Cheese festival season has sprung: the best in the West

sheep cheese Spring, as they say, has sprung. In farmstead and artisan cheese parlance, that means pastures are currently abound with calves, lambs, and kids (of the goat variety), and the first milk of the season is in. That’s why March is the kickoff month for cheese festivals, especially on the West Coast because of its more mild climate. The following just happen to be some of the nation’s best.

8th Annual Oregon Cheese Festival, March 17
Hosted by the Oregon Cheese Guild and Rogue Creamery, this much-loved event features dozens of cheese, beer, and wine makers. General admission is minimal, the sampling is free, and the vibe is laid-back. The festival is held at Rogue Creamery in Central Point, just outside of Ashland in southern Oregon. It possesses the vibe of a giant farmers market, with all of the vendors gathered beneath a giant tent. Events include a “Meet the Cheesemakers” dinner (held the night before), seminars, and tastings, including chocolate and cider.California Artisan Cheese Festival (CACF), March 24-25
What better place for a California cheese festival than wine country? CACF is held every March in Petaluma (located in Sonoma County, about 40 minutes north of San Francisco) and draws over 2,000 attendees who come to taste cheeses from the West Coast, Pacific Northwest, and Rockies. Sign up now to get in on local creamery tours, special lunches, and educational seminars.

On April 7, the inaugural Washington Artisan Cheesemakers Festival will take place in Seattle. In addition to cheesemakers from across the state, expect Washington food artisans, craft beer and cider producers, and winemakers. The event is a benefit for the Cascade Harvest Coalition, a non-profit dedicated to local food security.

Can’t make the festival circuit? Try taking a class at The Cheese School of San Francisco, which is focused solely on classes and tasting events for professionals and caseophiles alike. With an ongoing curriculum of classes taught by industry professionals, offerings may include everything from “Mozzarella Making” and “Craft Brews & Artisan Beers,” to “Sheep & Syrah” and “Springtime Cheeses and Loire Valley Wines.” This is the place geek out on dairy.

Admittedly, this video isn’t from a cheesemaker in the western U.S.; it comes from renown Jasper Hill Farm in Vermont. But it’s an excellent short clip on how cheese goes from cow to cheese case. Should you be fortunate enough to find Harbison at your local cheese shop, I strongly recommend you pounce upon it, because it’s simply dreamy.



[Photo credit: Kate Arding]

Food poisoning! What to watch out for in 2012

food poisoningFor many people–myself included–one of the most enjoyable aspects of travel is experiencing how other cultures eat. Even if you’re only traveling as far as the other end of the state, chances are there’s a regional specialty, street food, farmers market, or restaurant that’s a destination in its own right.

Sometimes, however, the pickings are slim, or no matter how delicious the food, the odds are just stacked against you. As Anthony Bourdain put it on a recent episode of his new series, The Layover, “…if there’s not a 50-percent chance of diarrhea, it’s not worth eating.”

Gross, perhaps, but gluttonous travelers know there’s truth in those words. Bourdain happened to be referring to a late-night drunk binge at one of Amsterdam‘s infamous FEBO fast food automats (above), so with that in mind, I present this photographic homage to the things we eat on the road, despite knowing better. Walk softly, and carry a big bottle of Imodium

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[Photo credit: Flickr user .waldec]

4 off-the-radar destinations in South Australia

harris smokehouse While many people who travel to South Australia visit the popular regions of Adelaide and the nearby Barossa Valley, there are many off-the-radar destinations that are also worth exploring. Whether you love wine tasting, unique restaurants, adventure travel, craft beer, architecture, art, or culture, there is something for everyone to experience through these lesser-traversed regions down south.

Hahndorf

Located about 30 minutes north of Adelaide, Hahndorf offers scenic hillside views as well as a strong German influence through the city’s timber-framed buildings, German restaurants, and German-inspired art galleries. The old-world charm brings you back in time while trendy boutiques and restaurants help to keep the city modern. For wine-enthusiasts, the wineries and cellars of Hahndorf give a great opportunity to sample the region’s cold-climate varieties, which are my personal favorite because of their intense flavors. Make sure to stop at Harris Smokehouse, a fourth-generation family-owned restaurant that serves high-quality smoked fish specialties, like smoked kingfish, hot smoked barramundi, and smoked oysters from Coffin Bay. I would also recommend visiting The White House, an 1858 cottage that features everything from rustic and ethical cuisine like coddled free-range eggs with spinach and pork fennel sausages with asparagus and mushrooms, an impressive wine cellar, live music, and a Secret Garden Cinema on Friday nights in the summer and fall. As a nature and outdoors lover, I also love the country-fresh treats of Beerenberg Farm like chutneys, jams, honeys, oils, and other sauces (try the molasses!), as well as getting to pick your own strawberries.south australia McLaren Vale

While you’ve probably heard of the Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale is also a haven for oenophiles everywhere. Located on the Fleurieu Peninsula about 45 minutes south of Adelaide, McLaren Vale is a beautiful food and wine destination with opportunities for wine, cheese, and craft beer sampling, various tasting trails, farmer’s markets, and even art and coastal activities. The opportunities for oenophiles are endless, with more than 65 cellars and family-owned wineries. If you’re more of a beer person, McLaren Vale Beer gives in-house tastings, including their Vale Ale, which own a gold medal at the International Beer Challenge last summer, as well as serves gastro-pub type food like mushroom pizzas and shucked Coffing Bay oysters. I would also recommend trying one (or all) or the tasting trails to get a variety of experiences, like the Cadenzia Grenache Trail, Wine and Cheese Trails, McLaren Vale Scarce Earth Shiraz Trail, and the McMurtrie Trail. If you only have time to do one thing, my top pick would be a visit to Bella Cosa, as it’s not only a Bed & Breakfast but also a winery, tapas bar, and sculpture park where you can stroll around and enjoy outdoor art. On the weekends, visitors to the area can drive about 2 miles to nearby Willunga and enjoy the Saturday morning farmer’s market. You can also bike to Willunga, as the towns are connected by a cycle path. Once you feel like you’ve eaten and drank enough, enjoy the outdoors by treking through Onkaparinga Gorge, relax on the beach, or go fishing or surfing.

australia Clare valley

While most people wanting to experience south Australia’s wine country opt to visit the Barossa Valley, another option that’s just as beautiful but a bit off the beaten path is Clare Valley. Located about 2 hours north of Adelaide, this is one of the more historical wine regions in South Australia and visitors can experience this through tastings at unique wine cellars. I love this region for its countryside ambiance and the way life here seems simple and organic. While there are many different vineyards and wine cellars in the area, there are a few that stand out from the rest. First there is Sevenhill Cellars, which is the oldest winery in the region and was built by Jesuits in 1851 for the purpose of making sacramental wine. Jesuits actually still work there, and along with tastings in the cellar you can also visit a historical crypt that resides underneath the on-site church. Another winery I really love is Knappstein Winery, mostly because I’m a big craft beer fan and there is a micro brewery in their wine cellar. Moreover, Annie’s Lane is a great stop when checking out the Clare Valley wineries, not only because they have delicious Shiraz but also because they have a free art gallery with works from local artists as well as a complimentary wine museum where you can learn more about vino production through the ages. To sample an array of wineries, I would suggest doing the Rieseling Trail, as Clare Valley is famous for its German Rieselings.

australia Flinders Ranges

While this Outback mountain range is a bit further from Adelaide (about 4-5 hours from the central area), it’s a great way to experience the rugged beauty of South Australia. The experience literally feels like going back in time or a trip to a different world as people live in the bush among wild kangaroos and emus with little signs of civilization and modernization. The landscape of the area is extremely unique, with glowing red rocks, vast desert, jagged mountains, and bright starry skies at night thanks to little light pollution. In the Flingers Ranges National Park you will still find a rich Aboriginal culture as these people have lived in the area for thousands of years. The Aboriginal rock art that you will find is impressive as well as the ancient ruins. Another unique outdoor experience is visiting the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary , where bird watching, off-roading, and hiking are popular activities. Explore precarious-looking mountain peaks, scenic lookout points, ancient seabeds, radioactive hot springs, and see the endangered Yellow-footed Rock-Wallaby in Bararranna Gorge.

Boulder’s mixology scene the place for holiday spirit(s)

mixologyBy now, we’re well into the Third Wave of the mixology craze. Cosmopolitans begat new types of martinis begat the revival of pre-Prohibition-era cocktails (which begat bartenders donning suspenders or dapper suit vests).

The revival of classic cocktails and trending toward intelligent, seasonally-driven mixology made with craft-distilled spirits has been driven by America’s mania for all things artisanal and/or local.

Ignore the pretentious b.s. that muddies the waters of the food and wine et al. industries. You’ll find that most consumers, chefs, farmers, and food artisans are merely interested in the provenance of certain ingredients, and the traditional methods used to produce or prepare products like cheese, charcuterie, boutique wine, craft beer, and distilled spirits. This is a good thing. And, I might add, who doesn’t appreciate a great meal or well-made beverage?

That, in a nutshell, is why Boulder, Colorado has been making headlines as one of America’s most progressive dining destinations. As a former resident, (I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: I move. A lot.), I can attest that Boulder is on the cutting edge of conscious eating. But where it really shines, in my opinion, is its mixology scene.

Bonus: Boulder’s best drinking spots are located on or just one block off of Pearl Street, which runs through the heart of downtown and the pedestrian mall. This time of year, Pearl is aglow with fairy lights adorning the trees, and (if you’re lucky) snowfall: it’s a wonderful place to spend the holidays. If you like to imbibe, try a glass (or three) of good cheer at any of the restaurant/bars following the jump.

mixologyWhen I first moved to Boulder in 2006, I lamented the shortage of decent watering holes (meaning, places not overrun by frat boys; it is, after all, a college town). Fortunately, the two best restaurants in town, nationally-acclaimed Frasca, and The Kitchen, (in this instance, I refer to its adjacent, second-floor sister spot, [Upstairs]), put the same thought and care into their beer and wine lists and the crafting of cocktails as their food. Thus, I happily spent many nights cozied up to the bar of one or the other.

Frasca has since undergone a remodel and expansion, and last spring opened Pizzeria Locale next door, which has its own impressive beer and wine list. The cocktail progam at Frasca–overseen by bar manager Allison Anderson–is still fantastic, as are the selection of apertifs and digestifs, including premium grappas. For a light, festive holiday drink, try the Promessa d’Italia (Luxardo Maraschino Cherry Liqueur, Blue Gin, and Prosecco).

Former Frasca beverage program director Bryan Dayton opened OAK at Fourteenth with chef/co-owner Steven Redzikowski in November, 2010. The restaurant immediately attracted attention for both its localized New American cuisine focused around the oak-fired oven and grill, as well as Dayton’s stellar mixology program. Sadly, a kitchen fire destroyed the restaurant several months after opening.

But, as they say, every cloud has a (Don Julio) Silver lining. In September, Dayton won Bombay Sapphire’s “Most Inspired Bartender of 2011,” and is currently gracing the cover of 5,000 copies of the December issue of GQ as part of his handsome reward (his winning drink: a “Colorado-inspired blend of juiced pears: simple syrup infused with sage, fennel and juniper; blackberry; Bombay Sapphire East; yellow chartreuse, and lime”).

OAK just celebrated its reopening on December 14th, with a revamped design and slew of inspired takes on classic cocktails, featuring Dayton’s passion for craft spirits. On the menu for the holidays: Oaxacan Winter (Sombra mezcal, Antica Carpano, St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram, Navan, molé bitters, and agave), and the Oak Martini (Death’s Door Vodka or Gin, Dolin Blanc Vermouth, and grapefruit bitters). New to OAK’s beverage program are house-created and -bottled sodas, in flavors such as kumquat and tarragon or cucumber and basil.

Last June, The Kitchen opened [Next Door], a “community gastropub.” There’s more of the same rustic, localized fare The Kitchen is known for, but you’ll also find an abbreviated selection of beer, wine, and natural sodas served on tap. It’s part of The Kitchen beverage program director Ray Decker’s ongoing commitment to source the best craft beers, boutique wines, and distilled spirits available.
mixology
At The Bitter Bar, located around the corner from The Kitchen, you’ll find a short, appealing American bistroish menu, but mixology is the star of the show just as proprietor/manager Mark Stoddard intended. Thumbs up, too, for the “staff picks” section on the menu listing cocktail and entree pairings.

If late night cocktails are your thing, I suggest making The Bitter Bar your last stop, but be prepared: these drinks pack a wallop. Friendly, informative mixologists serve seasonal cocktails (in warmer weather, some ingredients are sourced from the property’s own herb garden) in vintage crystal stemware–a nice touch. There are always seasonal specials, but don’t dismiss “Bitter Originals” such as The Gunner’s Daughter (Eldorado 5 Year Rum, Smith & Cross Navy Strength Jamaica Rum, Domaine de Canton–a ginger liqueur– Cynar, and Allspice Dram) and the Hokkaido Highball (Yamazaki 12-Year Single Malt Japanese whiskey, elderflower cordial, and apple drinking vinegar). Happy holidays indeed!

Tip: Boulder is located at 5,430 feet, so if you’re not used to the altitude, you should be more concerned with drinking water than alcohol. Remember that one drink is equivalent to two at this elevation. Pace yourself, drink lots of water, and pop a couple of aspirin before you turn in for the night.

From Mark Stoddard at The Bitter Bar comes this sophisticated upgrade on eggnog.
Tom & Jerry
serves 1

1 egg
1 oz. aged rum
1 oz. Cognac
1 oz. hot milk
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 allspice berry, ground
1/2 clove
4 oz. hot water
nutmeg, for garnish

Separate the egg white and yolk into two bowls. In one bowl, add rum and brandy to the yolk and beat together until frothy. In the other bowl, beat the egg white until it forms a peak, and then add milk, sugar, ground allspice, and clove. Fold the rum, Cognac, and yolk into the egg white bowl, and stir. Strain into a tall mug or tempered glass and top with hot water. Garnish with grated nutmeg on top (a microplane zester works well).

[Photo credit: Tom & Jerry; Bryce Clark]

How to Make a Flamed Orange Zest for Cocktails

January is California Restaurant Month

california restaurantsAs a native Californian and longtime former Bay Area resident, I have to confess there’s no place like home when it comes to the American food/dining/wine scene (New Yorkers, feel free to sharpen your knives…).

California’s always been progressive when it comes to food and drink, from the early days of the vaqueros and Gold Rush-era San Francisco, right up to today’s never-ending parade of talented food artisans, chefs, farmers, and mixologists. It’s only fitting then, to feature a California Restaurant Month.

In January, the second annual statewide celebration is back and better than ever. Presented by Visit California, nearly 30 destinations across the Golden State are creating special restaurant week or month-long promotions and deals, including celebrity chef, prix fixe, and wine pairing dinners, and a series of “Dine and Drive Itineraries” that map out the culinary and scenic highlights of specific regions. Included are “Wine Country Fresh,” “Food Lover’s Classic Coast Drive: San Francisco to L.A.,” and “A Taste of San Diego.” Participating regions for events include cities and counties throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, Central Coast, and Northern and Southern California.

If you’re worried about the calories, California Restaurant Month also offers travel tips on where the best skiing, surfing, hiking, and other outdoor activities are to be found, regardless of your itinerary. And that’s the thing about California. As my dad always said, “What other state offers so much diversity?” Whether bagging peaks, scuba-diving, camping in the desert, or having a blow-out shopping spree is your thing, California’s got it.

[Photo credit: Flickr user Stuck in Customs]