Two unexpectedly intriguing
and delicious adventures
The Penny Ice Creamery.
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 traveling, 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 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:
Carmel Food Tour: