Sonoma County often plays second fiddle to nearby Napa and its fabled wines. But the depth of Sonoma’s food and beverage scene pushes it past Napa for the sheer diversity of food and beverage businesses that call Sonoma home. True, Napa and Sonoma (and Sonoma’s more suburban neighbor, Marin) both got their start as agricultural suppliers for the big cities to the south. While Napa tilts ever more deeply into wine as its primary value-added agricultural offering, Sonoma has expanded beyond grapes, pushing into diversified products and their next gen counterparts, packaged goods.
WHAT IS SONOMA KNOWN FOR?
DAIRY and CHEESE
Sonoma has a centuries-long history of dairying and its winding roads are are dotted with family farms. Through land trust arrangements organized through Sonoma and Marin Land Trusts, the green pastures and fog-swept coastal cliffs are protected, helping to ensure a steady supply of the raw materials needed for cheese, cider and other value-added foods. That makes for some happy cows. And goats. And sheep. Businesses like Bellwether Farms, Clover Sonoma, Redwood Hill Farm and Creamery, and Sonoma Creamery are just a few of the family farms producing organic milk, award-winning, internationally recognized cheeses and fresh, innovative products. (We will look at each of these business’s products later this month.)
APPLES and CIDER
With help from the Slow Food movement, the area’s local apple, the Gravenstein, has found a secure future as a heritage crop. Placed on Slow Food’s Ark of Taste, a “living catalog of delicious and distinctive foods facing extinction,” the Gravenstein also has its own fair. A few farmers (six, according to Slow Food) work to preserve their Gravenstein orchards by selling the fruit to local cider houses, including Tilted Shed. Manzana Products, the parent company of North Coast, runs an historic apple cannery. And the Barlow, a former apple cannery in the heart of Sonoma, now plays host to a diverse array of food and beverage businesses ranging from kombucha and yerba mate to coffee and vodka.
POULTRY and EGGS
Less recognized is Sonoma’s role as a home for heritage chicken farming. But companies like Rosie and Rocky thrive here as innovators in sustainable poultry farming and egg production. Honoring both the region’s agricultural heritage and its role as innovators is Petaluma’s Butter and Egg Days, a festival highlighting the city’s entrepreneurial and artisan spirit. Hip Chick Farms, a new producer of chicken nuggets, fingers and meatballs, is a chicken-based extension of Sonoma’s deep commitment to supporting a future for local agricultural.
Of course you can visit most of these farms as part of a Farm Trails experience or stop in at Healdsburg’s SHED to purchase these and other locally-sourced packaged goods.
As northern California gets ready to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love, which, in 1967, kicked off at the Fantasy Fair and Magic Mountain Music Festival on Marin’s Mount Tamalpais, it is worth remembering the agricultural past that helped nourish and inspire what has become northern California’s thriving food scene. Say what you will about hippies and communes, but from Vermont to Wisconsin to California, they had a profound impact on America’s food scene. Thank a hippie for organic produce, granola, fermented foods, handmade cheese and fresh cider. Their counter-cultural spirit took root here in northern California and continues to inspire the area’s food and beverage producers.