Tag Archives: Sonoma

The Roses of Sonoma

A little while back, I visited Sonoma, CA, with my Beloved* and spent some time in the rose garden in the town’s central Plaza. (*Rose gardens bring out romantic nomenclature.) There’s an amazing variety of roses, and I had fun trying to capture the range of their beauty. Here are a few:

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rosewhite

rosepeach

rosesunset

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rosepalepink

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roseorangebuds

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roselilac

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Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Cheese of the Week: Pug’s Leap Pavé & Petit Marcel Goat Cheeses

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I recently had the privilege of visiting Raymond & Co. Cheesemongers in Glen Ellen, CA, and partaking in a little tasting. Yum! Everything they offered was tantalizing and top-of-the-cheese-game, including two farmstead goat cheeses, the Pavé and the Petit Marcel, from the relatively new Pug’s Leap Farm in Healdsburg.

(In the photo, the Pavé is topmost, and the Petit Marcel is at the bottom.)

Pug’s Leap, founded by ex-San Franciscans Eric Smith and Pascal Destandau, is notably dedicated to Slow Food and sustainable practices. They have stated that “buying locally brings health, economic, environmental, and social benefits to the community.” Their single goat herd of Saanens, Toggenbergs, Sables, and some cross-breeds, is fed organic feed. Their cheese production is relatively small-scale and done largely by hand. The farm is solar-powered.

The Pavé is unusually dry in texture, especially for a goat cheese. It’s extremely flavorful — tangy, with strong goat tones and smells, earthy, ashen and mushroomy. The complicated flavors linger nicely on the taste buds.

The wrinkled rind is wonderfully bloomy and the cheese nearest the rind has a great gooey texture. The processes used at Pug’s Leap greatly influence the Pavé’s taste. For one, the fresh curd is treated gently, to produce a rind with external mold, which in turn influences the taste of the ripening cheese. To create the especially dry texture, the whey is expelled.

The Petit Marcel is another winner. It also has a great goat flavor and an even more pungent goat nose (which I like). It’s also dry in texture, though less so than the Pavé . The younger Petit Marcel is sweeter and milkier than the Pavé. The taste, while great, is ultimately less complex, less special, than the Pavé.

As for pairing, both cheeses are wonderfully versatile. Grapes, peaches and cherries are some fruits that work with them. Almonds make a nice accompaniment. The stronger Pavé can take Cabernet and other red wines. I’d stick with a fruitier Syrah or Pinot, or a Chardonnay for the Petit Marcel.

Either way, get yourself a little goat round and enjoy!

Photo by Susan Sachs Lipman

Tales of the Sonoma-Marin Fair (One Day Left!)

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I just love this fair! We went opening day and had a spectacular time, as always. It’s a familiar, comfortable, classic fair that’s extremely easy to navigate. This year there were a couple of new additions to the old favorites, as well.

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Each fair visit has its own highlight. I always love the many animals at the Sonoma-Marin — goats, sheep, cows, pigs, poultry, rabbits — and the way visitors can walk around and see them, and then watch different animal events. One year, we saw a Sheep Shearing contest, which was fascinating. This year was the first time we saw a 4 H Pig Showmanship contest. We watched kids from 10-16 years old compete.

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The judge was wonderful and encouraging to every entrant. He explained to us some of the things he was looking for — command of the animal, eye contact with the judge, ease. Some pigs had clearly chosen Show Day to act up and had to be coaxed out of the ring’s corners. The participants all seemed serious and dedicated.

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This Ohio State University site shares more about pig showmanship. As usual, at the fair, I learned something about animals and their care and came away with renewed respect for farmers.

We watched this participant bathe her sheep.

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The goats were very rowdy this year, really bleating at one another.

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We visited all our other favorite animals.

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And we learned more from the wonderful displays kids had made about their animals or their 4 H projects.

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This was the first time in years that we hadn’t entered our own jam, so of course we spent a lot of time looking at the food exhibits.

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The young cake decorators were particularly impressive. This fondant cake was made by an 11-year-old.

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These TV-dinner-themed cupcakes, also made by a young person, were original and perfect.

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Still another exhibit hall featured art, collections, and other hobby work, from antique doll collecting to woodworking, by people of all ages. This apron, made by a 10-year-old, was very well done and had a nice vintage look, in fabric choice and design.

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The sky turned blue and a sliver of a moon came up. Even the Cinnamon Roll trailer, on the great midway, looked poetic and somehow Western.

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We bought kettle corn from a Ft. Worth, TX, couple we always visit. We first had their wonderful kettle corn at the California State Fair, which comes to Sacramento mid-August through Labor Day.

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Back down the midway, for another session of rides! This fair charges one admission price, which includes all the rides and exhibits, so there’s no having to stop the fun and/or pay extra for tickets for things. The games do take cash, and we always have to try our luck at those.

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Night fell, the neon of the rides came on, and more people seemed to arrive. The fair just felt more lively and exciting.

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As always, we’d been there for hours, and it was still incredibly hard to leave.

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Until next year!

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Sonoma-Marin County Fair Opens Today

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The Sonoma-Marin Fair is here!

I love county fairs, and we in the Bay Area have an abundance of great fairs to choose from. Because it straddles two counties that each have a fair later this season, the Sonoma-Marin Fair can be overlooked. This fair, in Petaluma, has been my family’s favorite for years.

All your fair favorites are here: a midway with tons of traditional food, like corn dogs and funnel cakes, good rides for all ages, carnival games, food and animal exhibits, live music and performances, and lots of special contests. Over the years, we’ve seen sheep shearing, cheese carving, cow milking, hypnotists, and contests for everything from gathered wool to painted shoes.

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The Sonoma-Marin Fair has a down-home feeling, which is in keeping with Petaluma’s farming and historical roots. There are a lot of animals to see and activities for small children. It’s also not as large or crowded as some other fairs, making it particularly appealing for families.

The Sonoma-Marin Fair is in town Wednesday, June 24 through Sunday, June 28. We plan to be there opening day and will report back.

For directions, hours, events and more, see the Sonoma-Marin Fair site.

See you on the midway!

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Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Cheese of the Week: Juniper Grove Tumalo Tomme Goat Cheese

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The world’s longest lasting cheese course (lucky us!) continues with a Tumelo Tomme Goat’s Milk cheese (also known as Tumelo Classico) from Juniper Grove Farm in Redmond, Oregon. This is a lovely cheese, with a firmer texture than you might ordinarily find in a goat cheese, which results in something like a goat gouda. It’s a solid, pleasing cheese, with a lot of body in the mouth.

The goat aspect takes a moment to hit you and, when it does, it is equally pleasant and on the mild side. (The Haystack Mountain Queso de Mano, which was on the same plate, is bolder.) There are nutty and sweet, even caramel-like notes, along with an earthy, slightly mushroom-y taste.

Redmond Grove Farm’s owner/cheesemaker, Pierre Kolisch, studied cheesemaking in Normandy with master cheesemaker Francois Durand, and cites European “tomme” cheeses as an influence. (“Tomme” loosely means small cheese from partial milkings, with the “tomme” and “toma” names in particular use in the French and Italian Alps.)

Tumalo is a raw-milk cheese, made from milk from Redmond Grove’s herd of goats, which feed on alfalfa year-round on beautiful land east of Oregon’s Cascade Mountain range. (Indeed, Tumalo bears the name of a local village.) Kolisch employs traditional farmstead methods in his cheesemaking, such as separating curds from whey, and then brining, stacking and hand-turning the washed-rind cheese, as it ages on pine planks in a dry, cool environment for three months.

The result is this nice, lovingly made goat cheese.

The Tomalo Tomme works well with crackers, grapes, apricots, or a fruity red wine, such as Pinot Noir or Merlot.

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Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Cheese of the Week: Fiscalini Farms Bandage Wrapped Cheddar

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Moving further along our superb Girl and the Fig cheese course, in order of distinctiveness (to me), we find the Fiscalini Farms Bandage Wrapped Cheddar. This was my husband’s very favorite cheese on the plate.

It is, indeed, a special cheese. It has a wonderfully strong, complex taste that features a mix of salty and sweet flavors. There are hints of grass and nuts, along with a pleasing buttery quality.

Far from the gummy, uninteresting, mass-produced cheddars that can give this cheese a bad name, the Fiscalini is dry and on the crumbly side, without sacrificing any creaminess of texture. It’s aged 18 months, using unpasteurized milk from the Fiscalini Farmstead cows and traditional methods that include bandage-wrapping the wheels in cheesecloth. The cheesecloth lets the cheese breathe as it ages and lends it a nice porous rind.

The Fiscalini Cheese Company, in the California Central Valley town of Modesto, has been operating since 1914. Their current cheesemaker, Jorge “Mariano” Gonzalez, studied at Montgomery Farms in England and perfected his methods at Shelburne Farms in Vermont. His bandage-wrapped cheddars consistently win awards, competing with such cheddar stalwarts as Neal’s Yard Dairy in England.

Cheddar doesn’t boast the same name-protection as some other European cheeses, which can only call themselves by certain names if they come from specific geographic areas. As such, cheddar is produced in many parts of the world. The first cheddars were created in Medieval times, in the village of Somerset, England, and it is the “Somerset model” that some use to determine a true traditional farmstead cheddar.

Randolph Hodgson, the proprietor of Neal’s Yard Dairy, has worked with the Slow Food Movement to develop standards for artisan Somerset cheddar. These include using unpasteurized milk from a farm’s own herd, employing traditional “cheddaring” methods, like stacking and turning the curd by hand, and aging at least 11 months. Aside from geographic considerations, Fiscalini fits the bill, and is the only American farm to do so. (Shelburne Farms makes a clothbound cheddar, but it is in extremely limited production.)

After enjoying this tangy cheese, it will be harder for me to take the cheddars for granted. Pair the complex Fiscalini with a hearty ale or a fruity wine, and crisp apple slices. Due to quality and price, I’d make it a nibbly cheese, rather than a cooking cheese. And I’d certainly give it its rightful place on the cheese board.

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Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Cheese of the Week: Haystack Mountain Queso de Mano Goat Cheese

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Continuing down our Girl and the Fig cheese plate, I really enjoyed the Queso de Mano goat cheese, from Jim Schott’s award-winning Haystack Mountain Goat Dairy in Niwot, Colorado. This is a superb raw-milk cheese — it has a wonderful, prominent, goat taste that is slightly sweet, and carries with it an undertone of nuttiness, as well as a hint of its farmstead grass and herbs. All that makes it terrifically complex and interesting, especially if you love goat-milk cheeses, as I do.

The Queso de Mano also manages to combine a firm texture with a velvety mouth feel. The cheese is aged four months and has a natural washed rind. It would be great with toasted almonds, fresh cherries or apricots, and a good fruity red wine.

For a long time, Haystack Mountain was the last remaining dairy in Boulder County. Sadly, local and other business expenses forced the company to sell its goats to the State Prison in Canon City, Colorado, which has operated an inmate-run dairy for 70 years. The upshot, though, is that the company is still producing and distributing its fabulous cheese from its headquarters in Longmont, Colorado, inmates at Canon City are doing fruitful work and learning a skill, and the Nubian, LaMancha, Sanaan and Nubian Cross goats are continuing to thrive and produce the milk that goes into Haystack Mountain’s cheeses.

The Queso de Mano is the second cheese from the right:

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Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Cheese of the Week: Bohemian Creamery Bo Poisse

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I recently ducked into the fantastic Girl and the Fig restaurant in Sonoma and shared a wonderful cheese course with My Man. Of the six cheeses, the Bo Poisse, from Lisa Gottreich and Miriam Block’s new Bohemian Creamery in Bodega, was the absolute standout. The first thing that hits you about Bo Poisse is its sweet, pungent smell. When you bite into it, you find a delightfully creamy, almost wet cheese that tastes of mushroom, cream, a slight bit of ash. This is followed up by a lusty, tangy finish that brings with it more than a hint of a barnyard on a hot afternoon.

This cheese totally commits — As such it’s not for everyone. I loved it.

Bohemian Creamery is a small-batch, artisanal producer. They handcraft each round on their seven-acre farm, much of the milk coming from their own goats. The cows-milk Bo Poisse is made with milk from neighboring Jerseys. The washed-rind cheese is created using an Epoisse recipe. The French village of Epoisses is known for its pungent, soft, washed-rind cheeses. Napoleon was supposedly a fan, as was early epicurean/writer Brillat-Savarin, who called it “the king of all cheeses”.

The restaurant’s bubbly, sweet Fig Royale proved a nice companion to the complex cheese. I could see Medjool dates working with it, as well. Though my husband had other favorites on the cheese board (that’s what makes the world go ’round, plus more Bo Poisse for me), I can’t wait to have this cheese again, and I wish Bohemian Creamery great cheese-wheel-shaped success.

Look for my other reviews from this tasting, as we work our way down the cheese plate, bit by bit.

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Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

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