**Took this trip before all the #socialdistancing began at the end of 2019. Wrote it up and totally forgot to post it. Hope you gives you something to look forward to...when we can eat cheese and drink wine face to face...not just during #virtualhappyhour**
Colee, Vanessa, and I have been friends for 20+ years. When you have been a relationship that long you gotta find ways to keep the relationship spicy. Right? So how do we do that? Obvi, it had to be a: Girls trip! (airhorn sound)
Sonoma was on the bucket list for Vanessa so I said we “gotta go and drink wine.” All three of us booked tickets and an Airbnb and then I immediately started researching the quintessential “Things-to-do-in-Sonoma” phrase. Winery Tour. Check. Lists of local eateries to try. Check. Then I was stopped in my clicking tracks.
A food tour? Tell me more. Sonoma Food Tour. A three hour walking tour that includes food, wine, and history. You had me at food. Since I would be getting into CA before my friends, I needed an activity. Eating sounded like a totally valuable way to spend my time.
Take me to the 3 hour tour.
Click to set custom
First Stop: Vella Cheese
I was running a little late since I had to wait for a ride share from the Airbnb, but luckily when I got there my tour group hadn’t started eating yet. I mean, you know how much I love hanging out with my best friend, Cheese.
The tour consisted of the tour guide, Abby, an older couple and myself. A small but mighty group. Armed with a bottle of water, my food note-taking journal (yes, I am one of those people now) and my appetite, I was ready to start shoving all of the cheese into my mouth.
Vella Cheese is a sustainable, locally owned business that hand makes its cheeses and is renowned for its jack cheese recipe. We started with a sampling of seven different cheeses, all cow’s milk.
1. Toma- a wonderful melting harvarti
2. Mezzo Secco- a partially dry Monterey Jack
3. A dry jack that is aged for 12-24 months
4. Golden Bear- extra dry aged jack
5. Pesto jack
6. Habanero jack
7. Sharp cheddar
All of the cheese tasted wonderful, but my faves were the Golden Bear and the habanero jack. They weren’t kidding about their jack recipe. The Golden Bear was almost like a parmesan and had so many flavor crystals- I love that extra crunch and pop in my cheese. The habanero had a good kick to it without being scary spicy. There was a slight minty taste to it as well. Which had a refreshing effect on your palette.
We toured the quaint cheese shop and, yes, I wanted to buy everything...but with more than 2 hours to go on the tour I felt like it would be unwise to carry around cheese on my person in the nice, warm California weather. But! Then I found out that Vella Cheese vacuum seals their cheese and can stay fresh for 7-10 days WITHOUT refrigeration. So, I mean...what choice did I have? I had to buy some cheese. What better way to welcome my friends to #winecountry than with a cheese plate. I bought some dry jack and the pesto jack because I thought it would be the most pleasing for everyone. I rounded it out with some crackers and some dry sausage. This tour was officially starting out great!
Next, we walked to Mission San Francisco Solano, the last mission to be built on the El Camino Real. I love a little history lesson. Did you know that the curved shape of the Spanish tiles that are used on roofs are originally from monks slapping them against their thighs? So not all the tiles on the Mission are the exact same shape.
Oh, and I made a friend as we were exploring the naturally occurring peppercorns!
Third Stop: Figone’s Olive Oil
But first, some yummy olive oil. The Sonoma food tour specifically showcases local and family owned operations. Which I love! This olive oil has got roots, baby. It started with the owner’s great-grandfather planting a few olive tree saplings from Italy in the San Joaquin Valley and from there the delicious olive oil is produced from descendants of these trees today. They don’t even sell the olive oil in stores because they can’t maintain the standard of quality that they would like. Don't worry! They have a subscription membership so you can enjoy this delicious olive oil even if you don’t live locally. But wait, there’s more! They have delicious vinegars (as well as olive oil lotions and soaps). I left the tasting with a subscription membership to Figone’s Olive Oil. My first delivery will be a couple of bottles of the Blood Orange Olive Oil and the White Balsamic Vinegar.
Seriously, you can taste the quality in these products. I loved everything we had during our tasting. The flavors ranged from pesto to habanero. And the balsamics were delightful as well. I had never tasted a white balsamic but I am a believer now. It has a great viscosity- which I think makes for a great mouthfeel. But the flavor just pops in your mouth! Thanks to Figone’s, my current go-to snack is some burrata and avocado with a little red pepper flake, salt, pepper, with a drizzle of EVOO and this white balsamic. TRY IT!
During the tasting the facilitator commented that I have a good palette (I mean… I know. JK) and my tour counterpart said “She’s more savvy than she looks...and I just met her.” Uh... Thanks? I think it was a compliment…? I’ll just be over here drinking olive oil.
Head over to Figone’s Olive oil website and check out their products and get some delivered to your house! Because I am more savvy than I look.
Next up we have a 2-for-1. Bump Cellars with eats provided by Sunflower Caffe.
Bump Cellars is a small winery started by a husband and wife team. Their tasting room is a contemporary, modern space and was, at the time, doubling as a silent auction art venue. Mieko, one half of the husband and wife team led our wine tasting. What’s great about it being a small winery is that they can really focus on the wines that they produce. They had a few reds in stock which were very good. The tasting consisted of a couple of pinot noirs and a red blend. I am generally not a huge fan of red blends (Maybe I’m just being stuck up) but I ended up buying a bottle of theirs, plus a Pinot Noir. If I was going to prepare a cheese plate for my friends, I was going to provide the wine too. Obviously.
To go with our delicious varietals, The Sunflower Cafe provided a Smoked Roast Duck and gruyere sandwich. Served with caramelized onion and on a homemade baguette. It was the perfect companion to all the reds we were tasting. I mean homemade baguette? Duck? Gruyere? I am there!
I kept my earlier promise to myself and sauntered off to Sign of Bear and Basque Boulangerie as the last of the chocolate dissolved on my tongue. No cheese plate is complete without some bread. Sign of the Bear was temptation city. SO. MANY. THINGS. I needed...ok wanted for my kitchen. But since I didn’t check a bag on the flight, it prevented me from buying too much. However, I did get some cute SF/Sonoma coasters. Perfect for perching my glass of Bump Cellar wine upon.
I headed back to the AirBNB to await my friends. Complete with cheese, wine, and truffles.
The rest of the weekend was spent in the company of good food and good conversation...and falling asleep to movies while drinking wine (as you do in your 30s). A few more highlights:
The girls and I rounded our trip with a private guided tour and tasting at Quintessa. Have you seen the movie Wine Country on Netflix? It’s full of funny ladies and wine. Quintessa was one of the wineries that is featured in the movie. The scene where they are harmonizing in the cellar. I HAVE BEEN THERE. I felt cool, at least for a little bit.
Movie aside, if you have the chance go to Quintessa. Go there! Ask for Evan to be your guide. He was knowledgable and AWE-SOME. Mainly because he put up with our shenanigans. The ambience and the wine was delightful. Colee got to try grapes off the vine. We all got to sip wine and take in the views. And you get a delightful flight of wine paired with some cheese and snacks. Read: a lot of wine. After the tour, we took ourselves out to lunch with a view at Auberge du Soliel. Another great view with lunch, where Vanessa had the pleasure of eating her first bone marrow. That made me happy because I love roasted bone marrow. Rich and yummy. (Scroll down for my pics of food. We also enjoyed a leisurely dinner at the Fairmont one evening. )
I’m thankful that I got to spend time with these gals that have put up with me for soooo long. And I am thankful that I will have some great wine to sip and delicious olive oil to eat when I get home. Thanks for being such a good host, Sonoma. See you soon.
If you are a Sonoma county local and have suggestions about where I should visit next time I am there. Let me know! I’ll have more fresh blog posts coming out soon.
Until then, Happy Baking. Happy Eating. Happy Repeating.
(P.S. We got to hit one of my favorite spots in SF - Joe's Cafe. I used to walk there for Bacon, Avocado Omelettes and pancakes when I lived in the city. Perfect last meal to perfect Girls' Weekend.)