started off poorly…I forgot how many breakfast, lunch and dinner meetings I had scheduled with friends and colleagues. Friday night was date night with Descartes, during which I managed to have no earthly idea where my food had flown in from. Saturday morning was my beacon of light (more later) but by Saturday night I was dining at the local sushi place with a good friend, eating fish that was likely caught in a far-off land, and likely not even caught, but farmed and harvested. Sigh. Monday was dinner with two old friends, at one of those newer theme-chain restaurants (the theme is something like French or Louisianan, but honestly the theme should be the Home of Giant People Who Love Giant Muffins). The rest of the week fared much better, with home-cooked meals and Wednesday’s pick-up of our new CSA box – I could have sworn I read somewhere about using pomegranate seeds in a sauce…anyone?

But back to Saturday morning (please note my attempt to keep the farm and its owners anonymous and untraceable – see my most recent post about the growing hostility toward raw milk suppliers in CA). I left early-ish for my first visit to the local farm that would, hopefully, soon be my supplier of pastured dairy, eggs and meat. It was a clear morning, and after an uneventful drive south to Stockton, I headed east on a highway that wound its way through flats, then mounds, then hills and finally rolling, oak-covered foothills of golden grass. The scenery undulated under me as I took in the fresh country air, the Gold Country scenery, and finally the sign that indicated I had reached my destination. Two large, muddy dogs greeted me with a wary welcome, circling me until the farmer called them back to him. He was the only one awake so far this morning, and needed coffee. He called me in. After a half-hour at the kitchen table I knew far more about his work history and health issues than I had intended, and I found the conversation refreshingly slow-paced. “Shall we go visit the animals?” Sure.

Outside the bedroom window I met the cows, calves, chickens, goats, and pig that bed down each night just a few feet from their human stewards. Midnight, Lucy, and others nudged me and accepted my hand on their noses. The pig sniffed my purse for food and left muddy nostril marks. The goats jumped the fence and one another to get to the haypile near a second pen, which holds the steers and geese. “The steers are going to market next week…it’s time,” said the farmer in a way that was neither nonchalant nor nostalgic. I looked in their faces, determined to keep my eyes open through all parts of this farm tour. As I’ve said here before, if I’m going to eat meat, I’m going to be conscious of where it’s coming from.

We moved back to the house to discuss business; the farmer’s wife was up by then, and it turns out she really supervises things around here. These farmers are clearly nervous about the ramifications of selling raw milk in California, and determined to know me before signing a milkshare agreement. A milkshare is just about the only way for these farmers to sell the delicious raw milk, cheese, and butter that Lucy et al produce from the 103 acres they graze from day to day. I was ready to sign, but they wanted me to take home some of each and try it first, so I’ll know what I’m getting. Turns out the wife talks a blue streak too, and she proceeded to tell me much of her work history and health issues, many of which led this family to retire from the city to the country, and return to the farming lifestyle their parents and grandparents had taught them. “We’re not in farming to make money,” the wife told me. “We have this farm so our children and grandchildren will always have good quality food no matter what. You benefit from the leftovers.” Fair enough.

I left with a trunk full of food – a gallon of raw whole milk (the sweetest I’ve tasted), 1/2 pound of raw butter, a pound of the sharpest cheddar ever to pass between my lips (the farmer’s wife made it three years ago and has been turning it over once a week since then, to keep it aging), a dozen eggs with deep orange yolks, and a pound of stew beef. All this, plus a promise of raw goat’s milk once the goats have birthed their kids in January. My milkshare will be goat’s milk, supplemented with cow’s milk whenever the goats are dry.

I set out on a country road that winds its way along the edge of the foothills, north again toward home. I took all the historical routes, through Gold Rush town after Gold Rush town, feeling fulfilled and excited about my first local-food adventure. And then, just when I thought it couldn’t get better, it got better. I spied a sign for fresh, homemade ravioli, at a little box of a building along the road. I don’t know how long Vinciguerra Ravioli Co. has been gracing Jackson with its pillows of goodness, but I bought four boxes to add to my collection of local foods in the trunk.

By the time I got home I was hungry and ready for some yum. I cooked up a box of pumpkin ravioli just like John Vinciguerra instructed – at a slow boil, for only a few minutes so the ravioli don’t burst (I only had two casualties). In the meantime I melted some butter with garlic and some sage from my side garden. Tossed together and sprinkled with grated Romano, it was heaven on a spoon. A rewarding end to an adventurous day of food.

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