One of the most popular items up for bid in the live auction at last year's glitzy, annual Petaluma Educational Foundation gala fundraising BASH came with the promise of crisp, linen aprons and rolled up sleeves for participation in a cooking class and luncheon with one of this foodie-centric region's most celebrated culinary instructors, my oft-blogged pal, Meloni Courtway.
Paired with goodie bags stuffed with cook's knives, custom, cotton kitchen towels, chopping boards, whisks and other goodies, provided by the event's generous co-donors Nancy and Angie Leoni of downtown Petaluma's iLeoni dining and culinary emporium, this mild winter's weekday epicurean event was made all the more memorably scrumptious in its pastoral setting out at Point Reyes' heritage Giacomini Dairy's gorgeous new kitchen and barn-style venue, The Fork.
What's more, Whole Foods' friendly Petaluma store also very generously donated to this educational fundraiser, several bulging box loads of delicious, organic ingredients, seasonings and oils to add to the bounty of the land from artisan-cheese-centric, coastal West Marin.
The Giacomini's milk over 300 cows, raising an additional 300 to 400 on the farm for the family-owned company's nationally acclaimed Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese, in operation since the early 2000's and operated by four Giacomini sisters. Matriarch and Patriarch Bob and Dean Giacomini purchased the farm in 1959, running their business as a milk-supplying dairy for 40 years. Now focused on producing its fine and distinctive, organic cheeses, the dairy continues to focus on a closed-herd, with all cattle raised from birth and pasture-grazed in this bucolic setting. Flavors in the Farmstead's milk represent the climate and soils of this spectacular location, producing cheeses that are special and unique.
Teams of two amongst an intrepid party of 10 lovely ladies-who-both-lunch-and-cook, took to their stations for our super chef's PEF Winter Cooking Party, 'A Feast at the Fork' on a Friday in March. I wasn't about to pass up the opportunity to help out in the kitchen, equal part as a member of the PEF team, big fan of Meloni's and keen to report on the tucked-away treasure of the Fork .
After perusing my photos, you'll have an idea as to what was on the menu. With a flourish of team spirit, some seriously fun chopping, rolling, whisking, broiling, pickling, cheese tasting and impeccable timing, a feast of plenty presented itself in the sun-drenched farm-style dining room, pictured above.
We're talking melt-in-the-mouth eggplant rolls with ricotta and pesto, pickled carrots, pork tenderloin with olives, feta and mint, endive and watercress salad with kumquats and Point Reyes Blue Cheese , paired with a medley of fine, Sonoma County wines, followed by sublime Glazed Lemon Curd Cake and Taylor Maid Coffee.
I've been around the chef's earthy, epicurean escapades in many a county kitchen over the past few years, but had yet to see her in her element as captain of the crew of such an extraordinary team cooking facility. Heading inland, back home to Petaluma after every last plate and piece of silverware was washed and back in place, there was energy yet to marvel at this place we call home. Cattle-studded hills, rolling vineyards, Tomales Bay at low tide, bathed in glorious, late-afternoon sunshine. The food and the people and the fact that we find such spirited common-ground when gathered at the table.
This and other one-of-a-kind items, events and activities set the annual PEF live auction in a class of its own, raising much needed funds for the foundation's vital support of schools throughout the Petaluma area. This year's PEF BASH takes place on Saturday, September 8th, 2012. Click here for more details.
Pictured above: Nancy Leoni of iLeoni and Chef Meloni Courtway