Getaway: Sonoma County food tours
If you’re going to spend a day stuffing your face, you might as well walk off the gluttony between stops. Without question, this is the best part of two new food tours in Sonoma County.
The tours - one in Healdsburg, the other in Sonoma - feature fresh food grown by local people. Both require participants to get from place to place on foot.
The Healdsburg SHED Farmers Market Tour and the Sonoma Food Tour fill participants with delicious morsels as well as knowledge about the county’s burgeoning culinary scene. The tours also facilitate face-to-face meetings with some of the growers and chefs who make Sonoma County food shine.
Though designed for visitors to the area, the walkabouts are a great way for locals to discover new restaurants and create new points of connection with some of the chefs in our own backyards.
Sonoma Food Tour
Mia Steiger runs the show at Sonoma Food Tour. After 18 years in the corporate world, Steiger launched the tour in March as a way of introducing food-lovers to some of Sonoma’s best local grub. Most of her three-hour tours begin at 11 a.m. at the Depot Hotel Restaurant.
On the day I went, Steiger greeted me and three other guests out front, then led us through the restaurant to a table on the back patio where Chef Antonio Ghilarducci delivered some hand-made pizzas for the group to try. He also poured some of the restaurant’s private-label white and red table wines, which paired nicely with the food.
From there, the group headed east along the paved Sonoma Bike Path. The next stop: Vella Cheese Company.
This local business, housed in a stone building on Second Street, has been making cheese with the same recipes since 1931. The house specialty is the Golden Bear, a dry aged jack with the consistency of parmesan. We tasted that cheese, then chowed down on eight other kinds that included different jacks, cheddars and Italian cheeses, too.
Our next stop: Enoteca Della Santina, a small wine bar next to Della Santina’s restaurant, is one of the oldest family-owned restaurants in town. Here, our group sampled Della Santina’s barrel-aged Balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil, ate our way through appetizers of caprese salad and risotto balls, and tasted sauvignon blanc and pinot noir from R Cellars, the restaurant’s private-label wine.
Steiger’s tour ended at Wine Country Chocolates, where each of us was invited to select one handmade chocolate from the case. I chose a dark chocolate truffle infused with a reduction of full-bodied Sonoma Valley Cabernet wine. It was the perfect ending to a day of local yum.
Healdsburg SHED Farmers Market Tour
At SHED, the modern grange in Healdsburg, the food excursion is all about local growers. Manager Stephanie Callimanis leads the tour from beginning to end, an experience that includes a formal lunch.
I took the three-hour tour in August, at the peak of produce growing season, and met a group of 10 others in front of the shop. Callimanis welcomed us with two juice tastings: a red juice with beets and other vegetables, and a green juice with kale and wheatgrass. Next, we watched in amazement as owner Doug Lipton turned grain into flour during a live milling demonstration on the store’s wooden Austrian grain mill.
From there, we followed Callimanis across North Street and into the Healdsburg Farmers Market. Over the course of the next hour, we strolled the market and stopped at stalls to meet local farmers, listening as they told us about their farms and what they grow. Callimanis stops at different stalls, depending on the time of year and which purveyors are present.
This day we hit up Preston Farm and Winery, as well as producers of local olive oil, honey and cheese before returning to SHED for the big finale: a multi-course lunch at the family-style Farm and Garden Table on the back patio.
Tour participants oohed and aahed with the delivery of each delicious morsel from the SHED Café: vinegar drinks (called “shrubs”) and kombucha from the on-site fermentation bar, salad with greens from Lipton’s garden, a frittata with local veggies, house-fried chicken and more.
At the very end of our meal, after the homemade ice cream with fresh fruit cobbler, Lipton and co-owner Cindy Daniel came out to give us parting gifts: bags of flour from the mill. The memento was both local and edible. I can’t think of a better food tour souvenir.
Freelance writer Matt Villano lives in Healdsburg. Learn more about him at whalehead.com.