adobe Road
Petaluma, CA 94954
Angelo Ibleto has been a staple in Sonoma County for decades. He has two locations that supply the area with great quality meat and larder products, one in Sonoma and the other in Petaluma. But, the beef jerky is his claim to fame. The variety available on any given day might include plain, hot, garlic, wine-marinated, teriyaki and peppered. We stop by to stock up for our drive back to LA. Angelo was in store when we visited and was quite friendly. We sampled everything on hand, but took a liking to the hot, teriyaki and VIP (wine-marinated) variety. We thought the beef jerky was decent, until we tried the variety sold at Marin Sun Farms in Point Reyes.
West Marin Food & Farm Tours
Point Reyes Station, CA 94956
We continued west another 20 minutes for our much anticipated cheese tour of Marin County. We found out about West Marin Food & Farm Tours after reading a well-timed NY Times article titled “5 Stops on a California Cheese Trail”. The tour includes stops at four cheese makers for a discussion with each proprietor and a bunch of samples, all for $150 per person. If cost is of concern, you can always sign up for a tour of Cowgirl Creamery ($5) and visit Nicasio Valley Cheese Co.and Marin French Cheese Co. on your own (both free). Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co. is open to the public on limited days and the same can be said for Barinaga Ranch, which is why the organized tour can be of value albeit at a steep premium. The Times article was filled with some useful information of the areas cheese making hertitage. Just like the terroir of Napa and Sonoma make is perfect for wine production, the pastures and landscape of Marin County makes for ideal cheese. The cheese making process is much more complex than we thought. I used to think that the planting of the cheese curds was the key to great cheese wheels, but not so fast. You still have to obsessively water the cheese plants with the freshest milk, prune the trees and patiently wait for a plump cheese to bloom. Then when it’s ripe, you must pluck the ripen wedges. The wedges are then heated together to form a full wheel.
Other cheese links:
Our primary goals were to grasp a better understanding of the cheese making process and see how good California cheese is compared to our international counterparts. The basics, I had a feeling, but the tour confirmed it. The primary ingredient in cheese is milk, usually that from cows, buffalo, goats, or sheep. Most cheeses are made from four ingredients – milk, rennet, salt and starter cultures. Yet the variety of the final product vary so much . This is a function of many things including differences in the four core ingredients, climate, mold, washing of the rind, cheese maker process, additional ingredients and a slew of other things that are above my pay scale. Rennet is an enzyme complex produced in the stomach of all mammals. Nowadays most producers used a genetically modified vegetable rennet. Starter cultures are just good bacteria that gets the fermentation process going. You can actually buy it on Amazon.
So, you want to know how cheese is made and perhaps make some at home, well this is how you do it. The first step in to mix all the ingredients in a 1,000 gallon mixing bowl, preferably an empty swimming pool. The mixture will begin to coagulate. The next step everybody has done before so it should be simple, cut the cheese. This will help separate the whey (liquid) from cheese curds (milk solids). Drain the whey. Next, stir and cook the remaining curds. Now you can press the cheese into molds. Lastly, cure or age the cheese. It’s so much fun and easy to make cheese at home.
We’re the top cheese producer in the world at 4,000 tons annually, more than Germany and France combined. We’re the #2 cheese producing state behind Wisconsin. U.S. cheese production is driven by pizza and fast food chains with mozzarella and cheddar accounting for 64% of their total production. Cheese takes up about 10% the volume of the milk it was made from. To make one pound of cheese, it takes anywhere from five to 10 pounds of milk. America has about 400 cheese makers with roughly 60 in California.
Artisan – made by hand in small batches with traditional cheese making techniques
Farmstead – One stop shop, cheese made on the same premises as the animals that produce the milk
Cowgirl Creamery (Tomales Bay Foods at Point Reyes Station)
80 4th Street
Point Reyes Station, CA 94956
The tour met at Cowgirl Creamery at 10:30AM and finished a little late around 4:30PM. The standard tour ends at 3:30PM. However, Point Reyes Farmstead Co. had a private event that day and we replaced it with Barinaga Ranch, which ran long.
10:15 am – Meet at Tomales Bay Foods, enjoy fresh pastries from the Bovine Bakery
10:30-10:40 – Introductions and a brief history of cheese in West Marin
10:40-11:10 – Cheese tasting at the Cowgirl Creamery
11:30-12:10 – Tour and cheese tasting at Nicasio Valley Cheese Company
12:30-1:10 – Tour and cheese tasting at Marin French Cheese Company
1:15-1:45 – Locavore picnic at the Marin French pond
2:15-3:15 – Private cheese tasting at Barinaga Ranch
3:30 pm – Return to Point Reyes Station
We headed to the back of the store where met the rest of the tour group, six people in total and the van can accommodate seven. One person cancelled because the check engine warning lit up in their car. Our tour guide brought some baked goods from local Bovine Bakery, which we snacked on while she gave her walked us through the cheese making history of Marin County. After that, we sampled some fresh and aged cheeses from Cowgirl and were given 15 minutes to look around and buy what we wanted. Cowgirl Creamery has a selection of about nine cheese depending on the season, but they also sell dozens of local and not so local cheeses that they are fond of. You pick a number and once called, can sample upwards of 50 cheeses if you please. We tried all the California cheeses, so we stopped after about 30 and bought five or so for a wine and cheese party we were hosting when we got back to LA. To the point that everything can effect a cheese’s outcome, Red Hawk can only be produced at the Point Reyes location due to the climate.
Now it was time to see more of Marin County and the cheese makers that help make the region famous. Another benefit to the tour is you don’t have to drive. We could just chat about the cheeses we liked, take in the scenery and snap some photos. Our next stop on the tour was Nicasio Valley Cheese Company.
(Driving around Point Reyes)
Nicasio Valley Cheese Company
5300 Nicasio Valley Road
Nicasio is where all the fun began. The cheese maker came out to brief us on the particular process utilized at Nicasio. He spoke for about 20 minutes, all informative and very enthusiastic about his family’s traditions. After the discussion, we went back into the war room to process some fresh cheese. They make six cheeses, all with free samples laid out for everybody. We liked the fresh Foggy Morning and the aged Nicasio Square, an aged washed rind cheese similar to the Italian Taleggio. So we bought two more cheeses for the party.
Making Foggy Morning Cheese at Nicasio Valley Cheese Company
Marin French Cheese Co.
7500 Red Hill Rd.
Petaluma, CA 94952
The next stop on the Cheese Lovers Tour was the oldest cheese manufacturer still in operation in the United States, Marin French Cheese Company. Opened in 1865, it started out sells one cheese marketed to dock workers in San Francisco. That cheese, the Petite Breakfast, is still served today. It has a buttery taste. Not in the sense that it’s creamy or has a high butter fat content, but it literally tastes like a morphed cheese and stick of butter. In 2005 it added to its notoriety by taking top honors
in the pasteurized milk brie category at the World Cheese Awards with its Triple Creme Brie. They also host one of the most picturesque picnic areas in the area, so it made a perfect spot for lunch. As we shopped and sampled inside, Elizabeth set-up two cheese plates with samles from Marin French and Point Reyes Bay Blue as well as some beef jerky, Grace & I glazed figs, McEvoy olive oil and honey from her house. She really knows her food, we picked up some of the glazed figs from Cowgirl Creamery at the end of the tour and the beef jerky was better than Angelo’s. At the end of our visit, we purchased some Breakfast Petite, Rouge et Noir Schloss and Triple Cream Brie for our wine and cheese party.
PO Box 803
Marshall, CA 94940
Our last stop on the tour was at Barinaga Ranch. Marcia Barinaga comes from a family of Basque sheep ranchers. Her grandparents ran a ranch of 5,000 ewe, female sheep, in Idaho. Barinaga Ranch has a much smaller herd, we probably saw about 100 between those roaming the ranch and being milked. Most of the herd is female, for obvious reasons and they own a few males so they can “grow the business”. The sheep are utilized for cheese, wool, blankets and when they’ve reached the end of their lifespan, their meat is sold to local restaurants. They also farm some pigs. The ranch itself is quite beautiful set across from the Tomales Bay.
Our tour started in front of the grazing pigs, then headed to the pastures with the sheep. Marcia spoke very in depth about her passion and cheese making process. I absorbed most of the discussion, but at times her technical know-how was evident and went right over my head. I’m still trying to grasp the proper pH levels in cheese. I wanted to go home home read more about cheese and come back to talk to her more. You can really learn a lot from her and she willing to offer her wealth of knowledge. We then headed to the cheese making facilities where they were pressing some cheese. At the end of the tour, we headed inside the barn to watch the ewe being milked and try some cheese. We tried one cheese, Baserri, reminiscent of manchego. They also cheese a cheese called Txiki, but is mearly a smaller version of Baserri. At this point, the conversation switch to Marcia’s diet and she kind enough to offer us some fresh sheep’s milk, which we all jumped at. It was as rich as any milk we ever had. We were very fortunate to be able to buy a large chuck of Baserri. The cheese tasted that much better at home taking us back to our brief time at the ranch. She offers a two hour tour every month and we highly recommend it, our favorite experience of the trip.
(Milking Sheep at Barinaga Ranch during Cheese Lovers Tour)
Back to Cowgirl Creamery and that was the end of our tour. We tried just more cheese and bought a few to take home. I’m happy to report the quality of the California cheese was great, more on the lighter side. But it really surprised us and they can hold their own against cheeses we have tried elsewhere from the world.
Marin Sun Farms
10905 Shoreline Hwy
Point Reyes Station
We really like that Marin Sun Farms beef jerky we tried at lunch and we inquired with Elizabeth. Needless to say it was local and and the shop was located within cheese’s throw away from Cowgirl. So we stopped by, picked up a few packs and checked out their other offerings. It’s half butcher shop, half restaurant. From the butcher shop, they sell fresh meat that they farm themselves including chicken, beef, veal, goat, sausages, eggs and beef tallow soap.
Petaluma Pie Company
Helen Putnam Plaza
125 Petaluma Blvd N, Ste D
Petaluma, CA 94954
On our way back to Sonoma, we headed through Petaluma. We made a stop at Petaluma Pie Company, which is the brainchild of couple Angelo Sacerdote and Lina Hoshino, who open shop in 2010. They have a selection of 40 or so sweet and savory pies on the menu, but the daily selction is limited to about 10 pies. Many of the pies are made from produce picked at the the Petaluma Pie garden. We got a bacon and egg hand pie and a blackberry & blueberry hand pie to enjoy in the shop. The bacon and egg pie was decent, fresh ingredients and filling. The sweet pie was a bit too sugary and on both pies the issue we had was the crust. We would have expected a buttery, crisp crust. But it was far from that. It tasted like something you could get at Costco. We also got a package of four mini sweet pies to go. When we got back to LA, we tried them. Most of them were pretty bad and you can see the poor color of the crust again. I would skip Petaluma Pie Company if you pass through the city. We still have a grass-fed steak and mushroom pot pie in the freezer; we’ll probably cook it when we’re real hungry.
After our lackluster snack, we walked off some of the calories through the streets of downtown Petaluma. It’s a quaint town with lots of charm dotted each corner and alleyway. There are several other food options, dozens of antique shops and worth a couple hours of your time.
Glen Ellen Star
13648 Arnold Dr
Glen Ellen, CA 95442
It doesn’t matter the city. We could be in Paris or Butte, Montana. We always have too much food on the agenda. Everything looks appetizing and we only have a few days to visit, so we usually end up finding a 30 minute time slot to fit in an additional snack. Plus four out of four kids believe more is better than less. More is better than less because if stuff is not less if there’s more less stuff then, you might, you might want to have some more and your parents just don’t let you because there’s only a little. We want more, we want more. Like you really like it, you want more. It’s not complicated.
In Japan, we ate a lot. But we also walked all day. In wine country, we eat and then we drink and drink and then eat some more with literally no exercise besides the lifting of food and wine glasses. After 10 days in Japan, I lost four pounds. After just four days in Sonoma, I gained eight.
Today we had breakfast, enough cheese to make Micky Mouse jealous and a heavy snack. More than enough to feed a small village in Mali, but for us you can’t go a full day without one sit-down meal and tonight was Glen Ellen Star.
A neighborhood favorite, it was established in 2012 by Chef Ari Weiswasser and his wife Erinn Benziger-Weiswasser. Ari has worked at Restaurant Daniel, Picholine, and Corton, In keeping with the theme of only dining at restaurants with some association with The French Laundry, chef Weiswasser also spent a decent amount of time at the Yountville institution. Shortly after opening, the San Francisco Chronicle gave Glen Ellen Star two-and-a-half stars.
The restaurant is bustling with people and energy. Thankfully we had a reservation, so the wait was only 10 minutes. There is bar-type seating overlooking the kitchen, which is first come, first serve. The wait tonight was about an hour, so we passed. One we’re seated, we can’t find a table in the house that’s without wine. Needing to assimilate, we order a couple glasses as we glance over the menu.
We start out with zaatar bread and two vegetable dishes, the roasted beets and sweet potatoes. The bread was a little disappointing as it was dry and could have benefited from a sauce. Based on our experience and the other appetizers coming out of the kitchen, I don’t think you can go wrong. Both the beets and the sweet potatoes were great. I liked the beets better and Jen favored the potatoes, they’re balanced, flavorful, well composed dishes. If you’re a vegetarian, you could just go crazy on the starters. Before we delved into entrees, we were craving a palate cleanser. We opted for the tomato cream pizza pie. It really hit the spot. Basic ingredients, but the mix of red and white sauce made the pie so good. They make you put in the whole order at the start of the meal, which we’re not fans of. But, you can begin to see why. It took at least 20 minutes between courses because they try to balance how long each table has waited for a course as they have limited cooking space in the oven. Eventually our entrees arrived and it was the sole disappointment of the meal. We went with the lamb meatballs and the waiter’s suggestion of the seared fish of the day. We were expecting a lot from the meatballs since it’s a popular item, but it was dry and and the lemon was squeezed way to hard over the plate. The fish was a little dry and just boring, not much to like about it. For dessert it’s obligatory to order the ice cream pints. We started with the peanut butter and vanilla maple bourbon Both were very good, so we tried to more. Next up was the Nutella and malted milk chocolate. Hard to pick a winner, Jen’s favorite was the chocolate and mine was the peanut butter. All in all a great meal and a place we’ll come back to on our next trip. We still want to try the flat iron steak, brick chicken and the whole roasted fish.