One of the things to love about Sonoma is that it isn’t just wine country. In fact, Sonoma County is as much about sustainable, organic agriculture as it is about wine. Whether it’s artisanal goat cheese, grass-fed beef, free range chicken or heirloom vegetables, Sonoma’s got it all. Go to Napa for the glitz and the faux Chateau. Sonoma is all about manure on the boots and dirt under the fingernails.
So I was excited to hear that the town of Sonoma has just been named the first Cittaslow or “Slow City” in the United States by the prestigious (and curmudgeonly) Cittaslow International. Dedicated to preserving traditional and earth-friendly foodways, Cittaslow International has rigorous standards for any potential Slow Cities:
“Prospective Cittaslow members have populations of less than 50,000 and are evaluated in six topic groupings and 54 areas of excellence. These include sustainable agricultural practices, land use and infrastructure, environmental policy, support for local food cultivation and preparation, conservation of traditional artisan products, available hospitality programs, historic preservation, and educational programs for all ages. Also necessary for membership is local involvement participation of the City Council and the local Slow Food chapter.”
But hey, as any of the locals will tell you. Sonoma was Slow before Slow was cool. In fact, generations of teens have called their town “Slow-noma” and not necessarily because of the artisanal produce.
How Slow is Sonoma? Well, it passes my most rigorous test. One of my pet peeves is that, in one of the U.S.’s few lamb-raising regions, so many grocery stores — even those that profess to support sustainable agriculture (Whole Foods, I’m looking at you) — continue to sell only New Zealand lamb. That’s not just bringing coals to Newcastle. That’s burning loads of coal to get coals to Newcastle.
At my favorite grocery store, Sonoma Market (a family-run supermarket that can teach Whole Foods a thing or two about sourcing locally), I quizzed the butcher on the available lamb chops.
“Which of these chops is sourced locally?”
The butcher fixed me with a steely gaze and answered:
“Depends what you mean by local.”
“Well, we have lamb from near Point Reyes Station (35 miles away), or this lamb from north of Petaluma (14 miles away). Or we have Farmer XXX’s lamb pastured down near Ernie’s Tin Bar (5 miles away).”
Need more affirmation for Sonoma foodways?
Food Network’s Guy Fieri is at one of my favorite diners, The Schellville Grill, to profile owner/chef Matt Nagan’s Buckaroo Sandwich and Smoked Tri-Tip Sandy for Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. You know The Schellville Grill. It’s the old wooden place near the Schellville Fire Station (which guarantees the food is good and filling). It’s the place with the hand-lettered sign that says “Come in and give Matt a hug” (which shows you the place has heart).
And last but not least, The Olive Festival is in full swing up here showcasing Sonoma’s “other big crop”. There was something of an upset at Martini Madness, where local bartenders vie for the best and most original variation on the cocktail.
We were rooting for our favorite bartenders from The Girl and The Fig, but Sonoma-Meritage walked off with First Prize for their “Dirty Cougar” which features Hendricks Gin, fresh grapefruit juice, St Germaine Elderflower liqueur and wildflower honey syrup. In the interest of informing my readers, I’ll have to try one, although I suspect this cocktail honors a certain type of Meritage patron more than it does our own Mountain Lion, Joaquinetta, and her ilk. On the other hand, I’m not sure I’ll be rushing off to try the winner of “Best Olive” category. That was Saddles Restaurant’s torch flamed creme brulee stuffed olive. I can’t even say that sounds “interesting”.
I think I’ve made my point that Sonoma is all about the local agriculture. And I haven’t even gotten into the most hotly contested controversy in town for the past few months: the great coup d’etat that overthrew the previous directorship of the Farmer’s Market on the Plaza. We’ll save that one for another time.