Saturday, September 8, 2012

Edible Notables {Edible Monterey Bay, Fall 2012}

Local Food on Foot: Two Unexpectedly Intriguing and Delicious Adventures
Photos and Story by Camilla M. Mann, July 2012

Some people are tour people, relying on a resident expert to cart them from one location to the next while pointing out spots of interest along the way. I am not a tour person. In fact, it wouldn’t be hyperbolic to characterize myself as tour-averse. When I travel, I typically rent a house with a kitchen, frequent neighborhood grocers, seek out farmers’ markets, stop at roadside fruit stands, cook with local produce, and steer clear of anything that could possibly be called a tour.

Before three weeks ago, I didn’t know what a food tour was. Now, I’ve been on two of the three food tours offered around the Monterey Bay: the Santa Cruz Food Tour, run by Brion Sprinsock and Kristine Albrecht, and the Carmel Food Tour, led by Staci Giovino. I have to admit – I’m smitten. Food tours offer a culinary and cultural adventure, guiding locals and visitors alike to exceptional eateries and introducing them to artisan foodsmiths.

Searching for unique outing for my family, I stumbled across the Santa Cruz Food Tour. Walking, eating, drinking. Three of our favorites. I expected an almost two-mile walk and insider information about the stops we were making. I didn’t expect lessons in California history and Victorian architecture and – even after living in this area for almost three decades – to place some new-to-me culinary gems on my food-radar. It was the same with the Carmel Food Tour that I took with a friend a couple of weeks later. We followed our guide through geranium-scented passageways that I had never seen much less explored. Collectively my friend and I have lived here for forty years; and at almost every stop, our whispers began with “Wow, I’ve never….”

Brion Sprinsock started the Santa Cruz Food Tour – and his new Capitola Food Tour – because the tours dovetail his interest in local history and architecture with his desire to shine the spotlight on some of the locals who serve up something exceptional. Staci Giovino fell into culinary tourism via interior design. She shared that her career in designing commercial spaces was about creating an experience. Food tours are much the same. Both Brion and Staci’s passions and knowledge come through in their tours. Though the tours were very different, each successfully captured the personality of its city.

It’s difficult to distill the almost seven hours I spent on the food tours - three and a half hours in Santa Cruz and three hours in Carmel - into a few paragraphs. I’d love to delve into why the Mission Hill tunnel, a 900-foot long narrow gauge railroad tunnel, was built by immigrants from Cornwall versus the Chinese laborers who laid a majority of the lines in California. I would recount the tale Brion wove about Sebastian Vizcaino discovering Monterey Bay. I could detail how the dairy industry shaped downtown Carmel and describe, as Staci explained, how a milk shrine worked. But as I’m short of space, I’ll give you a few tasty tidbits and share a bunch of photos. Here’s my journey to food tour-junkie through a series of “I’ve never…”

…eaten peppercorn ice cream. The Penny Ice Creamery makes small batches of ice cream completely from scratch, in-house everyday. Their flavors change with the seasons, featuring locally farmed and organic ingredients. I love that they utilize a professional forager. As seasons shift, they create ice creams with what can be readily found on a day-hike. We missed their candy cap mushroom by a month. Next year!

…known that ‘cheddar’ can be a verb. To cheddar. Cheddaring is the process of cutting, stacking, and expressing the whey from curds to temper them into a denser, more cohesive mass. Kurt Torrey, of the Cheese Shop, has a motto I can get behind: "Eat cheese. Drink wine. Live life happy!" We ate cheeses from three continents. We sampled a cheddar from the English village of Cheddar; an Argentinean Reggianito, whose name is the Spanish diminutive of ‘Reggiano’, a granular cows' milk cheese from Italian immigrants who wished to make a cheese reminiscent of their native Parmigiano but in smaller wheels; and a hand-crafted raw milk Swiss ‘Junipero’, named for Father Serra, out of the family-run Schoch Dairy in Salinas. The Schochs also make an East of Edam in homage to Salinas-born author John Steinbeck.

...shot olive oil. To really taste the oils, Brion explained – and demonstrated – you should shoot the oil to the back of your throat. Like a shot. It was a proud moment for me to watch my 8 and 10-year-old foodies-in-training throwing back shots of olive oils, sipping on vinegars, and commenting on what they tasted and how they would use them. At both the True Olive Connection, in Santa Cruz, and the Bountiful Basket, in Carmel, we tried a variety of olive oils and balsamic vinegars. The oils ranged from light and buttery to leafy and peppery and everything in between; the vinegars ran from a traditional 18-year-old balsamic vinegar to 6-year-old flavored balsamics such as pomegranate, ripe peach, dark chocolate, espresso, and blueberry.

…known how salumi – Italian-style cured meat products – is made. Salumi has at its root ‘sal’, Latin for salt, and is predominantly made from pork. While we sipped a big Tuscan red, Grant Dobbie, Salumeria Luca’s manager, explained the process of making salami and mortadella: grind the meat, season and salt, then stuff into a casing. From there, it might be baked or steamed under pressure. I learned the difference between speck, which comes specifically from the Alto Adige region in Italy, and prosciutto. While both speck and prosciutto are salt-cured hind-quarters of the pig, only speck is smoked.

On both tours, the groups were small and intimate. Ages varied, from elementary school-aged to retirees, and we hailed from all over the country, from having traveled less than 40 miles to traveling more than 3000 miles to get there. The common thread: we were ready for an off-the-beaten-path adventure punctuated with delicious foods and interesting libations. So, if that’s what you’re after, you just might be a food tour person. I discovered that I am.

Santa Cruz Food Tour: (800) 838-3006
Carmel Food Tours: (800) 979-3370

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