June 18, 2015
Sacramento began life as a (literal) goldmine. Shortly after the city’s founding, gold was discovered in the area in 1848, sparking a huge migration of prospectors in search of the precious metal. Now, more than a century and a half later, Sacramento’s status as a goldmine has been reaffirmed – but this time, the precious harvest is culinary rather than mineral. With such bounty to choose from, here’s how to make the most of Sacramento farm to fork.
Though “˜farm to fork’ has been a food world buzzword for years now, few locales merit the moniker more than Sacramento: no other American city of its scope is surrounded by such agricultural abundance. The Sacramento region hosts 1.5 million acres of farmland, roughly 8,000 boutique farms, and, thanks to its Mediterranean-style climate, produces a cornucopia of crops that feed the nation – and beyond (fun fact: Japan eats more Sacramento-grown sushi rice than the rice it grows domestically).
And while Sacramento certainly knows how to share the wealth, visitors to the California capital will quickly discover that the best place to sample its native products, from juicy tomatoes to sweet cherries, caviar to lamb, craft beer to award-winning Zinfandel, is right here at the source.
Begin your sampling of the fruits of Sacramento’s fields, orchards, and vineyards in the city’s many award-winning eateries, many of which are guided by the principle of local sourcing. (For evidence, just swing by a farmers market in the morning – you’re more than likely to run into chefs perusing the day’s harvest.)
One of the most vaunted – and most locavore-friendly – restaurants in Sacramento is Mulvaney’s Building and Loan, helmed by chef Patrick Mulvaney. The restaurant’s menu, self-described as “hand-crafted New American cuisine,” changes daily to reflect what’s been newly hauled off the fields and into the kitchen. Another favourite is The Waterboy, run by chef Rick Mahan, which melds Californian and Italian culinary influences, though the ingredients have a distinct local pedigree. Other winning addresses include Mother, a veggie and vegan restaurant that was one of 2014’s highlight openings, and Grange, which beefs out its menu with Sacramento-sourced sturgeon, tomatoes – even olive oil.
And let’s not forget the booze. “Mediterranean climate” also necessarily implies viniculture, and the Sacramento area is home to a number of world-class wineries. Zinfandel is the star varietal around here, though everything from Syrah to Sauvignon Blanc grows well in Sacramento’s hills. For some Sideways-style tastings, trendy bistro and wine bar 58 Degrees & Holding Co provides an excellent introduction to the area’s vintages, including a sommelier-selected menu that highlights special picks.
Then there’s the craft beer. As with most of America, in Sacramento, craft beer isn’t just a trend – it’s a phenomenal success story. There are more than 40 breweries in the city alone, and visitors looking to sample some suds can visit area stalwarts like River City Brewing and newer ones like Oak Park Brewing Company and Track 7 Brewing Co. Then there’s Ruhstaller: originally founded in 1881 by Captain Frank Ruhstaller, the Ruhstaller brand was revived in 2013 after closing during Prohibition. To add an extra farm-to-pint twist, the brewery even manages its own farm, where it grows many of the hops used in its brews.
Of course, Sacramento farm to fork is a two-part equation. Throw on those overalls: once you’ve visited the finest of Sacramento’s restaurants, bars, and breweries, it’s time to head to the farm (or several). Colwell Thundering Herd Ranch, located on the outskirts of the city, has its very own tasting room for those looking to do some sampling – from persimmons to olive oil to fresh citrus, there’s much to enjoy. Del Rio Botanical in West Sacramento also hosts “Tour and Dine” nights, which allow visitors to explore the fields while nibbling farm-fresh goat cheese, olive oil, and gourmet dishes made from its fresh produce.
And that’s only scratching the surface of the farm offerings available in the region. Even if you don’t plan to leave the city limits, area growers and producers are showcased in a number of urban farmers markets (the Sacramento Central Certified Farmers Market is one of the biggest and best in the city), while Local Roots Food Tours, an area walking tour company, leads visitors on guided tours of Sacramento’s highlight farm to fork venues.
To discover the heart of Sacramento farm to fork, be sure to time your visit to September, when the Farm-to-Fork Celebration touches down. Held this year from 10th – 27th September, the annual festival invites the city’s farmers, eateries, wine producers, and more to take part in the festivities. Events kicks off with Farm-to-Fork Restaurant Week, which welcomes dozens of the city’s top eateries, each offering special menus, events, and even chances for diners to mingle with the region’s farming folk.
Up next is the Farm-to-Fork Legends of Wine event on the 17th, which will offer up the chance to sample a curated selection of the region’s most delectable varietals (plus artisan cheeses, of course). The month’s events wrap up with the Farm-to-Fork Festival on the 26th and the closing Farm-to-Fork Gala on the following day. The former is a free festival hosted on Capitol Mall, which will comprise food stalls, cookery demonstrations, entertainment and more (it drew crowds of over 30,000 last year – start early); the latter is a lavish, family-style feast that will bring together hundreds of diners to indulge in food prepared by dozens of the city’s top chefs. Booking early is advised, if not essential.
Whether you go tromping in the fields or stick to fine dining haunts, sign up for galas or simply head to the farmers market, it’s impossible to overlook Sacramento’s farm to fork heritage. One of America’s burgeoning food capitals? Scratch that – Sacramento’s a food goldmine.
Feature image © Donahue Photography
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Have you discovered the Sacramento farm to fork culture? What are the must-try venues or producers? Let us know in the comments below.
Written by Claire Bullen