Beyond wine country, Sonoma County represents a profound philosophy of living, a vision of utopia of sorts and an example to the rest of the country. To me, Sonoma is a bright beacon of what the U.S. economy must return to if we are to succeed – privately owned businesses with passionate owners producing quality handcrafted products. Main Street must trump Wall Street again and Sonoma County makes us belief its possible.
Sonoma County consists of a community of like-minded people that are ‘terroir-conscious’ with respect for the land and the full circle of life. By buying each other’s products, they sustain this economical and political belief system of craftsmanship over commercialism.
On a recent visit to Sonoma, my sole purpose was seeking out those that have returned to a simpler way (not easier necessarily) of life and have dedicated themselves to creating award-winning artisanal food, wine and spirits. Support local in your own neighborhood in the meantime, and on your next visit to Sonoma County, don’t miss these delicious ‘fruits’ of these artisan’s devoted labor.
Black Pig Meat Co.
Bring home the Sonoman bacon! These hybridized, Spanish pigs are raised with respect and care on the farm of Aspen Food and Wine’s “2011 King and Queen of Porc” aka Chefs John Stewart and Duskie Estes of Bovolo and Zazu Restaurant. Dedicated to making quality rather than quantity, the sultry balance of sweet and smoky flavor expertly demonstrates their commitment to “slow bacon”. Also, Black Pig Meat Co.’s divine charcuterie plates served in both restaurants would make even a finicky Frenchman cry out in ecstasy. Try their harissa-drizzled, bacon wrapped dates or the chocolate Pig pop or for the pig purist – get a package of Black Pig Meat Co.’s bacon to go. And as for drama to go with your bacon, watch Chef Duskie in action on Food Network’s The Next Iron Chef, October 2011. www.blackpigmeatco.com
Aptly named, owner Sheana Davis’ cheese and gourmet food shop, is committed to connecting locals and tourists alike with the very best of artisanal food products, including her very own two award-winning cheeses. Sheana’s Delice de La Vallee is a goat/cow blend good for spreading or making a silken, sexy cheesecake with. The Creme de Fromage, a triple cream cow milk fromage blanc, pairs smashingly well with Sheana’s Raspberry Rose Petal Jam. Sheana believes in local so much that her theme is “eat your locals” and she generously endorses her neighbors’ cheese as well, such as Sean Doughty’s Ig Vella Asiago & Sonoma Toma. When she’s not in her charming shop soon to be in the central square of Sonoma, she teaches cheesemaking, conducts cheese-tasting events or talks shop with other local cheesemakers over a cold Lil Chief ale from Sonoma Springs Brewing Co. To find out what spunky Sheana Davis is up to next, visit www.sheanadavis.com.
From corporate to craftsmen, Fred and Amy Goth moved to Sonoma, with two small children in tote, to launch a 100% organic limoncello made of local produce (even the water is locally sourced) called HelloCello Limoncello di Sonoma. Being only the third U.S. limoncello maker, the couple’s daring choice to trade security for serenity has paid off. The grape-based brandy HelloCello Limoncello has won nods of approval and awards from mixologists to restaurateurs. This success inspired them to make an orange, aphrodisiac brandy called BelloCello, FigCello, a delightful herbal fig liqueur and even a whiskey. If you time your visit just right, you may get to join in on a lemon peeling party, much like a grape stomping party, where the convivial Amy & Fred host a wild event of dancing, feasting, drinking and peeling like mad with like-minded Sonomans. www.hellosonoma.com
On any given day in the industrial edges of Petaluma, Phillip Ladner, a southern gentleman with booze in his blood, will give you an impromptu tour of their tiny distillery showcasing a high-tech Japanese sake distiller to an antique French Cognac distiller to their custom-built copper distiller. Although they do a bevy of creative projects for private clients, like Napa Vodka, VADA Vodka and an Asian Pear Eau de Vie for a local farm, Stillwater’s Single-Malt Vodka (a real whiskey drinker’s vodka) and soon-to-launch Stillwater Gin are not to be missed. Both are complex, delicate and potent. His passion for hand-made, artisanal spirits is infectious as he says with a grin, “Stillwater Spirits remains small so we can produce the best quality spirits in the country…maybe the world.” www.stillwaterspirits.com
Stay tuned for part 2 of the Sonoma Food Artisan Series.