By Laura Jeffrey, Photos by Amy Joseph
There are hundreds of wineries to visit in Paso Robles, but surprisingly only a few spots to enjoy great food during the day. Here are a few outstanding food finds that are a little different than the typical box lunch. On a recent tour to the North County of Paso Robles and Cambria, our group tasted organic walnut oils at Limerock Orchards and delicious goat cheeses at Stepladder Creamery.
Limerock Orchards is a decades-old family farm of organically grown dry-farmed walnut trees. The amount of rainfall on the west side of Paso Robles helps with the leeching of the limestone soils, delivering mineral-rich water to the trees’ root systems, quite similar to the wine grapes growing nearby. Limerock grows two kinds of walnuts: the French Franquette, a boat-shaped nut, and the Hartley, which is native to England. Both varieties have high oil content and are not bitter—perfect for butters and oils. We were treated to a beautiful cake made with pumpkin and walnut oil, which turns out to be a perfect substitute for either traditional butter or cooking oil. These oils have a much longer shelf life then typical oils—three years or more—but I doubt they would last that long because they are really delicious. Deanne shared some recipe cards with those of us on tour, but if you use your imagination, you might be making pancakes with walnut oil and walnut butter for breakfast this Sunday.
Visiting Stepladder Creamery is a bit of a commitment, but well worth the effort. Most importantly, you must make a reservation, at which point they share rather specific driving directions with you. On our tour, Stephanie met us on her quad at the gate and we followed her to a beautiful Danish barn surrounded by fields and oaks. We toured the creamery first, after putting on sterilized Crocs loaned to us. Inside the barn are the large vats of churning milk and beautiful views of the ranch through the big windows, where you begin to understand why the many generations of cheese makers call this place home. Jack Rudolph doesn’t just make cheese, but has a commitment to the animals that provide the milk for it. The Lamancha goats (US-bred goats with tiny ears) are milked twice a day by hand. When visiting between February and April, expect to see many baby goats, which are a pure delight. If not for the delicious cheeses we sampled, the baby goats were the highlight of the tour. Samples of fresh chévre, a high-fat creamy cheese, would be perfectly paired with a nice high-acid local Chardonnay such as Jack Creek or Devolett wines. Next up was the Rocky Butte, a washed curd cheese aged four months, which was mild and creamy and paired perfectly with a Pinot Noir—delicious! Stepladder teased us by mentioning an upcoming cheese washed in sour beer from Tyler Clark’s The Libertine—a marriage made in beer and cheese heaven.
Of course, it is not wise to tour all day without a proper lunch and we found a favorite with Jeffry’s Catering at Barton Family Winery. This is not a fancy restaurant winery kitchen; here, you order at a window much like a food truck and in about ten minutes they call out your name—no reservations necessary. You will smell the smoker going Thursday through Monday from noon to 4 p.m. Chef Jeffry Wiesinger has many awards and admirers, but the one most locals will be familiar with is the Mac & Cheese Fest first place award for his smoked tri-tip mac & cheese. It is delicious and memorable: cheesy, smoky, garlicky, and just enough spice makes your taste buds dance with joy. Of course, if you are gluten intolerant or want a lighter bite, try their spinach salad with dried cranberries and blue cheese. Hopefully you won’t leave without a side of the homemade black truffle potato chips and dipping sauce.
Owner/Operator/101 Wine Tours
Laura’s wine education began at Cal Poly through the extension program and continued with travels to international wine regions like the Swiss Vaud, Alsace, Champagne, and Burgundy, and Northern Rhone in France.