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California Grown: Taste California’s Bounty at the Source

March 25, 2014 Destination North America No Comments Email Email

It’s not going too far to say that California has changed the way the world looks at food.  Practices such as sustainable, organic and farm-to-table and trends like fusion cooking and gourmet food trucks were either started or refined here.

Similar to the preparation of any great dish of course, you have to start with fantastic ingredients, so perhaps that’s why California has always been at the leading edge of so many important culinary trends over the last several decades. America’s largest producer of many foods – everything from avocados to abalone – California is certain to lead you to many fabulous food discoveries that will give you a taste of the state’s incredible bounty. CALIFORNIA

From The Land

Running through the heart of the state between the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the east and the coastal ranges to the west, the Central Valley is a vast land of abundance, adventure and California history. Often referred to the as the nation’s breadbasket, in truth, the Central Valley is more like a 500-mile-long supermarket: name it, and it’s probably grown or raised here, as many of the state’s 400 commodities come from the region. Mix all this agricultural abundance with California creativity and things are bound to get very tasty. As in an incredible selection of fruit, nuts and vegetables that are the source ingredients for products like world-class wine and specialty foods. Even the state capital of Sacramento gets into the foodie act, as it was recently named “America’s Farm-to-Fork capital,” acknowledging the rich culinary culture that makes up the fabric of the state.

So it only makes sense to find a resource like Nature’s Touch Nursery & Harvestin the Central Coast town of Templeton. Located on the small town’s inviting Main Street, this outside-the-box grocery store and eatery defies easy description. Suffice it to say it’s where you can find a vast array of foods and produce ranging from artichokes to zucchini and everything in between as well as artisanal CALIFORNIAcheeses, farm-collected milk and eggs as well as meats and fish all sourced within California. This organic outpost celebrates the diversity of fresh foods found in California, so everything is seasonal, non-GMO, Certified Organic, naturally grown or wild harvested. And there’s no cutting corners here either: local producers who supply Nature’s Touch are asked to provide a soil sample so owner Melanie Blankenship can assure patrons the produce has been sustainably grown.

Other areas to experience the many seasonal and spectacular offerings in the Golden State include the East San Diego County hamlet of Julian, where autumn brings fiery fall colors, apple orchards heavy with McIntosh, Pippin, Granny Smith and other apple varieties, as well as fantastic piles of pumpkins.

In Northern California, you can pick your own organic blueberries in woodsyHumboldt County at Wolfsen Farms, or fill boxes of cherries, peaches and figs atShasta County‘s Serendipity U-Pick Ranch. Another emblematic fruit to enjoy here is the olive (yes, it’s a fruit) that thrives in Central California’s Mediterranean climate. Enjoy wall-to-wall olive tastings, recipe demos, food trucks and even olive oil ice cream during the Paso Robles Olive Festival.

From The Sea

With more than 800 miles of coastline, California’s rich harvest doesn’t end with orchards and trellises. Beyond the breakers – and at an increasing number of sustainable aquaculture operations sited at piers or in calm inlets – the state’s richness can be experienced through its abundant seafood. From the rugged coastlines of Mendocino and Monterey to sun-drenched Santa Barbara and San 152371_num458139_168x168Diego, harvests of fish, oysters, crab, abalone and other seafood staples make California an amazing catch.

The seaside playground of San Diego offers exceptional opportunities to sample catch-of-the-day and seasonal specialties like California spiny lobster and local sea bass. Locals love Point Loma Seafoods and El Pescador Fish Market in La Jolla.  If you’re serious about seafood, make sure to pay a visit to the Central Coast. This is where you’ll find outposts like Santa Barbara Shellfish Company on Stearn’s Wharf and Morro Bay Oyster Company, located right in the shadows of iconic Morro Bay Rock. More ocean goodness can be found in Morro Bay at Giovanni’s Fish Market & Gallery, specializing in abalone, crab, smoked fish and other seafood.

Up the coast in Monterey, the Monterey Abalone Company raises California red abalone utilizing sustainable aquaculture. Their abalone can be found in area restaurants and across the country.  Hog Island Oyster Co. is another standout purveyor of California-grown oysters and you can visit their farm in Marin County for a shuck-your-own feast overlooking Tomales Bay. And don’t miss out on one of California’s most iconic food experiences – having fresh cracked crab on San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf – paired with an oven-fresh Boudin baguette of course.

Farmers Markets

If you can’t make it to the orchards or the pier, the next best thing is one of California’s many farmers markets. There’s over 800 at last count here – more than anywhere else in the country, which translates into abundant and diverse farm-to-foodie nirvana. From big urban centers like Los Angeles to small communities stretching the entire length of the state from Crescent City to Imperial Beach, they’re entertaining options for exploring the state’s bounty. Notable farmers markets include the urban Los Angeles Farmers Market, founded in 1934 when LA was still the nation’s top farm county. It’s now a rambling collection of family-owned stalls and shops wedged between television studios and a sleek open-air mall. (Trivia note: a young Marilyn Monroe was the market’s first Cheesecake Queen). Others worth exploring include Northern California’s Ukiah Farmer’s Market and San Francisco’s Ferry Plaza Farmers Market.Further south, a favorite with locals and visitors alike is San Diego’s Little Italy Mercato, hosted weekly in the historic neighborhood.

Festivals For Food-lovers

Californians love a party, so what better way to experience the state’s culinary abundance than a festival. And with such diverse bounty and growing seasons, there’s always something to celebrate, no matter where or when you’re traveling in the Golden State. At California’s food fests, you’ll find tastings, food and wine pairings, special chef’s dinners, activities for kids and of course live music to work up an appetite. A sampling includes Yolo County’s Woodland Tomato Festival (August), Mendocino’s Mushroom, Wine & Beer Festival(November), the Napa Truffle Festival (January), Castroville’s Artichoke Festival(May) and Sebastopol’s Apple Blossom Festival (April), all in Northern California. Central California offers the Gilroy Garlic Festival (July), Morro Bay’s Central Coast Oyster Festival (October) and the Raisin Festival in Selma (April). Southern California serves up the California Strawberry Festival in Oxnard (May), Riverside County Fair & National Date Festival in the desert (February) and California Avocado Festival in Carpinteria (October). With so much to discover, it should prove easy to become a bonafide Calivore!

Watch our Tasting at the Source video for more story inspiration:

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