Once upon a time (what seems like an eternity ago), I spent part of a summer in France as an exchange student, living with a French family in Chonas-L'Amballan, a tiny town in the countryside outside Lyon. My host family took me to visit Alsace, with its picturesqe towns and beautiful Strasbourg cathedral. We went camping along the Rhône River, and attended a jazz concert in Lyon. My host mom, Marthe, was an excellent and frequent cook who introduced me to Raclette, among other delicious dishes. I tagged along as my host father, Romi, gathered honey from the family's bees, and again when he went to buy fresh, homemade goat cheese from the elderly woman who lived on a neighboring farm. Sitting outside at the family's wooden table under the speckled shade of an arbor, we enjoyed a dessert of soft chèvre drizzled with that amazing honey, eaten with a spoon and served with apricots Marthe had picked earlier that day. A teenager at the time, I was too immature to fully appreciate the impact these experiences were having on me, yet they would form the basis of a life-long love of food and travel. The people, the countryside, the meals shared with my host family and friends... everything about the France of my youth was beautiful, and I've always wanted to return.
A trip to France is probably not in the cards for me any time soon, but recently I had the chance to visit a California version of France: Alexander Valley in Sonoma County. Lisa Mattson, whom I met over the summer at a local wine dinner, invited me to join a group of bloggers and journalists to preview Jordan Winery's new Estate Tour & Tasting. I was intrigued, since the photos I'd seen of the winery were gorgeous, and I had heard the vast majority of the Jordan estate had never been open to the public before. Billed as a "three-hour excursion across 1,200 picturesque acres of land to savor Jordan wines, food and hospitality with breathtaking views of lakes, vineyards, mountains, wildlife and more," the tour did not disappoint.
On the tour: a quiet moment at Jordan Lake, near Seven Oaks (left). Enjoying the bounties of Jordan's vineyard and garden (right). The tasting at Seven Oaks included spiced garden escabeche with apple vinaigrette & wild fennel, nigiri "sushi" of seasonal fruit with Jordan estate-grown olive oil, Sonoma honey & citrus, all paired with two vintages of Jordan's Russian River Valley Chardonnay.
Jordan's executive chef Todd Knoll was kind enough to indulge my request for vegan options, and I noticed that careful attention was also paid to a fellow guest's food allergy. Not that a casual observer would have noticed either of these accommodations, as the food we enjoyed was no less farm-fresh and fabulous than that of our omnivore counterparts. Everything we tasted that day - from the scones and jam served upon our arrival, to the fruit "sushi" with vegetables served with ginger-laced crackers and olive oil, to the cocottes of beef (or in my case, tofu) - was created in Jordan's kitchen. Most of the ingredients were also gathered from the Chef's Garden, which we visited as part of the tour.
On the tour: Winery CEO John Jordan (left); stunning views from Vista Point, the estate's highest hilltop, where tour guests enjoyed wine paired with fresh fruit, Sonoma cheese, and more of Jordan's luscious extra-virgin olive oil (right).
If you'd like to experience the tour yourself, details are below, after the recipe. Note that the food, while delicious, is not meant to be a meal. You'll want to secure lunch reservations for yourself after the tour, perhaps in the charming, nearby town of Healdsburg.
At one point during the tour, Lisa and I were chatting about the day's menu, which for most of the guests included a selection of cheeses. I mentioned that I had recently tasted a wonderful vegan version of cheese at my favorite Sacramento vegetarian restaurant. I suggested that this "cheese" might be an interesting offering for tour guests who prefer a vegan or dairy-free tasting option, and promised to try to procure the recipe for her and Chef Knoll. So, Lisa, here you go!
These photos show a fresh version of this nut-based cheese. Made this way, the texture is remeniscent of ricotta, while the flavor has a savory tang similar to mild goat cheese. Paired with heirloom tomatoes and basil, it makes a fresh and light Caprese-style salad. But I imagine that this cheese - especially if the onion was toned down - would also be excellent served with honey and fruit, just like the chèvre I remember from France.
Use organic whenever possible.
2 cups raw Macadamia nuts, soaked in purified water for 2 hours
1/8 teaspoon probiotic powder
1 cup purified water
2 teaspoons chickpea miso (or any mild, white miso)
1/8 white onion
2 tablespoons onion powder
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
Dash Himalayan sea salt
Dash white pepper
1. Place soaked, rinsed and drained nuts in a food processor fitted with an "S" blade.
2. Process together with the remaining ingredients until smooth, adding additional water a spoonful at a time if necessary.
3. The cheese can be served immediately after making, as I did above. Or, if you like, you can age the cheese as follows...
4. Remove the cheese mixture to a nut milk bag, other straining bag, or fine-meshed strainer lined with a paper coffee filter. Cover loosely if using a strainer. Place over a bowl to drain and age for 1-2 days at cool room temperature to further develop the flavor. (Discard liquid as needed.)
5. If a firmer cheese suitable for cutting is desired, follow the directions in step 4, then form the cheese mixture into two rounds. Place rounds on a Teflex sheet in a food dehydrator at 115 F for 6+ hours, flipping rounds after 3 hours. The gentle heat will firm up the cheese and form a rind.
6. Store finished cheese in the refrigerator, where it will keep for 3-4 days. Bring to room temperature before serving.
Yield: about 2 cups
Estate Tour & Tasting :: Details
What: The winery accurately describes the experience as an opportunity to "journey to remote corners of the... Jordan Estate to enjoy a farm-to-table, wine-and-food-tasting excursion showcasing foods grown on the property with a backdrop of stunning vistas never before seen by the public."
When: Estate tours begin at 10:00 a.m., Thursdays through Mondays until mid-November (weather permitting). Tours will resume again mid-April through mid-November 2014.
Where: Jordan Vineyard & Winery, 1474 Alexander Valley Road, Healdsburg, California 95448. Directions and additional details provided when you book.
How: By appointment only. Reservation requests are being accepted at jordanwinery.com/visit. The winery may be able to accommodate special dietary requests; inquire when making your reservation. For additional questions, call 800-654-1213 or email email@example.com.
Disclaimer: I attended the estate tour & tasting free of charge, courtesy of the kind folks at Jordan. I also received a small jar of herb finishing salt as a gift. My opinions are my own, always will be. Just keepin' it real.