Pigging Out in Sonoma

The third weekend in March is a great time to be in Sonoma County–especially if you are looking to put on a few pounds. This is, after all, the time for two of our favorite, well established (10th and 9th annual, respectively) weekend-long celebrations of food and wine–both to which we are return visitors.

Pig & Pinot (https://www.hotelhealdsburg.com/pigsandpinot/) at Chef Charlie Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen in Healdsburg, California. This celebration, which benefits Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry Campaign, consists of a weekend full of seminars, dinners, competitions and silent auctions–each, not surprisingly from the event’s name, based on different combinations of pork and Pinot Noir. Our appetites were able to accommodate only one of these events, the Friday evening Taste of Pigs & Pinot. This walk-around dinner features more than 60 primarily Sonoma Pinots from dozens of wineries and a wide range of pork dishes from 24 different chefs and purveyors. The dishes included everything from homemade sausages, pates and charcuterie to barbecued ribs and pig’s ear fries. Although we enjoyed many of the dishes our favorites included:

  • Barndiva’s quail egg BLT with tomato marmalade and prosciutto bacon on toasted brioche;
  • Catelli’s 18-hour braised pork with Italian white beans;
  • Valette’s Berkshire tenderloin cured in Pinot Noir skins with grapevine smoke, parsnip and cacao purée and raisin gastrique;
  • Dry Creek Kitchen’s herb marinated pork loin with Parmesan risotto and jus; and
  • Boulevard Restaurant’s abalone and guan kale with shaved pasta al Nero.

Nor could we pass up on dessert, an incredible selection of handmade chocolates, most of which carried though on the theme by incorporating some form of pig, with a particular emphasis on, what else, bacon!

Joyce has her hands fullOne of the tables pouring over 60 pinotsLa Condesa House Cures Salmon on flat bread with Shamrock artisal goat cheese and capersDSC01394DSC01389DSC01375DSC01359Abalone and Guanciale Shave Pasta Al Nero

As tempted as we were to stay in Healdsburg for other dinners, we had to save ourselves for the weekend’s other big event. So, after a day of wine tasting (especially Zins in Dry Creek and Pinots in Russian River) and lunch at a top Healdsburg restaurant to which we had not previously been (the very good, Yucatan- influenced Mateo’s Cocina Latina, we went to our next event–a cheese festival in Petaluma.

Sonoma Artisan Cheese Festival (https://artisancheesefestival.com). This event consists of a weekend of seminars, demonstrations, farm and creamery visits, dinners, brunches and opportunities to taste and buy many different styles and flavors of artisan cheese. We attended two of the cheese celebration events.

Chefs vs Chefs–the Best Bite is a walk-around dinner that provides tastes of a wide range of cheese-based dishes from more than 20 Bay Area chefs and restaurants, all accompanied by beverages from local wines (few of which we found to be particularly interesting) and craft beers and ciders (less well known ones and more interesting, at least to Tom). The dishes, including both as savories and sweets, ranged from crostinis and salads to soups and many variations on mac and cheese. Sweets ranged from lemon cheese tarts to a couple of imaginative ricotta cheese-based parfaits. Our favorites were:

  • Freestone Artisan Cheese’s Beehive Rosemary Promontory Cheese béchamel sauce on panzanetta salad with house made lamb sausage and poached quail egg; and
  • Lincoln Park Wine Bar’s Bellwether Farms ricotta parfait with balsamic strawberries and almond brittle.

We also found a few honorable mentions, such as:

  • Carneros Bistro’s braised veal cheek ragout on Sierra Nevada raw milk cheddar goat cheese polenta with pickled micro turnips;
  • Nick’s Cove’s unusual Maine lobster poutine with Nicasio Valley Nicasio Square cheese;
  • Preferred Sonoma Caterers’ pimento cheesecake with Spring Hill Jersey Cheese 2-year aged organic white cheddar and garlic jack with bourbon brown sugar bacon; and
  • Corks Restaurant’s apple cobbler with caramel sauce and Central Coast Creamery goat Gouda.

The most unusual and good dish was a surprise entry from the same Lincoln Park Wine Bar that had our favorite sweet. This was a variation on its ricotta parfait. This one with strawberry conserve, black sesame seeds and, believe it or not, dried anchovies!

Valley Ford Cheese CompanyDSC01404Easter items for saleband

These, however, we found to be the exceptions. Many of the other dishes–not to speak of the wines with which they were paired–were uninspired or just lacked taste. To our tastes, the good didn’t outweigh the mediocre. This, we’re sorry to say, will probably be our last year at this event.

Our food-filled weekend ended with another of the Cheese Festival’s events: the Sunday afternoon Artisan Cheese Tasting and Marketplace. This perpetually popular event includes more than 90 (primarily Northern Californian) artisan cheese producers who sample and sell (often at attractive discounts) a wide range of artisan cheeses and other cream products, such as butter and ice creams. Then there are the many cheese accoutrements (knives, serving trays, napkins) and complements (crackers, sauces), as well as books, cheese making kits and much more. Then, of course, are samples of local wines, beers and ciders.

As in previous years, we left the festival fully satiated, carrying a few cheeses we were unable to resist, and the names or a number of others that we intend to buy before next year’s festival. Among our favorite cheeses of those with which we were not previously familiar were:

  • Cypress Grove Bermuda Triangle and Midnight Moon goat;
  • Weinrauch St. Rose sheep;
  • Redwood Hill California Crottin goat; and
  • Golden Valley Farm Golden Ewe and Little Lamb sheep.

Among our non-cheese favorites were:

  • Crehyinouli Baorola Saalami (with Barola wine);
  • Clover Hoppy Hour (vanilla) and Petaluma Pothole (rocky road) ice creams made with IPA; and
  • R&J Almond Toffee.

Although there was much to sample and enjoy, our local San Francisco stores and farmers’ markets are offering and providing many more opportunities to taste these and other artisan cheeses. Will we return to the Tasting and Marketplace? Yes, but our visits will become less frequent than in the past.

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