LOCAL FOOD ON FOOT
Two unexpectedly intriguing and delicious adventures
The Penny Ice Creamery.
STORY AND PHOTOS
BY CAMILLA M. MANN
Shooting olive oil.
Some people are tour people, relying on a resident expert to guide them from one location to the next while pointing out spots of interest along the way. I’ve never been a tour person. In fact, it wouldn’t be hyperbolic to characterize myself as tour averse. When travelling, 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. But then I tried a food tour.
Three weeks ago, I didn’t know what a food tour was. Now, I’ve been on two of the three food tours offered in the Monterey Bay region: the Santa Cruz Food Tour, run by Brion Sprinsock and Kristine Albrecht, and the Carmel Food Tour, led by Staci Giovino. Now, I have to admit it: I’m smitten. Food tours offer a culinary and cultural adventure, opening up locals and visitors alike to exceptional eateries and introducing them to new artisanal foodsmiths.
I stumbled across the Santa Cruz Food Tour while searching for a unique outing for my family. 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 discover new culinary gems that had escaped my food radar. It was the same with the Carmel Food Tour that I took 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 in the area for 40 years; still, at almost every stop, our whispers began with “Wow, I’ve never…”
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 locals who serve up something exceptional. 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 Sprinsock and Giovino’s passions and knowledge come through in their tours. Though the tours were very different, each captured the personality of its city in a new way. The almost seven hours I spent on the food tours—three and a half hours in Santa Cruz and three hours in Carmel—taught me local history that I’d never known: 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; how Sebastian Vizcaino discovered Monterey Bay; how the dairy industry shaped downtown Carmel; and how a milk shrine worked. But rather than be a spoiler, I’ll just give you a few tasty tidbits. 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 every day. 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!
Cheddaring is the process of cutting, stacking and expressing the whey from curds to temper them into a denser, more cohesive mass. Kent 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, sampling a Cheddar from the English village of Cheddar; an Argentinian Reggianito, a granular cow’s milk cheese from Italian immigrants who wished to make a cheese reminiscent of their native Parmigiano; and a handcrafted, raw milk Swiss, named “Junipero” for Father Serra, out of our local 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, Sprinsock 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-yearold foodies-in-training throwing back shots of olive oils, sipping 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 to 6-year-old, flavored balsamics such as pomegranate, ripe peach, dark chocolate, espresso and blueberry.
…known how salumi—Italian-style cured meat products— are 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, you might bake it or steam 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 schoolchildren to retirees, and we hailed from all over the country, ranging from local communities to more than 3,000 miles away. The common thread: we were ready for an offthe- 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.
Vertigo Coffee’s Dmitri Fridman
resets the table in San Juan Bautista
Photos by Philip Geiger
BY LISA CRAWFORD WATSON
Dmitri Fridman speaks softly and slowly, a hint of his Russian heritage inflecting his words. Nearby, coffee slips down the sculptural blown-glass spiral of a Kyoto slow dripper, one drop at a time, yielding a dark, smooth cup of coffee. Fridman is sipping a glass of his cold-brewed iced coffee and having one of his signature multigrain pizzas, baked in a new wood-fired pizza oven and topped with paper-thin slices of potato and Meyer lemon and dollops of caramelized onion and goat cheese.
Fridman is enjoying the patio of his own Vertigo Coffee, the San Juan Bautista coffee roaster he opened with his wife, Kitty Fridman, just two years ago. The spot has already become a beloved community gathering place for locals and tourists alike who value fresh, delicious food and, especially, a really good cup of coffee. But don’t call it a coffee shop.
“The difference between a coffee shop and a coffee roaster,” says Fridman, “is fresh coffee. It’s hard to believe that a lot of people have never had fresh coffee. They think they have because they have had freshly ground coffee. But they haven’t had fresh roasted. Coffee is quite perishable and is best within the first 10 days of roasting. So it is a curse for us roasters because it has a short shelf life. People compare fine coffee to fine wine, but it is not the same. Wine can improve while it sits on the shelf but not coffee.”
Next to drinking it, Fridman enjoys nothing better than discussing coffee with his customers and explaining the fine art of coffee roasting, brewing and sipping. People always have questions, he says, particularly about freshness. But that is only part of a good cup of coffee. It begins, he believes, with the quality of the bean.
“It starts with the farmers, among the most impoverished people in the process. They farm these steep slopes, harvesting the coffee cherries, knowing that each coffee tree produces just one to two pounds of coffee a year. Anytime I can buy my beans directly from the farmers, I do. This makes a huge difference between average and great coffee in the cup. If there is a little extra price by the time it gets to the cup, it’s worth it. And my customers agree.”
Evidence that Fridman has struck a chord in San Juan Bautista shows up in the neighbor who shares the Meyer lemons from his tree, the time that another neighbor devotes to tending the restaurant’s herb garden and the stream of customers Fridman recognizes by face, if not by name. On any day, you might see local winemakers, cattle ranchers and poultry farmers, as well as visitors who’ve happened in.
“I love the cold-brewed drip coffee. Because it has 70% less acidity, I am able to have coffee,” says Mary Morales, a long-time San Juan Bautista resident who, with her husband Rick Morales, has become a Vertigo regular. “But everything they sell here is fabulous.
And the people here are wonderful—warm and friendly and welltrained. We come down and sit here on a Sunday, to just relax and feel like tourists. We needed something like this in town; we’re happy to see they’re getting the business.”
Fridman’s dream to open the roastery dates back to the 1980s, when he spent time in Italy while emigrating to the United States. In Italy, he tasted his first sip of cappuccino and it was a revelation. At first he thought he would try to recreate the experience; eventually he realized he just wanted to recreate that cup of coffee, and let the revelations come to his customers on their own.
He named the place Vertigo, not because the caffeine will make your head spin but in a nod to Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 thriller of the same name, whose most notable scene was filmed in San Juan Bautista.
Located on Fourth Street, one block off the town’s main commercial street, Vertigo resides inside a large, angular white building that used to garage trucks for Culligan Water. Now, the place exudes both warmth and a bit of industrial chic. Simple, honey-colored wood tables and chairs sit atop textured cement floors. Once a shelter for trucks and water tanks, the room now houses a vintage German- made, cast-iron roaster Fridman found on craigslist, two Kyoto slow drippers, dark wooden counters and a glass case for pastries and other freshly made food.
The pastries are baked daily by the artisanal Provence Bakery located in Prunedale and in the Del Monte Shopping Center in Monterey. The pizzas—a margherita, a pesto chicken with porcini mushrooms, a Cuban calzone, and Fridman’s favorite, goat cheese with Meyer lemon—are all made freshly on site.
“How many people pick basil off the plant and put it on the pizza as it comes out of the oven? And Dmitri makes the dough from scratch every day,” says Bob Smith, a local resident who gets together with friends and family at Vertigo. “If you don’t get here by 4 pm, it might be gone. Whether you live here or you came to get out of the fog, once you have a seat at Vertigo, time slows down. You look at the mission, you see the rooster poking around and you visit with friends over fresh-roasted coffee and an oven-roasted pizza. It’s fantastic.”
Lisa Crawford Watson lives with her family on the Monterey Peninsula, where she is a freelance writer and an instructor of writing and journalism at California State University Monterey Bay and Monterey Peninsula College.
Vertigo Coffee • 81 Fourth Street, San Juan Bautista
831.623.9533 • www.vertigocoffee.com
GROW YOUR OWN
There’s a veggie garden within your grasp
BY ANINA MARCUS
Photo by Ted Holladay
The mid-summer bounty is on full display at Warren Knox’s Scotts Valley home. In his front yard, between bamboo plants and brightly colored ceramic flower pots, stand attractive cedar and redwood planter boxes that, at three feet high, reach most people’s waists. One is filled with marjoram, thyme, parsley and oregano. Larger boxes overflow with squash, cucumbers, watermelons and several varieties of tomato plants. The plants flourishing in one of the boxes, Knox says, come from very expensive seed that, come fall, will yield giant pumpkins.
“These are not your average raised beds,” says Knox, a 56-year-old man with a cheerful face, infectious optimism and a deep pride in his beloved creation, the Knox Garden Box. “They are built like battleships and literally take gardening to a whole new level.”
The “new level” that Knox is referring to is not just a wink at his boxes’ unusual height, but also a reference to the mission behind their long legs: to put the joys and healthful benefits of gardening—particularly vegetable gardening— within the reach of as many people as he can. “I always have loved growing food and just really believed in people being more self-sufficient,” Knox says.
Think no stooping, no kneeling and no knee or back pain. Imagine walking right up to your garden and gliding it on its casters in or out of the shade. This is gardening for everyone—a huge gift to gardeners in wheelchairs or fraught with simple back problems or arthritis in their hips or knees. The boxes also make gardening more practical for the young and agile who are just strapped for time or space for more conventional gardens.
When Knox was a teen, he watched his grandfather, a timber and logging man, kneel to work in his boxed vegetable garden made from old wooden railroad ties. He thought, why not make it easier for granddad, and so at16, he built his first elevated planter box. With his grandfather’s blessing and $10,000 already saved from odd jobs such as grafting grape stock in the vineyards and cleaning around his dad’s sawmill, Knox started building the boxes during a summer break from Ukiah High School. He invested in supplies, started manufacturing, and then travelled up and down the Central Coast seeking garden centers willing to stock his boxes.
Yet by the time summer ended, no calls.
Knox also knew he had to get back to that small business of finishing high school. “You know,” Warren says resolutely, “these things don’t happen overnight.” He was perhaps a little ahead of his time, and eventually ended up with a lucrative roofing business.
Thanks to farmers’ markets, community supported agriculture programs, school gardens and farm-to-table chefs, we are slowly recognizing what Warren’s granddad knew all along: the fresher the tomato, the sweeter and more nutritious, and there’s no fresher tomato than the one you grow yourself.
The boxes come at a price of $35 for an 8-by-24-inch model to $629 for the 4-by-8- foot one—more than the cost of your average, simple, wood-framed, ground-level raised bed, if that’s all you want and need. But aside from their convenience, Knox boxes have other features. They require less water or soil amendments than in-ground gardens, and their good drainage helps eliminate overwatering, They’re rot and insect resistant enough to last up to 25 years, Knox says, and they produce bountiful, healthy plants.
The elevated boxes also offer a bonus that would be valued by anyone who has watched a plant yanked down a gopher hole —a chance to reap your harvest without tangling with the tenacious rodents. “Why not let the gophers have their way, and I can have mine, too?” asks Knox as he guides a visitor around his gardens. “This way everyone is happy. Right?”
There’s a good chance that Knox’s planter business’ time has come, and that in coming years, Knox will be making a lot of people happy. With aging baby boomers expected to double the population of Americans who are ages 85 and older by 2030, Knox boxes could allow them to keep getting their hands dirty long after their backs and knees have given out.
Anina Marcus has lived on the Monterey Peninsula since she was 2 years old. When she isn’t cooking, she is thinking about what to eat and if she can stave off hunger, she writes.
DO YOU KNOW WHAT’S
IN YOUR FOOD?
Local groups are working to help ensure you do
Photo by Rob Fisher
BY ELIZABETH LIMBACH
What do shoppers across the European Union as well as in China, Japan and Brazil know that American consumers do not?
They know whether or not the foods they eat contain GMOs, or genetically modified organisms. Right now, most food labels in the U.S. give Americans no hint of whether a food contains GMOs, but thanks in part to the efforts of concerned citizens here in our region, Californians will be able to weigh in on the matter through a ballot initiative in November.
As part of the statewide push to put a GMO labeling requirement on the California November ballot, 100 volunteers with the group GMO-Free Santa Cruz gathered 15,544 signatures earlier this year in support of the measure. Label GMOs Monterey trained 72 volunteers and collected more than 5,700 signatures.
More than one million John Hancocks were amassed in California overall, successfully qualifying the California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act, now known as Prop. 37, for a vote. If passed, it will require that foods containing GMO ingredients state as much on their packaging once the law would take effect in 2014. “As shown by the number of signatures collected…Santa Cruz County residents definitely believe in this issue,” says Mary Graydon- Fontana, one of GMO-Free Santa Cruz’s four co-organizers. She chalks this up to factors like the county’s progressive nature and its history as the “birthplace of organic agriculture.”
Opponents and skeptics of GMOs take issue with their uncertain health and environmental safety effects.
“We are concerned with the plant or meat product that has had its DNA artificially altered in a laboratory by genes from other plants, animals, viruses or bacteria, in order to produce foreign compounds in that food,” explains Colleen Ingram, volunteer coordinator for Label GMOs Monterey and the California Right to Know Committee. “This type of genetic alteration is not found in nature, and is experimental.”
However, she adds that the proposition is ultimately about the public’s “right to know” and does not take a position on GMOs one way or the other. In Graydon-Fontana’s words, “Prop. 37 is a simple, straightforward labeling proposition.”
But if voters pass Prop. 37, the impact could go far beyond labeling, says Ocean Robbins, a Santa Cruz County resident and founder of the Food Revolution Network.
“For the first time, the people get a say in the matter,” says Robbins, noting that labels will likely lead consumers to stop buying— to what degree is unknown—foods that they learn contain GMOs. “If even 5% or 10% of the population prefers products that don’t contain GMOs, then manufacturers will start to take notice, and demand for GMO foods may go down,” says Robbins. “That’s the power of the marketplace, working with accurate information. But right now, we’re buying food mostly in the dark.”
A slew of nationwide polls show that Americans are leaning away from GMOs: a June 2012 ABCNews.com poll, for example, found that 57% of people say they are less likely to buy products if they know they contain genetically altered ingredients. A whopping 93% say they support GMO labeling. The effect this will have on Monstanto Corp. and other big GMO players has yet to be seen, but the fact that the biotech industry is projected to pour tens of millions of dollars into campaigning against Prop. 37 suggests it fears negative effects from labeling. More than 80% of packaged foods include GMOs, according to most estimates.
Robbins, Ingram and Graydon-Fontana are all optimistic that Prop. 37 will pass, and if it does, California will become the first state in the U.S. to impose such a labeling requirement. Nearly 20 other states have failed at previous attempts, but Robbins predicts that the biotech industry will have less success in swaying Californians. Whatever happens, the rest of the country is watching. A coalition of nearly 400 businesses and organizations across the country, collectively known as the Just Label It campaign, has filed a petition with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for GMO labeling at the national level. Proponents of Prop. 37 believe that a mandatory labeling law in California could be the tipping point for labeling efforts across the rest of the country.
Elizabeth Limbach is an award-winning journalist based in Santa Cruz. For more information, visit www.carighttoknow.org, www.justlabelit.org or find GMO-Free Santa Cruz and Label GMOs Monterey on Facebook.