One of the greatest perks in the small role I play in the food world is meeting the large number of good people that takes to get that meal to everyone’s table. There are so many components for just one product. I’ve been lucky enough to witness the hard work and dedication of these folks on various farm tours and all I can say is that I would be happy to have a fraction of the passion these farmers have for their labor.
A few weeks ago, I was invited by Superior Farms American Lamb to visit Northern California on a pasture tour. Because I am a Lambassador of American Lamb, I jumped at the opportunity to learn more about the lamb industry. Plus, how can I pass up such an opportunity filled with amazing views, new friends and not to mention delicious tasting food.
Our first stop on the tour was at Bellwether Farms Artisan Creamery. Founded in 1986, Bellwether Farms is the first dairy sheep ranch west of the Mississippi. It is ran by the family matriarch, Cindy Callahan, her son Liam and his wife Dana. Using time-honored traditions and fresh whole milk sourced from their flock and six family dairy farms, Bellwether Farms is dedicated to sustainable agricultural practices, ethical animal husbandry and crafting the highest quality dairy products available.
Bellwether Farms has won various awards for their sheep milk and cow milk cheeses. The big news during our tour was the unveiling of their new mixed-milk cheese named Blackstone. Blackstone is a 3 1/4-pound cheese wheel blend of local Jersey cow and sheep milk. Its ingredients also include black peppercorns. Its distinctive and beautiful black rind results from a mixture of crushed black pepper, oil, rosemary and vegetable ash that is hand-rubbed on each wheel during its six-to-eight weeks aging at the creamery. I had the opportunity to see the aging Blackstone cheese wheels and to taste its creamy and complex mouthful of flavor. If you’re in Southern California, Blackstone is now available at your local Whole Foods. It’s perfect served on a cheese tray for an elegant get together or just a casual wine tasting. I couldn’t get enough of it.
Bellwether Farms is adding this gorgeous cheese wheel to their line of popular aged cheeses. Carmody, San Andreas and Pepato. Their fresh and culture products include top-selling sheep milk yogurts, Whole Milk Basket Ricotta, Creme Fraiche, Fromage Blanc and Crescenza.
A highlight of the Bellwether Farms tour was watching the production of their Whole Milk Basket Ricotta, a fifth consecutive winner from the esteemed Good Food Awards competition. The Bellwether Farms Whole Milk Basket Ricotta is made using fresh whole Jersey milk delivered daily from a neighboring farm. Traditional cultures (NOT vinegar or citric acid) are then introduced to coagulate the milk for a slow fermentation and development of flavor and the transformation of soft cultured cream curds. The curds are then gently ladled in basket-style containers to retain their shape and protect the tender curds when in transit to your local specialty stores. This Whole Milk Basket Ricotta took a bronze medal at the 2010 World Cheese Awards in the UK.
Our next stop was the beautiful and picturesque Gracianna Vineyard. Nestled on Westside Road in Healdsburg, Gracianna is a Russian River Valley “fruit-first” craftsman’s winery. Owned by the Amadors of Sonoma County, the estate vineyard, Mercedes Riverblock, is planted to pinot noir on the Miracle Mile of Westside Road.
Named after Gracianna Lasaga, the Amador Family’s maternal grandmother, its name also represents humble self-respect and graciousness of being present. That joyous feeling from a table-full of loved ones in a harmonious environment. It is a casual and effortless experience that is relaxing and exhilarating at the same time.
We were treated to an evening of wine tasting, a home tour and dinner by Chef Tom Schmidt. The highlight of the evening was crusted lamb saddle paired with Gracianna’s finest wines.
If you are ever in the area, make an appointment for a visit to the tasting room and experience the Amador family gracious hospitality by sampling their variety of chardonnay, pinot noir, zinfandel and sauvignon blanc.
The next day, we headed to Lakeport for a tour with lamb rancher, Robert Irwin. Robert and his family, have dedicated their lives and lambs as a part of a biodynamic program with Bonaterra Vineyard of Fetzer Winery. Thanks to the lambs who leaf-pick and graze on grape vines hanging low, no chemicals or tractors are involved and no back braking labor is required to do the leaf picking.
Sheep are skilled grazers and can easily replace a lawn mower or weed-wacker, not to mention great at getting into those hard to reach spots by machines. It’s amazing to know that targeted grazing by flocks of sheep has led to a reduction in the use of diesel, agrochemicals and fertilizers according to The American Lamb Board.
If you ever have the opportunity to witness sheep herding dogs do their job live, you are in for a treat. Following Robert’s command of “left”, “right” and “easy”, his amazing dogs guided a flock of sheep down to the vineyard with all the control in the world. It’s really a sight to see.
Our last stop was lunch at Bonaterra Organic Vineyard where we were able to experience their large selection of organic wines.
Since 1993, Bonaterra has been producing wine from 100% organically grown grapes. Not only are the grapes grown with biodiversity but they use certified organic practices such as composting and cover crops.
American Lamb is a flavorful, nutrient-rich food. Lamb is an all-natural product and its raised without hormones, it’s nutrient-rich. A 3-ounce serving of American Lamb is packed with an array of essential nutrients: protein, selenium, riboflavin, viamin B12, niacin, iron and zinc. Lean cuts of lamb, such as a 3-ounce serving of a leg, loin or rack is 50% of your daily protein needs. A 3-ouce lean cut is also great to include in a weight management diet and supports a strong immune system. 40% Of the fat in lean lamb is heart healthy monosaturated fat.
Let’s talk about Omega 3-fats: In just a 3-ounce serving of lean lamb, the essential omega-3 fatty asid alpha-linolenic acid is delivered.
*Source: USDA National Nutrient Database.
Today, there are about 80,000 sheep farms and ranches, most of which are family owned and operated. Prior to World War II, many producers raised sheep primarily for wool. The result was that slaugther was delayed so that the sheep could be sheered more often. The meat of these older animals was less tender and strongly flavored. This is where the game flavor came from. Now, producers are focused on raising lamb for meat, improving nutritional programs and raising breeds for their meat.
I love sharing with you some key information about American Lamb and biodiversity agriculture. Thank you so much Superior Farms, Bellwether Farms Artisan Creamery, Gracianna Winery and Bonterra Winery for opening your door to us. A special thank you to Echo Communications for the invitation and organizing this amazing, once-in-a-lifetime educational experience.
This was a sponsored tour by Superior Farms. All opinions are my own. Thank you for supporting the brands I love that make this blog possible.