Chef Duskie Estes shares tips for creating the perfect summer picnic
Welcome to picnic country.
Sonoma County not only has a raft of refreshing wines — hello rosé — but a delicious array of artisan bread and cheese, salumi and charcuterie, perfectly ripe roadside strawberries and peaches alongside a plethora of picnic-friendly destinations.
We’ve got panoramic views from every redwood ridge and hillside vineyard plus, in summer, live concerts and performances almost every day of the week — often free to the public — in every city and hamlet. We’ve even got bocce ball and pétanque courts to keep your muscles limbered up between bites and sips.
If you want to add extra pizzazz to your picnic basket — whether it’s a side of pickled fruit for your cheese board or a homemade cookie for a sweet finale — we’ve got you covered like a plaid blanket.
Chef Duskie Estes, chef/owner of the flooded-out Zazu Kitchen + Farm in Sebastopol’s The Barlow, is currently running The Black Piglet food truck with her husband John Stewart. The couple are serving their BLTs and other tasty fare al fresco at various wineries and music festivals this summer. An inveterate chip’n’dip girl, savvy salad-maker and mad cookie-baker, Estes shared a few of the delicious dishes she would make for her own picnic in the North Bay, as well as some essentials she would pick up to jazz up her moveable feast.
“When I go on a picnic, the first thing I want to pick up is some bread, meat and cheese,” she said. “It’s so easy, and we have some amazing products here.”
For a cheese board, Estes would head straight to one of the Oliver’s Markets to source one of the local cheeses from Andante Dairy, Cowgirl Creamery, Joe Matos Cheese Factory, Bellwether Farm and Point Reyes Farmers Cheese, among others.
“I would get a cheese from Soyoung (Scanlan) of Andante Dairy,” she said. “I love her Minuet, Picolo and Largo (triple-cream, soft-ripened cheeses made from goat’s milk and cow’s milk).”
Next up, she would head up to Journeyman Meat Co. in Healdsburg or down to Thistle Meats in Petaluma for a selection of salumi; then source a crunchy baguette from one of the county’s beloved bakeries: Della Fattoria in Petaluma, Nightingale Bread in Forestville, Redbird in Cotati or Goguette Bread in Santa Rosa, to name a few.
After stopping by a roadside stand such as Lao’s in Sebastopol for fresh strawberries, she would head back to her home kitchen in Forestville to whip up a few homemade dips, salads and condiments to tuck into her picnic basket.
One of her favorite things to serve with a cheese board is a side of pickled cherries or grapes, to offset all that creamy goodness.
The tart and the sweet in the pickled cherries is awesome with meat and cheese,” she said. “It cuts the fat.”
Then she would whip up one of her favorite dips — the South’s trusty pimento cheese — a yummy concoction that started in New York in the 1870s when Spain started exporting its pimiento peppers.
The cream cheese spread was such a hit that Georgia farmers started growing their own red peppers and roasting them. As its popularity spread, the dip got even more comforting (and calorie laden) with the addition of Cheddar cheese and a dollop of mayonnaise. Yum!