McEvoy Ranch has been producing high-end olive oil for decades. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Swirl, smell, gargle, swallow. That’s how you truly taste olive oil.
Gargling isn’t the term Sam Dorsey used, but it was essentially the action she told us to take. She may have said slurp. The point was to have the liquid linger in the back of the throat.
Dorsey is president of McEvoy Ranch, having started with the company 20 years ago as a gardener.
What an experience the ranch has created. Most of the tasting, though, was traditional with bread dipped in the oils. I left with a new appreciation for what olive oil should taste like.
In 1990, Nan McEvoy founded the 550-acre ranch located in the Petaluma Gap that divides Marin and Sonoma counties. Only 15 percent of the acreage is planted. More wine grapes used to be grown there, but the current philosophy is to focus more on olives. They are grown, harvested, milled, blended, and bottled on site.
Sam Dorsey, president of McEvoy Ranch, explains the intricacies of making olive oil. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
If it weren’t for the San Francisco Chronicle, there would be no McEvoy Ranch.
This is because the founder of the ranch, McEvoy (née Phyllis Ann Tucker), was the granddaughter of M.H. de Young. He along with his brother founded the Chronicle in 1865. McEvoy in 1981 became chairwoman of the parent company of the Chronicle.
She was living in Georgetown on the East Coast at the time. That was a place she called home for 36 years. In 1989 she returned to the West Coast to better manage the family’s publishing enterprises. At the time she and her son, Nion, owned one-third of the holdings, with nearly two dozen family members controlling the remainder of the enterprise. McEvoy died in 2015 at age 95, 14 years after the newspaper was sold to the paper’s rival Hearst Corporation for $660 million. Prior to that, family discord forced her out as chairwoman by implementing a bylaw stating no one could be on the board over age 72. McEvoy was 75 then.
Today, Nion McEvoy owns the ranch. It is because of him and his management team that the ranch has been turned into a tourist haven and a force in the industry.
Dorsey is involved in the industry as a whole, including backing California legislation that would change labeling practices. She is an advocate of a bill that would mandate labels could only say “California Olive Oil” if 100 percent of the olives are grown in California.
At McEvoy Ranch the organic traditional blend is the most popular. It is a combination of seven Italian varietals. Absolutely delicious. But so were the flavored oils—like garlic, lemon and basil. One that isn’t often seen is jalapeno. Also great.
A small fraction of the 550-ranch is planted with olive trees and wine grapes. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Dorsey said new blends are always in the works. The latest to be bottled is ginger turmeric. It would be best as a finishing oil. I’ve used it on a roasted vegetable green salad. Loved it.
The setting is completely serene. It’s a perfect place for tasting oils and wines. It’s off the beaten trail, doesn’t feel like you are in the Wine Country, and seems so civilized. They aren’t into high pressure sales of product or joining their clubs—though there is plenty of product to buy and more than one club to join if you choose.
This is a destination I highly recommend. Fantastic experience. We left with wine and olive oil.
Some grapes, left, did not make the cut; while the ones on the right will become wine. (Images: Kathryn Reed)
Neither day laborer nor farm worker will be added to my resume any time soon.
After a couple hours of grape picking I know I have the ability to do the job, but I’m just not sure how many hours and days my body would last. Nor am I sure my speed would pass muster with a boss.
I’d do it again, though. Oddly, it was fun. Being outside, a little physical labor, and grapes. That’s a good combination for enjoyment; at least when the work is limited.
I certainly have a new appreciation for this part of the winemaking process.
This adventure was an excursion arranged through a local hiking group. (I did log almost three-quarters of a mile.)
For two hours on Monday morning we picked grapes on land owned by Jim and Nell Bremner at the intersection of Dayton Road, Durham-Dayton Highway, Aguas Frias Road and Ord Ferry Road in Durham. Although they bought the property in 2012, progress has been slow to transform the shuttered Mother’s 4 Corners. The plan is still to make it a coffee shop and event venue.
Kae Reed spends a couple hours Aug. 9 picking wine grapes near Chico.
Behind the building are a couple acres of land, with one being planted with Pinot Grigio grapes. It was the job of the half dozen or so volunteers to pick the ripe grapes, put them in a bin, then dump them into larger containers that would be hauled off to be crushed into wine.
About 6,000 bottles were made last year using these grapes and others of the same varietal. Tony, who works for the Bremners, expects the yield to be about 20 percent less this year because of the lack of pruning done to the vines.
Some of the grapes already looked like raisins, so we left them on the vine or dropped them to the ground. We used our own pruning shears. First, we cleaned them in a bleach solution to ensure we didn’t contaminate the vineyard with something bad from our own gardens.
After our job was done the grapes were trucked to Almendra Winery in Durham to be crushed. They will be bottled under the Bertagna Son Kissed Vineyards label.
My payment for a couple hours’ work was two bottles of the 2019 Pinot Grigio. Maybe I’ll save a bottle to see how it compares to “my” 2021 vintage.
Stainless steel equipment for making beer at Mulberry Station. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Breweries tend to do one thing well—make beer. Pizza places tend to specialize in making pies. Mulberry Station Brewing Company in Chico does both well.
The beer is made on site and the pizzas are cooked to perfection in a wood fire oven.
Beer and pizza is always a combination. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Owners have embraced the history of the site with train-themed artwork as well as a mini-train that keeps kids’ attention.
The brewery’s website says, “The city of Chico was both the beginning and the end of Sacramento Northern’s Electric Streetcar operations in more ways than one. Chico was the location of the first of the electric lines that would become the SN. It was also the scene of the line’s last regular service. Our location was one of the last stops in Chico. The original main track traveled through downtown and stopped at Mulberry Street before going on to the district known as Chapmantown.”
Now it’s all about beer and pizza. Because the brewmasters like to experiment the selection is always changing.
Kids enjoy the miniature train. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Roland Allen has been in the Chico beer scene forever. He was the assistant brewmaster at Sierra Nevada before joining Butte Creek Brewing when it opened in 1995. (Butte Creek Brewing Company became part of Ukiah’s Mendocino Brewing Company in 2010, with operations in Chico ceasing.)
This is relevant because Allen is at Mulberry Station making its beers. An email sent July 9 by the brewery says, “Just tapped! The original recipe Roland’s Red. Throwback to the Butte Creek days with this full flavored, hoppy rendition of a traditional English ale. A sure delight for the most hop-headed of specialty beer connoisseurs. Imported roasted malts from Europe are used to add to its deep red color. This ale is dry-hopped to add to its rich aroma.”
Of the five beers my mom and I tried at Mulberry it was Roland’s Red that was our favorite.
A worker said the original recipe had been revamped and renamed Roland’s Redder Ale. Supposedly people are relishing the original coming back into the tap rotation.
We had a sampler of four: Light Rail (American wheat ale, 4 percent ABV), Rollerbrau (pilsner, 4.6 percent ABV), Amberfest (lager, 5 percent ABV), and Golden Spike Ale (session IPA, 4.9 percent ABV). All were fine, but none wowed us. (Mom likes light beers, I prefer darker; so there is that. I’ll have to try the brown ale and stout another day.)
However, not a drop was left of the half pint of Original Roland’s Red (red ale, 5.9 percent ABV) that we shared.
Pizzas are made with fresh ingredients. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
The Italian garden pizza was fresh and hot. The price was right—$17, which included leftovers. It wasn’t loaded with vegetables, but the sauce was tasty and the dusting of oregano on top was perfect.
We arrived just before 5pm on a Sunday and had the place to ourselves, even remarking they were probably glad to see us. Soon, though, the restaurant filled up and we were the ones saying we were glad we arrived when we did—no waiting.
While the room is spacious, and tables still mostly 6 feet apart, the noise level was not obnoxious considering so many kids had arrived with their parents. The acoustics are such that even is such an open setting you can still easily hear the person sitting across from you.
St. Francis Winery in Santa Rosa offers a tranquil setting for tastings. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Sipping the Chardonnay in the shade on the patio we were a long stone’s throw from where those grapes had been harvested.
It was serene to imbibe in such a setting—looking at the vineyard that seemed to extend to the base of Hood Mountain. St. Francis Winery & Vineyards (as well as many others) are lucky to be standing. The September 2020 Glass Fire in Sonoma and Napa counties destroyed some prime vineyards, as well actual wineries. The scar on the mountain is a constant reminder of what could have happened to St. Francis.
This year St. Francis is celebrating its 50th anniversary.
St. Francis uses eco-conscious farming practices. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Joe Martin founded the winery in 1971 with 22 acres of Chardonnay and 60 acres of Merlot. These were the first Merlot vines in the Sonoma Valley. The 2015 Merlot harvest was the last from those original vines. Lucky for us, that is what they were pouring on our visit in early July. What came out of the bottle belied the fact that these vines were apparently past their prime.
An advantage to tasting at the winery is that what is poured there is not available in stores, according to the woman filling our glasses.
Today, according to St. Francis’ website, “We farm more than 380 acres of certified sustainable estate vineyards in Sonoma Valley and Russian River Valley, each with varying compositions of loam, clay and volcanic soils. We also nurture long-term relationships with top Sonoma County grape growers, giving the winery access to some of the region’s most coveted old vines Zinfandel and other varietals from acclaimed vineyards.”
The grapes in the 2016 Old Vine Zin from the Giovanetti Vineyard come from a 130-year-old vine. I swear I could taste the earthiness in it. With years spent in El Dorado County, I still believe the Zins from there are superior to what even Sonoma County can produce. This bottle was $48. I was willing to pay that price for the Merlot, but not the Zin. I know I can get better and less expensive Zins on my next trip to Tahoe.
Plus, days later I found a St. Francis 2018 Old Vine Zin (no vineyard named) at Costco for $13.99. It’s in the house to be had later. Maybe I’ll remember what the two we tasted at the winery were like to be able to compare; though I doubt my memory is that good.
Dogs are welcome at St. Francis. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
As Sue and I were leaving the winery a bell chimed. It chimes every hour and apparently can be heard throughout the Sonoma Valley. On Sept. 27, 2000, the bell was blessed in the Piazza Della Basilica of St. Francis Assisi, Italy. The 1,000-pound iron bell was cast by the Martinelli Foundry, the oldest foundry in Italy. This is the same foundry that since the 12th century has been making bells for the Vatican.
At the entrance is a statue of St. Francis with a dog. After all, he is the patron saint of animals and ecology. This makes sense then that AJ was allowed to join us for the tasting. She even got her own water bowl with a side of treats.
It was a great experience to not be cramped in an indoor tasting room. St. Francis offers a variety of tastings, including a special one focusing on its golden anniversary. Reservations, of course, are necessary.
In Mexico, limes became one of my go-to ways to season various dishes. That tanginess is different than a lemon. Plus, those tiny limes, not the ones sold in most U.S. supermarkets, come with more flavor.
With my predilection to use limes, it’s not surprising that one of my favorite spices is Tajin.
Mexico’s Tajin spices are available in more than 30 countries. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Tajin is a simple combination of mild chili peppers, lime, and sea salt. It has been produced in Zapopan, a city near Guadalajara on the mainland of Mexico, since December 1985.
The company says its goal is to use the best chilies possible; which grow in the region.
In 1993, Tajin was first exported to the United States. Today the original Tajin recipe is so popular that bottles can often be found in Costco—at least in Cabo San Lucas, Northern California and Northern Nevada. It’s also available in more than 30 countries.
I was first introduced to it three summers ago during the Spanish immersion program at Lake Tahoe Community College. One of the sections was on food. The instructor swore by Tajin.
What I haven’t tried it on is fruits—like watermelon and mango. This is probably because I often think fruit is good enough without any enhancements.
While I have only used the classic recipe, Tajin has other products. The spice comes in a low sodium version, there is a mild hot sauce, fruity chamoy hot sauce, habanero seasoning, and a seasoning rimmer for cocktails and other drinks.
I think it would be perfect to rim a bloody Mary or margarita.
“This is not a candy” is printed on the label. Why? According to Tajin’s website, “Kids have been known to eat it straight from the bottle, as if it were candy. We want to make sure the product is consumed as intended: to season fruits, veggies, and your favorite foods.”
It is good, but it’s hard to imagine eating it by the spoonful.
Stoble is part cafe, part coffeehouse, and part shared workspace. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Little by little, Stoble Coffee and Workplace is evolving into the full-fledged coffeehouse, café, and workspace the owners envisioned.
While a Stoble coffee cart has been serving up hot liquid creations since June 2019, it was in March that the doors opened to the brick and mortar location.
That cart has found a home inside, with a sign explaining its significance.
Coffee continues to be an important part of the whole business concept, with the roaster located in a prominent spot near the front door. Details about the beans are on Stoble’s website. Those beans can be bought there or ordered through a subscription.
Breakfast and lunch are available now; pastries, soups, salads and sandwiches are the main items.
The building is an impressive transformation in downtown Chico. It has two main floors, a basement and rooftop. The latter is where views of the city and plaza are most prominent.
The site was last home to Mary’s Gone Crackers, which moved to Reno.
Coffee beans are roasted on site. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
The openness is inviting for those wanting to eat, drink and/or work. Those requiring a more private work environment away from the café have a variety of options. Just this month hourly co-working spaces opened. Conference rooms allow people to teleconference, they come with whiteboards, and seat up to 14 people. More options are coming this summer.
The website says, “What began as an idea to create a single story cafe with a few offices for rent has grown into a much larger endeavor. We now find ourselves with a light filled atrium surrounded by 17 offices, two conference rooms and tables galore. Our freshly renovated sublevel adds an additional space for a large classroom space, printer/coper facilities, phone booths, breakroom lounge and more.”
This creation was the brainchild of Matt and Lauren Theide with business partners Matt and Natalie Johnston.
“It’s turned from a $1 million project into a $5 million project,” Matt Theide told the Chico Enterprise-Record. This was because of easements and the original building’s structure, which had brick walls dating to the 1800s.
Stoble owners had hoped the business would be open every day from 7am-10pm. For now, the café is open five days a week for seven hours each day. Expect this to change.
Stoble has a variety of seating options for guests. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Award-winning Volo chocolate is based in Northern California, but has its roots in Baja. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
A sack of unfamiliar beans sitting in a Baja kitchen was a sweet discovery for Susan and Jeff Mall.
While the couple was well versed in the culinary world, chocolate making was not part of their repertoire when they took over the food and beverage operation at Rancho Pescadero. Today they are winning awards at international competitions for their bars of dark chocolate.
The couple started in 2010 as consultants for the Baja California Sur resort. At the time they owned the highly acclaimed Zin restaurant in Healdsburg in California’s Wine Country. In December 2014, they sold the restaurant and in February 2015 they were working full time just steps from the Pacific Ocean as executive chefs at Rancho Pescadero.
“We inherited the ingredients from the previous chef,” Susan Mall shared. “We had never seen cacao beans and we didn’t know how to make chocolate.”
A little research helped the Malls figure out what to do with the beans—roast, peel, and turn them into something edible. It took a few tries, and a realization the recipes they found online were subpar.
This is when they got creative. Because the Malls had honed the understanding of food profiles through their restaurant work they were able to create unique recipes and heighten the flavors of their chocolate bars.
“We had to learn how to tune our palates,” Susan Mall said of acquiring a refined taste for high-end chocolate. Today, they are close to being equivalent to wine sommeliers by being able to dissect what is in a piece of chocolate. While chocolate and wine is a natural, well-known pairing, the Malls have pairing sheets for their chocolate with cheese.
At Rancho Pescadero cacao beans were roasted in the pizza oven. (Image: Susan Mall)
In Baja it was a bit of a bootleg, MacGyver-type operation as the couple used trial and error to figure out the process and the tools needed to make it happen. The Indian wet stone grinder was not suitable for tortillas so it was put into the chocolate operation. The wood oven was perfect for roasting the beans.
Hotel guests got in on the action by becoming free labor when it came time to peeling the beans. They found it to be an interesting activity one often doesn’t experience on vacation. When the chocolate was done, those same guests got to nibble on what they helped create. Many would buy handfuls of bars to take home with them. Rancho Pescadero profited from all the sales, not the Malls.
The duo didn’t anticipate the Rancho Pescadero gig being permanent or long term; having made a commitment of 18 to 24 months. By the end of July 2016 they were headed north—for personal and professional reasons.
(Rancho Pescadero has been closed since 2018, with a reopening expected in 2022. Then it will come under the Hyatt Unbound Collection umbrella.)
The MexiCali bar starts subtle, before bursting with memorable flavor. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
What the Malls took from Baja was a desire to turn their prowess for chocolate making into a business. Thus, Volo chocolate of Windsor, California, was born. In Latin the word volo means to want or to desire.
It’s an appropriate name because after one bite you will desire another, and another, then a square from a different bar. This is high-end, artisanal chocolate that ranges between 62 percent and 73 percent darkness.
A nod to Mexico goes into each bar, as cinnamon is part of every recipe. Sea salt, often from Baja, is part of the mix as well. When they were in Baja the salt came from Guerrero Negro in Baja Sur.
In Baja, finished chocolate was wrapped in foil whose original purpose was to be a hamburger wrapper.
Family quilts are the inspiration for each wrapper of Volo chocolate. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Bars to this day are still hand wrapped, though automation is coming soon. A person can wrap one bar in a minute, while a machine can do 60 in the same amount of time.
The outer wrappers are a work of art. They are images of quilts with a color scheme of cream, orange and brown that have been created by Jeff Mall’s aunt, Cathy Shanahan.
The beans the Malls first worked with were from Chiapas, the southern-most state on the mainland of Mexico. The problem was the quality fluctuated. Today, Volo’s beans are sourced from Guatemala and Haiti.
“The quality level of the bean is ultra-premium,” Susan Mall said.
While the beans are foreign, other ingredients are more local, such as from Clover Dairy, Petaluma Hill Dairy, Merchant & Miller Extra Virgin Olive Oil, and Wolf Coffee.
Sonoma County businesses in turn support Volo by carrying the bars. It is the “turndown chocolate” at the Montage resort in Healdsburg.
In summer 2019 Volo introduced the MexiCali and Chocolate Orange bars. The MexiCali has chiles and dried cherries, while the other has candied orange peel.
Volo chocolate is gearing up to go to automation for wrapping. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Volo has eight chocolate bars, with No. 9 being talked about. The 73% Deep Dark Chocolate is the No. 1 seller, with the 70% Dark Chocolate Salted Caramel Crunch close behind.
In 2019, Volo entered the Academy of Chocolate competition with its MexiCali and Chocolate Orange bars. Both earned bronzes; the former in the Milk Bean-to-Bar Flavored category and the latter in the Bean-to-Bar Flavored Category. There were 1,500 entrants representing 46 countries.
In 2020, Chocolate Mocha earned a bronze and the Dark Milk Chocolate with Sea Salt & Brown Butter a silver in the Milk Bean to Bar Flavored. The 73% Deep Dark Chocolate garnered a gold for Dark Bean to Bar Flavored. It was one of 43 golds in the whole competition.
“I call this chocolate reimagined. It explodes and lingers,” Mall said.
In 2020, Volo produced 37,000 bars of chocolate. Each year the company has grown. It was on target to grow 15 to 20 percent in 2020—then the pandemic hit. Wholesale orders dropped by 70 percent, while online sales took off. A federal loan helped keep the company going.
Some of the equipment at Volo that is required to make award-winning chocolate. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
An advantage to being in Sonoma County is the chocolate can be made year-round. Operations had to come to a halt in Baja in May because it got too hot and humid. Chocolate should not be refrigerated. Ideal storage temperature is between 62 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit. In the right climate chocolate never goes bad.
With the growing popularity of Volo, the Malls know the 500-square-foot space where the chocolate is made is not going to be enough. Next door is the office and where inventory is kept. It too will need to be bigger to keep up with demand. They might also need more employees. They only have 2½ others working at Volo.
The back of each wrapper says, “While living & working as married chefs in Mexico we fell in love with traditional Mexican ingredients including cacao/cocoa beans grown in Mexico for 1,000s of years. We incorporated cacao into sweet & savory preparations which led us into the world of making Mexican-style chocolate. Now back home in Sonoma County we are continuing to make chocolate in the same tradition we learned in Mexico.”
While the Malls don’t have a professional reason to return to Baja Sur, the annual writers’ workshop in Todos Santos keeps them in touch with Mexico, where this chocolate craze all got started.
Susan and Jeff Mall continue to expand the line of Volo chocolate. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Robbie’s Paradise Burgers has more than Angus beef burgers. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
From the ashes delicious things have risen.
Robbie’s Paradise Burgers proves this point.
Robbie Avila owned Kalico Kitchen in Paradise. Then the Camp Fire roared through town on Nov. 8, 2018. The flames tore through his restaurant on the Sky Way, leaving ash where once stood a favorite breakfast-lunch spot for locals.
While building is occurring in this town north of Chico, there are plenty of hoops to jump through in order to rebuild.
Kalico Kitchen in Paradise burned to the ground and in its place is a food truck specializing in burgers. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Avila cleared the debris and instead of building a permanent structure he put a food truck on the lot. Robbie’s Paradise Burger’s grand opening was July 16, 2019.
Today there are a couple picnic tables with umbrellas on the property that allow for people to eat there instead of having it as a to-go meal.
A variety of choices are available, including a veggie burger ($9). The fries that came with it were good; fries come with all the burgers/sandwiches. The quarter pound Angus burger was $6.50. A pot roast melt and chicken melt, as well as a cranberry chicken salad and other types of burgers are available. Soft drinks, water and Red Bull Monster are also on the menu.
I understand why it’s a favorite of mom’s when she goes back to Paradise.
While the truck looks shiny and new, not everything has been cleared off the land. The old restaurant’s sign is still erect, with one side a melted metal artifact that remains a reminder of the devastation. Looking at the other side of the sign it would be hard to know a fire took out the restaurant.
A mix of new foliage provides life, while nearby charred pines stand as a legacy of what happened that fall day.
The melted sign from what was Kalico Kitchen in Paradise. (Image: Kathryn Reed)