Farm to Table, Vine to Glass California Pairings
Anyone who’s ever enjoyed an alfresco lunch of grilled sardines and Provençal rosé at a seaside café in Nice understands the idea of local pairings.
Europe isn’t the only place to enjoy them. California chefs, farmers and winemakers have 40 years of mutual respect and experimentation behind them to produce all sorts of natural pairings.
California cuisine emerged in the 1970s when chefs like Alice Waters of Chez Panisse in Berkeley and Jeremiah Tower of Stars in San Francisco rejected contrived, complex French haute cuisine. Instead they looked around them to nearby gardens, ranches and docks for fresh, local ingredients to fuel a pared-down style of cooking. A similar impulse inspired chefs to collaborate with the then-new wineries in Napa, Sonoma and beyond, pairing the produce and protein that thrive in California’s Mediterranean climate with wine made from the same moderate, sunny environment.
This indulgent late-winter menu demonstrates several of these symbiotic combinations, using four approachable recipes that place California food specialties like farmstead cheese and pasture-grown lamb on the table with unconventional wines grown a stone’s throw away.
Cheese and Oysters? Welcome to Tomales Bay
A wonderful day trip from San Francisco, the Sonoma Marin Cheese Trail connects six cheese makers located near scenic Tomales Bay. The trail includes the famous Cowgirl Creamery and Tomales Farmstead Creamery, whose Teleeka cheese is used for the pastry filling. The beautiful drive goes over the Golden Gate Bridge and along Highway 1 through Marin County. The route passes several oyster farms, including favorite Hog Island, and continues into Sonoma County and the Russian River Valley. Beware big mid-day crowds at the oyster bars whenever the fog clears.
Recipe courtesy Atelier by JCB, Yountville, California
This twist on a baked brie en croute (in pastry crust) was inspired by ingredients available from vintner Jean-Charles Boisset’s gourmet boutique, Atelier by JCB, in Yountville, California. While this recipe takes a little more work than the big, oozing mess you get with a whole wheel of Brie in the traditional version, it makes a finger-friendly appetizer so rich that you won’t need more than two morsels per person.
Find where to get the cheese at tolumafarms.com, or substitute another bloomy-rind, soft-ripened cheese.
- 1 sheet frozen puff pastry
- 4 ounces prosciutto, sliced thin and torn into 2-inch pieces
- 4 ounces Tomales Farmstead Creamery Teleeka, cut into 12 pieces
- 1 egg
- 2 apples, quartered, cored and cut into ¼-inch slices (optional)
Thaw puff pastry according to directions on box. Keep refrigerated until ready to use.
Heat oven to 400˚F. Dust work surface lightly with flour. Lightly dust both sides of pastry sheet with flour.
Using rolling pin, roll sheet to twice its original size. Cut the dough into 12 squares with a pizza wheel or sharp knife. Divide prosciutto among squares. Top prosciutto with cheese in center of each pastry square. Fold corners of each square over cheese, and firmly twist corners together at top.
In small bowl, beat egg with 2 teaspoons cold water. Brush surface of pastry with egg wash. Place pastry on baking sheet lined with parchment paper or silicone mat. Bake until browned on top, about 15 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes.
Serve with a side of apple slices, if desired. Serves 6.
These baked puffs use a creamy Marin County farmstead cheese blended from sheep, cow and goat milk. The crisp Thirty-Seven Wines 2015 Albariño was grown in the adjacent Sonoma Coast AVA, where the cool maritime climate is as healthy for sensitive wine grapes as it is for pampered dairy animals. The wine retains plenty of acidity amid layers of quince, white peach and lemon, so it quickly recharges the palate after each glorious cheesy bite.
When Portuguese immigrants arrived in Northern California around the turn of the 20th century, they found Dungeness crab easy to catch along the Pacific coast in Sonoma and Mendocino counties. They also discovered abundant shellfish, like clams, that could be harvested during low tide. This recipe, a classic from San Francisco’s Hayes Street Grill, is quick and easy to make. It incorporates spicy Portuguese-style chouriço sausage and tomatoes, which make it richer and deeper than simple clams. It works as a starter, but it’s substantial enough for a main course.
Courtesy Patricia Unterman, Hayes Street Grill, San Francisco
- ¹⁄₃ cup olive oil
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 2 cups chopped yellow onion
- 3 cups chopped red bell pepper
- 8 ounces chouriço or Spanish-style chorizo, diced
- 1½ cups dry white wine
- 5 cups fish or chicken stock, preferably homemade
- Dried red pepper flakes, to taste
In large sauté pan or skillet, warm oil over medium heat. Add garlic, onions, pepper and sausage. Sauté until sausage is browned, about 12–15 minutes. Add wine and scrape bottom of pan with wooden spatula. Add stock, and cook until mixture is slightly thickened. Using slotted spoon, skim any fat off surface. Add pepper flakes to taste, and add chopped tomato. (This can all be done ahead of time and refrigerated until just before serving time.)
About 15 minutes before serving, bring broth to boil. Add clams and cover skillet. Cook until clams have opened, about 6–10 minutes. Ladle into individual bowls. Garnish with parsley. Serve with toasted or crusty bread, with spoon for broth and fork for clams. Serves 6.
Here’s your excuse to enjoy a sleek red wine with shellfish. The slight fattiness of the sausage in the broth will meet the moderate tannins of the Mendocino-grown Lioco 2014 Sativa Carignan. The grape variety is called Carinhana in Portuguese, which was likely drank by the immigrant Portuguese fishermen who settled along the coast. Made from 70-year-old vines grown more than 2,000 feet above sea level and fermented with the stems, the wine is dark, dry and medium bodied.
But it’s very fruity and direct, too.
Growing Grapes and Grass-Fed Meat
Rachel Ahlmann not only perfected the roast lamb recipe, but she’s also in charge of raising the lambs, pigs and cows on the sprawling 4,300-acre Six Sigma Ranch near Lower Lake, California. She rotates the pigs and sheep between pastures, cares for orphaned lambs and doctors the sheep when needed. West Coast readers can contact Rachel to order grass-fed beef and lamb, and pastured pork from sixsigmaranch.com.
Recipe courtesy Rachel Ahlmann, Six Sigma Ranch, Lower Lake, California
Food and wine pairings don’t get any more local than this one. Both the lamb for this tender, slow roast and the grapes for the suave Tempranillo were raised on the Six Sigma Ranch in California’s scenic Lake County. Infused with fresh herbs and lemon juice, this dish makes a statement when you have several guests to feed. Even better, thanks to its long roasting time, the entrée is virtually foolproof. The recipe comes from Rachel Ahlmann, whose family owns Six Sigma.
- 1 medium yellow onion, sliced
- 1 bone-in leg of lamb (4–5 pounds)
- ¼ cup lemon juice
- 10 sprigs fresh rosemary, divided
- 2 tablespoons minced garlic
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 1 cup dry red wine
Heat oven to 400˚F.
Rinse and dry lamb. Arrange onions on bottom of roasting pan, and lay lamb on top. Rub lamb with lemon juice. Remove leaves from 5 rosemary sprigs and chop. Pat chopped rosemary leaves and garlic evenly over meat. Season with salt and pepper.
Roast lamb for 30 minutes. Cover roasting pan tightly with aluminum foil. Reduce heat to 300˚F. Cook for 3½ hours. Transfer lamb to carving board. Let rest, covered, for 20 minutes before carving.
After transferring lamb, place roasting pan on stove burners over medium heat. Add remaining rosemary sprigs, chicken stock and wine. Stir with wooden spoon until sauce thickens. Season with salt and pepper, if needed. Strain sauce and reserve. Slice lamb and serve with sauce drizzled over top. Serves 6–8.
Dense, tannic wines like Tempranillo cut through the fattiness of the lamb, while the ripe, saturated fruit and tobacco flavors merge with the earthy, savory essence of the roast. The current release, Six Sigma 2013 Christian’s Reserve Tempranillo (Lake County), makes a great match, but the 2006 vintage would be even more sublime.
Courtesy Terri Prosperi, Denis Prosperi Farms, Madera, CA
It’s not hard to love a macaroon dipped in chocolate, especially made with California almonds. As good as these are from your local bakery, they are much better when fresh and homemade. Terri Prosperi makes these classics at her ranch in Madera. It’s where her family grew almonds for many years and continues to grow Muscat grapes for nearby Quady Winery’s sweet wines.
- 3½ cups sweetened flaked coconut (or unsweetened, for milder flavor), divided
- 1 cup thinly sliced almonds
- 7 ounces sweetened condensed milk
- ½ teaspoon almond extract
- 2 large egg whites
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- Sea salt, to taste
- 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
- 2 teaspoons vegetable shortening
Preheat oven to 350˚F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Combine 1½ cups coconut and sliced almonds. Spread evenly on baking sheet. Toast, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 13 minutes. Transfer to bowl, and let cool.
In same bowl, add remaining coconut, condensed milk and almond extract. In separate bowl, using electric mixer on high speed, beat egg whites and kosher salt until soft peaks form. Using rubber spatula, gently fold egg whites into coconut mixture.
Using large spoon, place tall mounds of dough, about 2 inches in diameter, about 2 inches apart on baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Lightly sprinkle each mound with sea salt. Bake until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Transfer to wire rack. Let cool completely.
Line baking sheet again with parchment paper. In double boiler, melt chocolate and shortening together until smooth. Dip top of each cookie into chocolate coating. Transfer to prepared baking sheets. Refrigerate cookies until chocolate sets. Refrigerate in airtight container until ready to serve. Makes about 18.
As in most great dessert pairings, the deep purple Quady 2014 Elysium Black Muscat is sweeter than the macaroons. This sweet, rich wine, made from a dark-skinned variation of Muscat grapes, features a floral aroma and great concentration. It offers layers of dried fruit, honey and boysenberry flavors, and ample acidity for balance.
- 1Farmstead Cheese en Croute
- 2Portuguese-Style Steamed Clams
- 3Slow-Roasted Leg of Lamb
- 4Coconut and Almond Macaroons