You've heard me say a hundred times that we love Lake County. This is true, but it is also true that we love our specific location even more. When we first arrived in December of 2016, I was worried. We had neighbors, but I never saw them and I wrote we-are-here-and-we' d-like-to-meet-you notes, attempted to deliver to mailboxes and there were NONE! What on earth? Well, turns out, that's fairly normal 'round these parts and both our neighbors now have mailboxes.
I believe it was mid-March when I was behind the barn doing something or 'nuther and I heard a shout "Hi Neighbor!" As I looked up, I saw a man with a wide grin waving at me from the North fence of our property. Over I trundled and introductions were made, Rich Campodonico and family own the olive orchard. Bess joined and soon, Lianne C arrived with a bottle of olive oil in hand. Well now, as you can imagine, food is a direct path to both our hearts. Turns out, we became fast friends and have enjoyed many a happy hour and meal with this dynamic duo.
Campodonico Olive Oil has a distinctly peppery flair, hailing from its Tuscan roots and the purposeful blend of the olives trees they have planted. It has imparted its robust flavor in many a dish of ours. My favorite is perhaps one of the simplest – Goat Cheese Toasts. The ingredients here are nothing more than a good baguette cut into angled slices and lightly broiled on each side. Then top with good American goat cheese and a blend of olive oil, fresh thyme and pepper. Except with this olive oil, I don't need to add the pepper, just their oil and the thyme, for a smooth and lovely taste. Pop back into the broiler and it's a simple tasty side to any salad or soup. You'll want to eat them all day long!
Post Script, do not attempt to use French goat cheese for these toasts. As lovely as that stuff is, it should never, under any circumstances, ever, no way, be heated by a broiler. Not that I ever did that. Of course not.
It was perhaps a year later that we met Pauline and Mike from Edenberry Farm. To be honest, everyone in the 'hood was wondering what was happening on the corner for almost a year. Some persons were planting sticks. What? Turns out those were Raspberry and Blackberry sticks. Well, I'm sure there's an official name for them, like sprouts or canes or something, but they looked like sticks to the eye of the untrained passerby and, in short order, the plantings looked like they were engulfed by weeds. We then met the owners of the sticks at the farmers market to find out what was up. They were opening a u-pick and selling Pauline's amazing jams. There have been more plantings and some fruit trees and additions of chickens and sheep, oh and a lovely barn. As with all our farms, it's a work in progress.
My favorite salad dressing used to be just a straight-up very good balsamic. Well, thanks to Edenberry, I now must add raspberry! Easy enough really. Just a tiny bit of sugar on the berries and then smash them. Sieve and add to your favorite balsamic.
We catered a lovely wedding at Finca Castelera where we met the owners, Christie and Luis. Luis is another Lake County gentleman to whom smiling comes easy. He is generous with his happiness, time and knowledge and he grows some beautiful padron peppers. As Christie, I do like them blistered in a skillet with a good sea salt. They are a bit like popcorn. Try to eat just one! However, they do have varying heat levels so I prefer to use them by the bunch so they balance nicely into something that doesn't take out my tongue. You can give them a good roast over a fire, peel off the burn skins and chop into any number of dishes such as a pork loin chili. They add a fresh earthy flavor that can't be beaten.
I honestly cannot remember how we met Melinda and Simon of Peace and Plenty Farm. Perhaps I heard about their saffron? I'm not sure which bit of info came first, the saffron or the farm but I do know that the saffron was the goal. The spice with a price! It might as well be THE spice from Dune. In addition, they are creating a lovely farm complete with farmstand, farmstays and a barn to host weddings. Melinda has an Instagram eye, so everything is quintessentially quaint and very beautifully "farm-ish."
Now back to the food… As you know if you've been following this column, I have been making risotto for a little over 25 years. However, I had never made Risotto alla Milanese, arguably the most famous risotto in the world, because I never wanted to pop for the cost of the saffron when I couldn't be sure it was actually real saffron. Did you know that there is 30% more "saffron" sold in the world than is grown in the world? That's a lot of fake saffron running around, my friends. When I heard that a farm, not 5 miles from us, was growing and selling saffron – well, I'm surprised you didn't see my burnt tire tracks down Soda Bay Road! I did make a hasty visit and created the dish for us, for the first time, last November. It is an astoundingly simple dish with the most delicate of flavors. As with all Northern Italian food, Bolognaise Sauce comes to mind, it's not spicy, it doesn't contain hot pepper flacks or smack you as you bite. It is subtle and balanced, intended to be among other dishes of like character to create a cohesive dining experience. Using the Peace and Plenty saffron adds a freshness that does not intrude but adds another layer of flavor, as if you'd imagine the taste if you were eating the flower itself. There is nothing different about my Risotto alla Milanese than the classic…it is perfection as it is. Well, except for our farmers down the road and that's a secret ingredient I'll take any day.
This weekend we neighbors, these four farms and ours will come together to celebrate the bounty of the Soda Bay Road corridor with the Big Valley Small Farms tour. We wanted to share this place with you, our enjoyment in each other, our love for this land and the bounty that comes from here. There will be tours and much talk of farming because that is what we do. However, in the end, like always, it's all about the food and the sharing.