Taste Sacramento in summer: thinly sliced bluefin tuna from Sunh Fish, wedges of Blenheim apricots from Cloverleaf Farm, torn basil, a drizzle of lemon juice and pinch of zest from our backyard, a splash of Bariani early harvest olive oil, black sea salt.
The tuna’s red fattiness melts against the orange apricot’s bright tang and basil’s floral aroma.
As I walk through Cloverleaf’s 8-acre orchard on the edge of Davis with the owners, our region’s bounty hits me. Looking up at bright red and orange globes of satiation and nourishment, we munch on snow queen nectarines and Robada apricots in prime ripeness.
Thin channels of water weave through green marshland along East Levee Road in North Natomas. Large geese, blue herons and egrets poke for food in mud still plump from a rare spring rain.
To the road’s left, a vibrant pasture, thick with clover, rye, alfalfa and fescue, raises each blade to greet the sunlight. Behind me in the distance Downtown Sacramento’s buildings sit as dark dots. Tracts of suburban houses stand guard between the city’s agricultural and industrial land.
Flourishing, fragrant blossoms of orange, lemon, lime, yuzu and grapefruit trees infuse the morning air. Kiwi vines twist up arbors still wet with last night’s rain.
For more than 39 years, Tony and Joye Inzana have tended this former dairy land south of Modesto, transforming it into one of the most diversely planted landscapes in our region. Sacramento residents can buy Inzana Ranch products from an online store, and the couple sells at several Bay Area farmers markets.
Row upon row of almond, walnut, pecan, chestnut, pistachio, olive, cherry, plum, pluot, plumcot, apricot, fig, pomegranate, apple, quince, peach, pear, wine and table grapes, avocado, mulberry, blueberry, kiwi and more than 20 varieties of citrus line the ranch acreage. Each type of fruit gets represented by three to five varieties. Diversity equals not just options to tantalize the palate, but health and resiliency for the organic farm.
Over the last year and a half, I have become intimately involved with how farmers and ranchers work to rejuvenate land burned by fire.
My partner, Jarrod McBride, bought a 10-acre ranch bounded by Mountain Ranch, Railroad Flat and Mokelumne Hill in Calaveras County that had been devastated by the Butte Fire in 2015. He calls the land Pasture Works.
While many are scared off by these charred areas, we were attracted to Pasture Works because we saw enormous potential in the less expensive mountainous terrain and felt that once land burns, it will not catch fire for quite some time.
Thin green garlic rings tangle in curly Red Russian kale leaves, the colors white and green in contrast with purple. I drizzle Meyer lemon and extra virgin olive oil vinaigrette on shaved raw asparagus. Next comes fragrant torn mint leaves. The taste of produce from a Yolo County organic farm swims in my mouth.
When I started working in farm-to-table restaurants after culinary school in San Francisco, I wandered through East Bay farmers markets and encountered stacks of mustard greens, leeks, broccoli, Meyer lemons, Valencia oranges and carrots with soil clinging to roots.
My first encounter with Bariani Olive Oil was my first encounter with California olive oil.
Roaming the Berkeley Farmers Market, I found the Bariani stall and took my first oil shot, delivered by one of the brothers who grew the olives and pressed the oil. The oil coated my mouth in a grassy fattiness, soothed my throat and sank into my belly.
Four decades ago in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., the only olive oil available to me was mild, light and imported from Italy and Spain. In California, I savor a drizzle of amber green oil pressed from olives a few miles from where I cook. This oil makes leafy greens and grilled fish or meats sing complex songs.