Displaying items by tag: Central Valley
TASTE News Service August 2, 2015 - Niello Concours at Serrano will celebrate its 12th anniversary on October 4, 2015. The setting will be Serrano Country Club in El Dorado Hills, just east of Sacramento. Featured will be Cadillac automobiles and a salute to 60 years of Ferrari in America.
Deemed last year’s Best of Show was a 1952 Bentley Mark VI convertible entered by Leon Garoyan of Davis, California. Among the other presentations were the Honorary Judges Award, which went to Raymond Lacy III of Arcata for his 1957 Triumph TR 3. The Tour Award was taken by Lynn Kissel of Cameron Park who drove his 1933 Pierce Arrow. Scott Schneider’s 1959 Porsche 356 D Convertible received the nod as the Richard Niello Sr. Outstanding Porsche. Meguiar’s Best Finish Award went to the 1960 Chrysler 300 F entered by Frank Messina. The Most Elegant Motor Car accolade went to the 1938 Mercedes 540K Special Roadster of Roger Orton of Sacramento. Another Mercedes, a 1957 300 SL roadster entered by Ted Voight of Pebble Beach was the SCCA 2014 High Point Championship winner. More information about the 2015 edition of this event can be found at http://www.nielloconcoursatserrano.com.
Editor’s Note: If you’ll be visiting the Sacramento or Sierra Foothills area for this event, check out the listings in Taste California Travel’s Resource Directory. There you will find links to the websites of hundreds of Lodging and Dining options, as well as links to Wineries and Craft Beer producers in the area.
By Dan Clarke
Sacramento, California June 18, 2015 - Today the California State Fair announced winners of its 2015 Commercial Wine judging. Wines selected as Best of Show in both red and white categories were made from varieties native to Spain and relatively obscure in this country. Moreover, the grapes were grown and vinified in regions obviously capable of producing great wine, though perhaps not well-known by the average consumer.
Picked as Best of Show Red was the 2012 Tempranillo from El Dorado County’s Lewis Grace (Grace Patriot) winery. Honors for Best of Show White went to the 2014 Albarino entry from Oak Farms Vineyards in the Lodi appellation.
While many “Cult Cabernets” are now priced way over $100 a bottle, 72 of the best wine judges in California chose a wine retailing at $30 as 2015’s best red wine. Though top quality Chardonnay, California’s most popular and most prestigious white wine, can approach—and even exceed—$50, those same judges declared that the $19 Oak Farms Vineyards Albarino is the best white wine of 2015.
This year's wine competition consisted of 2,881 wine entries received from 743 participating winery brands. Seventy-two judges on 18 panels awarded 57 Double Golds and 254 Golds, and the top winners showed the diversity of California wine, coming from around the state and from wineries of every size.
“California's 78,000 farms and ranches produce roughly half of all the fruits, nuts and vegetables grown in the United States; and our grape industry accounts for 90 percent of all wine consumed in America. As one of the oldest professional wine competitions in the nation, we are extremely pleased that for the second year in a row the State Fair has seen increased participation in our prestigious wine competition,” said Rick Pickering, CEO of the California State Fair. “With more than 2,800 wine entries from 700 plus wineries, the State Fair continues to be an enormous showcase of the Best of California."
The first State Fair Wine Competition was held in 1855. The competition is the oldest and one of the most prestigious wine events in the country. Top wines, including Best of Region and Best of California winners, will be featured at the State Fair in Sacramento ain the Save Mart Supermarkets Wine Garden for visitors to enjoy July 10-26.
Comprehensive information on all the winners of this year’s California State Fair Commercial Wine Competition is available here.
Editor’s Note: If you’re planning to visit the wine country of El Dorado County or of the Lodi appellation, first check out Taste California Travel’s Resource Directory. There you will find links to the websites of all the Wineries, as well as links to the websites of hundreds of nearby Lodging and Dining options.
TASTE News Service, May 14, 2015 - Once home to the largest brewery in the Golden State, Sacramento's beer scene is back – in a big way. Home to more than 40 breweries, the Sacramento region is embracing its agricultural roots to create homegrown beers that are quickly attracting international attention. Beyond a staggering selection of local brews to choose from, Sacramento visitors will find some of the country's best beer events and activities that are sure to quench their thirst.
“In many ways, Sacramento is the birthplace of beer in California,” said Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau Tourism Director Nick Leonti. “It's only fitting that the region has reclaimed its title as one of the best craft beer destinations in the Golden State. There's enough variety here to please any beer fan, and it's not every day that you can enjoy an ale that was crafted from hops grown only a few miles away.”
Prior to prohibition, Sacramento was the beer capital of the West. The region's abundant fresh water supply, coupled with ideal growing conditions for California's first hops fields, led to more than 16 breweries in the city's downtown alone. Chief among them was Buffalo Brewing Company, the largest brewery west of the Mississippi River. Captain Frank Ruhstaller was a leader in Sacramento's beer production, helping to found several breweries including his namesake, Ruhstaller Brewery. Prohibition came, and the land formerly used to grow hops was converted to other crops. These crops can still be found throughout the region's farmland today, including almonds, pears, tomatoes and rice.
The Return of Sacramento's Beer Scene
Today's Sacramento beer scene is vibrant, and craft brew tasting rooms are scattered throughout the city's downtown and Midtown core, and across the region. Stalwart Sacramento breweries such as River City Brewing and Rubicon Brewing Company have been around for more than a decade, and they're still going strong as new breweries join the scene. Over the past five years, beer makers such as Track 7 and Bike Dog have added to the mix, while Ruhstaller Beer and New Helvetia Brewing Company have also opened, paying homage to Sacramento's rich brewing past.
Captain Ruhstaller's legacy can still be seen today in the region's remerging brew scene, with a new iteration of Ruhstaller returning to Sacramento in 2013. The modern day Ruhstaller's founder J-E Paino established a hops farm and yard in 2013 just outside of the city, and brews his beer locally. During harvest season, beer fans can tour the farm and see how the growing hops go on to become of the region's most popular brews. And Ruhstaller's fan base extends well beyond the Sacramento region, with distribution of its brews extending as far as Great Britain.
It's no surprise that the Sacramento region is also home to some of the country's best beer events. From the annual Sacramento Beer & Chili Festival, to the city’s own “Sactoberfest,” there's always something beer-related on the Sacramento region's calendar.
In March, beer fans flock to Sacramento for Beer Week – a non-stop, city-wide party designed to showcase the region's brews. Run by the Northern California Brewers Guild, Sacramento Beer Week is an 11-day celebration boasting everything from beer and food pairings to a festival on Capitol Mall with breweries from all over the state and beyond.
Coming to Sacramento in 2015 is the first annual California Craft Beer Summit and Showcase, hosted by the California Craft Brewers Association. The new event, open to both the industry and the public, will be the first time craft beer enthusiasts can come together in the same room with the master brewers to see, touch, taste and learn the process of creating craft beers.
Sacramento's food scene hits a high point in September during the annual Farm-to-Fork Celebration, a two-week event designed to highlight the region's robust agriculture and fresh-food scene. A favorite attraction during the Celebration is the Farm-to-Fork Festival, a massive outdoor fair held on the city's Capitol Mall featuring booths and interactive exhibits from farms, restaurants, grocers and more. As one would expect, food and drink take center stage at the Farm-to-Fork Festival, and beer is a main attraction. The Festival boasts a packed brewer's alley that showcases beers from across the region, and many of the 20,000+ attendees head straight for the alley to get a glass of their favorite ale to enjoy while checking out the Festival.
Beer-enthusiasts can do more than just sip their pints in Sacramento; the region offers a host of activities that showcase the region's brew scene. Thirsty fans can tour the region's breweries and pedal for their pints aboard Sac Brew Bike, a newer addition to the city. Or, you can sit back and sip your craft brew aboard the Sacramento Beer Train, which takes travelers along the rails through rural West Sacramento. Restaurants across the region also offer monthly beer pairing dinners, providing beer fans with a chance to sample the region's cuisine and local brews.
Editor’s Note: Planning a beer-inspired visit to the state capital? First check out California Wine and Food’s Resource Directory. There you will find links to the websites of hundreds of Lodging and Dining options, as well as links to the sites of local craft beer purveyors and area wineries.
TASTE News Service May 4, 2015 - Local, seasonal, sustainable: These may be culinary buzzwords in many places, but Sacramento restaurateurs have been cooking by these principles for decades. Surrounded by unparalleled agricultural bounty, Sacramento's restaurants showcase the region's best products, from juicy tomatoes to lush old-vine Zinfandel, sweet peaches to crisp corn, nutty almonds to succulent lamb. That cornucopia inspires Sacramento's talented chefs year-round, and the city's dining scene—especially in the convenient, central downtown and Midtown areas—has boomed in recent years. The city's fresh, new dining venues and its longtime favorite haunts alike offer top-notch, inventive fare and high style, together with the welcoming vibe that characterizes this friendly city.
In the neighborhood that surrounds the State Capitol, power-lunch places are now jointed by happening hot spots like Ella Dining Room and Bar, a venture from Randall Selland and family (the powers behind high-end stalwart The Kitchen). Ella's refined, luxe style (its signature is hundreds of wooden shutters, sourced from Europe) was created by an Amsterdam design team, and its distinctive look has been featured in magazines worldwide. The perfectly crafted small-plates fare and upscale cocktails (like a refreshing gin with house-made tonic) are just as sophisticated as the airy interior. Grange, situated in the showpiece Citizen Hotel, serves ever-changing, strictly local menus at breakfast, lunch, and dinner including well-priced nightly prix-fixe specials. The warmly lit, mod interior is framed by dramatic high windows and carved from the Citizen's renovated historic quarters. New to Sacramento in January 2014, Mother is now the can't-miss place to dine in the area. The restaurant offers a full, locally-sourced vegetarian and vegan menu.
Sacramento's hippest neighborhood draws nightly crowds not just to its art galleries and boutiques, but its hot restaurants as well. Gems abound in this dining-rich neighborhood, but two local favorites are Mulvaney's Building and Loan and The Waterboy, both of which reflect the personalities of their chef-owners with fresh, seasonal cooking. Patrick Mulvaney's intimate restaurant, which features a central display kitchen, is located in a historic brick firehouse and showcases local producers like Bledsoe Pork and Riverdog Farms on its compact but inviting menu. Rick Mahan's airy Waterboy is a favorite of locals, thanks to Mahan's local sourcing and impeccable but often adventurous California-Mediterranean cooking; the menu changes often, but he's as well known for dishes like steak tartare and sweetbreads as for a luscious, perfect burger. Local favorite Shady Lady, a speakeasy-style bar-restaurant pouring just-so traditional cocktails and serving small plates inspired by classic American fare, is the anchor for the vibrant, revitalized R Street Corridor, now packed with fun restaurants and bars that draw young crowds. Nearby Hook & Ladder highlights handcrafted cocktails and local craft beer along with its farm-fresh California cuisine. More top Midtown destinations include the longtime favorite Biba, featuring seasonally driven, meticulous Northern Italian specialties from cookbook author and TV personality Biba Caggiano; popular wine bar 58 Degrees & Holding Co., and bustling, beautifully decorated Mexican spot Zocalo. When it's time for dessert, tempt your sweet-tooth at Ginger Elizabeth. This downtown chocolatier and sweet shop, specializes in chocolates and macaroons, and many of the boutique's offerings are made with locally-sourced ingredients.
Old Sacramento and Other Areas
Downtown and Midtown Sacramento may be replete with great food, but Sacramento's other neighborhoods are equally mouthwatering. Historic Old Sacramento is home to the ultra-refined The Firehouse, famed for its deep wine cellar, high-end fare from award-winning chef Deneb Williams, and special-occasion-worthy tasting menus. Another perfect pick for a big night out is The Kitchen in Arden-Arcade, where the spectacular multicourse dinners are a show in and of themselves. Plan your visit a few weeks in advance! Craving a waterfront table? Try Pearl on the River, which overlooks the romantic Sacramento River and features impeccable service and a changing “live menu” concept of locally sourced ingredients. All these, and many more, combine to make Sacramento and its diverse restaurant scene a delicious destination.
Editor’s Note: To meet some of the people responsible for creating Sacramento’s Farm-to-Fork identity, see article by Dan Clarke. If you’re planning on visiting Sacramento visit Taste California Travel’s Resource Directory first. There you will find links to the websites of hundreds of Lodging and Dining options, as well as links to area Wineries and Craft Beer Purveyors.
TASTE News Service November 10, 2014 - Gina Gallo of the E & J Gallo Winery received the American Wine Society's 2014 Award of Merit at the organization's national conference in Concord, N.C. Nov. 1.
Part of the third generation of the family that helped shape the world of wine, Gina Gallo distinguished herself through the Gallo Signature Series, limited production wines made with the best grapes from Gallo's estate vineyards.
Granddaughter of company co-founder Julio Gallo, Gina began her life in agriculture at the age of 10, working in the family's vegetable garden. Farm and vineyard became both a school and playground. She earned her bachelor's degree from Notre Dame de Namur University and studied winemaking at University of California at Davis, later apprenticing at the Gallo family's experimental micro-winery in Modesto, California, and developing the Gallo Signature label.
Before the crowd of 570 at the Embassy Suites Golf Resort & Spa in Concord, Gina Gallo explained how she had recently left harvest, trading her jeans for a skirt to accept the award.
"My grandfather, Julio, and great uncle Ernest, taught us to tend to the fields and left us a legacy that we continue to learn from," she said. "I am truly humbled and honored to receive the Award of Merit from the American Wine Society."
The AWS presents the Award of Merit in recognition of significant and meritorious contributions to the wine industry. "Throughout the history of E&J Gallo, the Gallo family has shown an ability to evolve with consumers and the market," said Jane Duralia, president of the American Wine Society. "Gina has continued that tradition through her passion and incredible wine making abilities, helping Gallo continue as major force in wine industry."
About the American Wine Society
Founded in 1967, the American Wine Society (AWS) is the largest consumer-based organization in the U.S. dedicated to promoting wine appreciation through education. AWS is a non-profit organization of over 4,300 wine enthusiasts, from novice to expert, in 130 chapters throughout the U.S. and Canada. Membership is open to any adult interested in wine. For more information visit American Wine Society.
Berryessa Brewing Co.
Style: American IPA
Serving Style: Kegs
Availability: Seasonal at the time of fresh hop harvest. Good distribution in Winters/Davis/Sacramento area and some in San Francisco Bay Area
Appearance: “Light hay color. Thick off-white head.”
Aroma: “Citrus and spice.”
Taste: “A somewhat bitter pink grapefruit quality that is balanced with some gorgeous hops—they complement each other.”
Food Affinity: “Fish, especially fish & chips. The wet hop component would be a good interplay with the battered fish.”
Reviewed by Chris Delgado
by Dan Clarke
Feeling that California offered great educational prospects for their four sons, Angelo and Santa Bariani relocated their family from Lombardy to California in 1989. After a year they bought a house with a little acreage southeast of downtown Sacramento. Sebastian, youngest of of Angleo and Santa's four sons, says that the first fall the family spent in their new home they noticed that trees on the property were producing olives—an apparently unexpected development. His mother urged that they take advantage of the situation, so Angelo built their first crusher and press. They produced 125 gallons of olive oil that first year—enough for an Italian family's own use, but not really a commercial quantity. In 1993 there was a bit more production and they began to sell some oil at farmers markets. “And by 1994 we basically figured it was going to be our business,” Sebastian explained.
Soon they purchased an adjacent 11-acre parcel and planted Manzanillo olive trees to complement the Missions on their home ranch. Their oil was well received and the business showed steady, if not spectacular, progress. In 1997 they bought 130-acres near Zamora in Yolo County, where they planted both Missions and Manzanillos. The family completed the planting of another 50-acre orchard on a recently acquired parcel just before the harvest of 2014 was to begin.
Eldest son Luigi, now 49, lives in Germany, but returns each fall to help with the harvest. Angelo and Santa are working full time in the family business, as are their sons Enrico, Emanuele and Sebastian.
Coming from a culture steeped in olive oil—at least figuratively, if not literally—the Barianis considered planting Italian varieties, but Sebastian says, “We're in California. It didn't make sense to plant Italian varieties.” The Mission is the olive originally brought to California by the Franciscan missionaries in the 18th Century. Manzanillos also have a Spanish origin, but came to California via Mexico, according to Sebastian, who believes “the Manzanillo gives a different flavor here than when grown in Spain.”
Sebastian said that most Bariani olive oil, which is bottled with a white label, is made from a mixture of “green” and “black”olives.” The company also produces a limited quantity, green label bottling of oil made from not-quite-ripe (green) olives picked early in the season. Such olives yield less oil, but provide a more intense, grassy flavor appropriate for use on salads or drizzled on vegetables or bruschetta.
Might giving some of his oil a “reserve” designation as is sometimes done with wine be a way to accommodate customers eager to pay more for what they perceive as higher quality, we asked? “The quality of the white and green labels is the same, the only difference is the flavor profile,” Sebastian Bariani responded. “Every bottle is the best we can produce—every bottle is a reserve bottle.”
As Americans develop their taste for olive oil, it's inevitable that some will reach for more knowledge. This has given rise to the “oleologist,” a title eschewed by Bariani “By no means are we experts, despite being in business for 24 years and continuing to return to Italy for many classes,” he said. “The learning curve is so big. You don't stop learning. You have to be humble cause there's always somebody better than you. When you keep that in mind you strive to do the best you can . . . and that's when you make progress.” Sebastian recently asked people in Italy if they have oleologists these days and reports, “They just laughed and said no one would call themselves that.”
What about curing table olives? Would that be a way to expand the business? “We keep talking about it, but not yet,” Bariani responded. “Every year we have a project. This year it is to cure olives and make an olive pâté. This would be made just from olives and different from a tapenade.” (Editor's note: A tapenade may include capers and anchovies and even sun-dried tomatoes and spices in addition to crushed olives.)
Serendipity brought another aspect to the Bariani family business a couple of years ago. “Olive trees are self-pollinating, but we added some bees to help this process,” Sebastian related. “We found we got a bigger crop. And we found we had some honey, also.” Their bottled honey is now sold at farmers markets and at local retailers such as Corti Brothers and Whole Foods, as well as through the internet. They've also begun to make a skin lotion using just three ingredients: water, olive oil and beeswax. “It's as natural as we can make it,” said the youngest of the Bariani brothers.
Family businesses tend to mean round-the-clock involvement and can produce more stresses than the nine-to-five world. “We're always talking and arguing, but we never fight,” said Sebastian. “We have very high expectations of each other. We give ourselves two weeks vacation a year. I haven't taken mine this year. My brother Emanuele took one weekend. We don't complain because our work is our vacation. When I'm in the orchard it's amazing . . . I love my trees. My parents went to Italy for two weeks to celebrate their 50th anniversary, but wanted to come home after a couple of days.”
There isn't a lot of structure in the Bariani family business. There are no formal job descriptions and no titles, but a lot of work seems to get done. “We don't have a schedule or a calendar. We don't have meetings,” said Sebastian. “I go to the farm and just see what needs doing and I do it. There's no schedule so it's never boring, it's exciting.”
Editor's note: More information about the Bariani family olive oils can be found at https://www.barianioliveoil.com/
by Dan Clarke
Sacramento, CA August 2, 2014 - Never have I seen so much cheese. By the time I left Exhibit Hall C in the Sacramento Convention Center it was filled with tasters. Most seemed to be involved with cheese in some professional way, but there were media types and folks who just liked cheese.
Last night's tasting was the culmination of the 31st annual meeting of the American Cheese Society (ACS). Any organization which brackets several days of academic sessions with a Tuesday evening California Cheesemaker Pubcrawl and Friday's concluding Festival of Cheese is ok in my book. As with winemaking and brewing, substantial science is involved in cheesemaking, but the products of all these endeavors are designed to give pleasure to the end users. Cheesemakers, I discovered, are every bit as fun-loving as their brewer and winemaker cousins. Maybe even more so.
A Keynote Chat
California is home to a substantial dairy industry, but until recent years it has lagged behind other states like Vermont and Wisconsin in its attention to cheese. Two fellows who know as much as anyone about the evolution of food in this state open Wednesday's sessions with what is billed as a “Keynote Chat.” Narsai David is a former restaurateur, PBS television personality and current KCBS radio commentator. Darrell Corti is owner of Corti Brothers, a retailer of wine and specialty foods. They trace the evolution of California's cuisine over the last half-century in a low-key and anecdotal style. “I don't know what we can tell you,” Darrell begins, “You're the experts.” Indeed, the banquet room is filled with cheesemakers with great knowledge of technical processes. However, few, if any, have the perspective on America's changing food scene that Darrell and Narsai can provide.
It may be a given that California can produce food and wine of world standard. But that's now. It wasn't always the case. Narsai references a blind tasting at his Pot Luck restaurant in the early 70's. Eight wines from Chardonnay grapes were poured—four great Montrachets and four Sonoma Chardonnay from Hanzell. “None of us could say which wine was which,” he reminisces. “We had a great Chardonnay that was every bit as good as great white Burgundy.” In that era Gourmet magazine observed that Pot Luck and Chez Panisse were doing “California Cuisine,” he says. “We were doing what we felt like doing. We simply were not (constrained by) the rules and limitations that burdened French chefs.” Such freedom may have led to some fads and excesses, but it also provided a sharp learning curve.
Darrell Corti is celebrating 50-years as a professional in food and wine retailing, but his experience predates that, as he grew up in the family business. “Cheese, much like winemaking, has changed. Sometimes for the better, “ he observes. “And sometimes not.” As the breadth and diversity of American cheesemaking has expanded, so have the problems and opportunities for marketing these cheeses. Noting that California wine names have evolved from European place names such as Burgundy and Chianti to wines labeled by the grapes used (Pinot Noir, Sangiovese) or by proprietary names, Corti suggests that American cheesemakers might want to develop nomenclature that wouldn't imply their products are copies or derivatives of time-honored European cheeses. If quality is good we should want our own identity, he suggests.
“We are doing things now that are the envy of the world,” Narsai David concludes. “And you are to be applauded for the direction that the American Cheese Society and all of you are a part of.”
Wine and Cheese
The pairing of wine and cheese is accepted as tradition. But maybe not all combinations are equal. A seminar entitled “California Wine & Cheese: What Works, What Doesn't, and Why” brings experiential learning, as well as academic. Anita Oberholster of the Viticulture and Enology Department at UC Davis and Kirstin Jackson, a wine and cheese consultant, author and educator, take a sold out room through a tasting of four cheeses and four wines—two whites and two reds. Opportunity to taste a wine with the cheese likely to be the most complementary, as well as one less likely to work, is a palate-opening experience, especially when accompanied by explanation of the chemistry involved.
Winners, but Maybe no Losers
A big part of these annual meetings is the awards. This year there are 1685 entries from 248 companies. Submissions come from 39 states of the US, four Canadian provinces and even the nation of Colombia. Ribbons are awarded to 325 of these entries. The awards ceremony is held Thursday afternoon in the ballroom of the adjacent Hyatt Regency Hotel. Waiting for the doors to open, cheese people gathered in the lobby and seem in remarkably good humor. An award can make a big difference. A cheesemaker from the Midwest tells me his fairly new company was out of money a few years ago when a blue ribbon was such a spur to sales that they turned the corner and are now stable in their eighth year of business. Once inside the room the audience whoops, hollers and waves pennants. They're having a great time and are partial to entrants from their own states, but they seem genuinely happy for every winner.
Festival of Cheese
Organizers have arranged for the media to have a half-hour head start to check out the displays at this finale. We may enter at 5:30. In this staged admission, ACS members are welcome at 6:00 and the general public from 7:00 forward. Vendors of complementary products, such as charcuterie, crackers and beer line the perimeter of this room and provide samples, but the centerpiece of this event is the cheese. Displays are attractively presented, all products are identified as to the category entered, the name of the cheese and the company that produced it. Those who've received honors in Thursday's judging proudly display their ribbons. Thirsty, I scan the tables beyond the cheeses and notice a friend of mine. Steve Graham, a wine steward for Nugget Markets, is pouring medal winners from the recent California State Fair wine judging. Nugget also has cheeses displayed and can make suggestions of which to sample with each wine. At the other end of the Nugget table are beer experts pouring tastes similarly paired with different cheeses.
All the cheeses taste good to me. Their quality is excellent and the variety is endless. I have a good time, but almost envy the cheese professionals who're here. They're so much more cheese-savvy than I am and I hope that they're enjoying the moment, more than analyzing too closely. Cheesemaking—it sounds like a pretty good gig. Sort of like a writer whose work requires he sample foods and wines.
by Dan Clarke
Sacramento has declared itself the leader in a category which has no universal definition, no absolute standards. However, a persuasive case can be made that this city in the most agriculturally productive state in the U.S. deserves the title “America's Farm-to-Fork Capital.” Sacramento is surrounded by farmland. Chefs in Sacramento have ready access to raw ingredients that their brethren in bigger and more glamorous locations could only dream about.
In the past Sacramento suffered the reputation of being a cultural and culinary backwater. Local radio personalities called the city “Sacra-Tomato” (and this was not meant as a compliment). Chain restaurants predominated and residents looking for a good meal would often drive to San Francisco, rather than patronize local options.
Times change, though. As Sacramento shed its inferiority complex, it began to realize that things weren't really so bad. In fact, for those who enjoyed their food, things were pretty special.
“Josh Nelson approached us in late summer of 2012, announcing that we should be 'the Farm to Fork Capital of America',” recalled Mike Testa, who's in charge of business development for the Sacramento Convention and Visitors Bureau. In a matter of hours the Mayor had been contacted and soon agreement had been reached to promote the concept with “four really special events” to involve the community. Confessing to some apprehension, Testa remembers thinking, “If the locals don't buy in, then the rest of the world won't.”
Nelson is proud of his home town and is a good spokesman for it. He's part of a team that operates two fine dining restaurants in Sacramento, The Kitchen and Ella, and two wine market and deli operations. While he's quick to point out that his father, Randall Selland, is the chef in the family, Nelson has grown up in the restaurant business. “We always shopped small family farms for The Kitchen,” he recalled. “Since 1991 we've done this—not to be a 'locavore,' but to source the best product. We have a bounty of local crops. We have great product in the area.”
Years ago Los Angeles Laker coach Phil Jackson dismissed Sacramento as “a cow town.” The city puckishly embraced that identity last September with a cattle drive up Capitol Mall, the first of their four Farm-to-Fork Week events. Ostensibly celebrating the availability of high quality proteins in the area, it was a natural made-for-media opportunity and created national news.
A second occasion, a tasting on the Capitol lawn dubbed “Legends of Wine,” honored Darrell Corti and David Berkeley, locals with international reputations. The Convention and Visitor's Bureau considers itself a regional marketer and, especially for the purposes of defining itself as the Farm-to-Fork Capital, includes much of the surrounding area as parts of the whole. Yolo County, just across the Sacramento River to the west, is home to the UC Davis College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences and lots of farm acreage.
In another gathering that was both symbolic and attention grabbing, authorities closed the Tower Bridge for a gala dinner with diners seated on the span that links the City of Sacramento and all that land to the west providing so much goodness for the table. Six hundred tickets to the $175 a plate meal went on sale in July of 2013 and sold out in a matter of hours.
The fourth and final event was the Festival on Capitol Mall and it surely was proof that locals were intrigued. The event was free and open to the public, who could meet growers, see cooking demonstrations and buy food if they liked. “We'd hoped for 10,000 people,” explained Mike Testa. “We got 25,000. The crowd was educated, engaged and eager to celebrate the Farm-to-Fork concept.”
As a former chef, Produce Express' Sales Manager Jim Mills has close ties to the area's restaurant community. “We have over 1200 accounts in the Sacramento Valley,” he commented. “These range from taquerias to the area's finest restaurants.” Mills has been pivotal in creating a liaison between specialty growers and an appreciative corps of area chefs.
One of those chefs is Patrick Mulvaney, whose Mulvaney's B&L has been in the forefront of Sacramento restaurants sourcing high-quality ingredients from nearby farms. A native of Long Island, Mulvaney worked as waiter in New York restaurants after taking a degree in English at Union College. Realizing that if he were to reach his goal of owning a restaurant, he'd need to understand how a kitchen worked, Patrick headed off to Ireland. There he apprenticed to a man who'd been Executive Chef for the P & O Cruise Line. On his return to the States, Mulvaney gained experience in the kitchens of several New York restaurants before working his way west. Eventually Mulvaney achieved a second degree in Food Science and Technology at UC Davis and later worked in the Napa Valley with the famed teaching chef, Madeleine Kammen. By this time, says Mulvaney, he had fallen in love with California and with the access to the fresh ingredients he found there. The menu at his midtown Sacramento restaurant changes daily and the chef is acutely aware of the ever-developing bounty available to him. “I moved here in 1994. It's now 2014,” he commented. “Has the percentage of iceberg lettuce to mixed baby salad greens changed in that time?”
Earlier this year Mulvaney was invited to create a dinner for the Beard House in New York City. Named for the late chef and cookbook author, the James Beard Foundation operates a restaurant that features notable chefs who bring their own culinary styles for one-night appearances. On March 13th, he and his Mulvaney's B&L kitchen crew presented a dinner there billed as A Promise of Spring: Savoring Sacramento. “It was a seven course meal,” explained Mulvaney. “Everything but the water, bread and Irish whiskey (served with dessert) came from California and most of that from within 50 miles of Sacramento. On a cold, rainy night in New York we were giving them food they wouldn't see for months—things like green garlic, asparagus from the delta and fava beans grown at Sac High's garden. It was a proud day for California, a proud day for Sacramento.”
Special events such as cattle drives and dinners on bridges capture public attention for a while, but the goal is to create an ongoing reputation for Sacramento as America's Farm-to-Fork Capital. “The model we looked at for success was Austin, Texas, which bills itself as “The Live Music Capitol of the World,” said Mike Testa. “This year we'll spend over half-a-million dollars on this issue, though some of that we hope will be offset (by participating businesses). Year two must be more than just the four special events,” he stressed. To that end, the Convention and Visitors Bureau has hired two full-time employees, Nicole Rogers and Kari Miskit, to develop the concept. “Nicole's job is to find the next steps to move this forward. Kari's is to make sure the story's being told,” said Testa.
This September, Farm-to-Fork Week will actually expand to two weeks. No cattle will be seen on downtown streets this year, but the Capitol Mall will again be the site of an expanded food festival open to the public (Latest updates on this September's events can be found at farmtofork.com).
Farm-to-Fork is undoubtedly a clever marketing concept, but underlying the hoopla of Sacramento's branding campaign there's plenty of substance. Jim Mills of Produce Express admits there's “a little bit of smoke and mirrors,” but emphasizes there is also “a whole lot of sincerity.” Patrick Mulvaney says “My goal is just to promote the wonderful work of the farmers. In an earlier era, the rock-stars were the chefs. Now we think that in the future the stars will be the farmers. As we begin to embrace our agricultural heritage and interact with the farmers, it lifts the spirit of the whole region.”
Editor's note: If you're planning on visiting this part of California's heartland, check out the Central Valley listings in Taste California Travel's Resource Directory. There you will find links to the websites of hundreds of Lodging and Dining options, as well as links to area craft beer purveyors and to nearby wineries.
TASTE News Service May 23, 2014 - Chenin Blanc may be considered the signature grape of Clarksburg.
Though trendier varieties account for more vineyard acreage in the Clarksburg region, this area just southwest of Sacramento is believed to be one of the few areas in the world capable of producing great Chenin Blanc. Grown in other parts of the world, too—most notably in France's Loire Valley and in South Africa, where it was first planted in 1655 and is also known as “Steen,” this white wine variety is versatile and can be made into sparkling wine, both dry and off-dry table wine styles and even late-harvest dessert wines.
On Tuesday, Chenin fans in the know visited Revolution, an urban winery near the corner of 29th and S Streets in Sacramento, where they had opportunity to sample an array of Chenin Blanc wines. All were grown in the Clarksburg area, though some were actually vinified by wineries in other parts of the state. While Revolution Wines also makes other varieties, its overall production is small. Their 2013 Chenin Blanc (about 300 cases produced) scored quite a coup recently when it was chosen as one of the 10 best West Coast wines to enjoy with oysters. The annual competition, sponsored by Taylor Shellfish in Washington, is usually dominated by leaner versions of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, with an occasional Pinot Grigio or Semillon in the mix. A frequent winner in past years has been a Chenin Blanc made from Clarksburg fruit by the Sonoma's Dry Creek Vineyard. This year Dry Creek was not among the top ten, but Revolution's entry was. It was poured at the Sacramento tasting, as were Chenin Blancs made in various styles from other producers. A few of them blended with the white Rhône grape Viognier showed a more aromatic side to their personalites.
One of the sponsors of this tasting was GRAS, an acronym for “Green Restaurant Alliance Sacramento,” whose mission includes educating both the public and the restaurant community about sustainable practices for the restaurant industry. David Baker, who heads the wine program for Selland's Market and Café, is also the director and a co-founder of GRAS and has the ambitious goal of returning all the community's restaurant waste to the land via composting.
Editor's note: Want to learn more about this wine region? In the Central Valley sections of Taste California Travel's Resource Directory you will find links to the websites of Clarksburg and Delta wineries, as well as links to hundreds of Lodging and Dining options in the Sacramento area. The Directory has recently added a section for craft beer purveyors, too.