What Does Mendocino County Taste Like? Wine, Pie and Seaweed

Posted by Anneli Rufus at 9:28 am, Monday, June 17, 2013

Last week, Dibs attended an event titled “Taste of Mendocino” in San Francisco’s glorious Presidio.

This event was designed to spread the word about Mendocino County, a scenic nearly 4,000-square-mile swatch of coastal Northern California that is blessed with deep redwood forest, sprawling vineyards, Old West architecture, rugged shoreline, hot sunny summer days and drenchingly wet winter ones, with panoramic vistas during both.

kemmy's pies

We met lots of friendly Mendocinans with interesting businesses, products and stories to share. Carlos Fuentes of 32-year-old Mendocino Brewing Company furthered our beer-tasting sensibilities with his hearty Red Tail Ale. The mother-and-daughters team from family-run Kemmy’s Pies — whose kitchen is located in Willits’ historic Skunk Train depot — shared samples of their strawberry-rhubarb and apple-bacon pies, both of which were so nostalgically rich and wholesome that we could eagerly have made balanced meals of either one. We tasted farm-grown goodness, proffered by the family-run, Fort Bragg-based Thanksgiving Coffee Company — whose charitable efforts and commitment to cooperatives around the world have garnered multiple awards, including a Dr. Jean Mayer Global Citizenship Award from The Tufts Institute for Global Leadership and a Lifetime Achievement Award for co-founder Paul Katzeff from the Specialty Coffee Association of America.

Cherie Soria and Dan Ladermann from the Fort Bragg-based Living Light Raw Foods Culinary Center — they’re also the co-authors of Raw Food for Dummies — shared elegantly edgy raw cocoa-pecan “brownies” that we could well imagine being served at chic Hollywood soirées.

mendo gin

Lots of wineries were on hand, including family-owned Husch Vineyards and Meyer Family Cellars, home of the smooth Meyer Family Port. At the popular Craft Distillers booth, we sampled Mendocino-distilled delectables including pear-based Germain-Robin Pear de Pear and Crème de Poète liqueurs, Fluid Dynamics bottled cocktails, and Crispin’s heavenly garden-in-your-glass Rose Liqueur.

We learned about romantic lodgings such as the cozy Brewery Gulch Inn and fifth-generation family-run Little River Inn. And we were excited to hear about Point Arena’s B. Bryan Preserve, which recently relocated to Mendocino County from Mississippi and is actively devoted to the breeding and preservation of hooved African wild animals including zebras, giraffes and antelopes.

We learned a lot and were reminded of our last visit to green Mendocino. But amidst all this talk of trains, giraffes and Chardonnay, something was missing — and it was the sea.

For us, Mendocino’s main attraction is its rocky, wild seashore: not the classic sun-baked Southern California strand but a roaring watch-your-step wonderland of pink and gold and black and white and ever-shifting moody blue. We searched Taste of Mendocino for someone to talk with about these beaches — and happily met Terry d’Selkie, who for over thirty years has hand-harvested raw seaweed from the rocky shallows to create Ocean Harvest Sea Vegetable Company products, which are sold online and served at restaurants nationwide.

terry d'selkie

Sampling these mineral-rich snacks which brought alive in our mouths the very essence of all that we love about the sea, we yearned to learn d’Selkie’s story. This is what she told us:

“We sustainably hand-harvest and sun-dry ten different species of seaweeds during the new and full moons of summer each year,” between April and July.

“Harvesting seaweed is no easy day at the beach. It starts at 4:30 a.m. when I leave my home in the redwoods. At daybreak, we walk in wetsuits, booties, and wool hats with our backpacks full of gear. When it is a longer trek, we take a wheelbarrow because carrying 200 pounds of wet seaweed” back from the beach “is not possible in two backpacks. After we sing to the ocean, giving thanks for such abundance, we hand-harvest frond tips from the various ocean plants” — such as sea palm, ocean ribbon, kombu, fucus, bull-whip kelp, wakame and dulse.

“We must listen to and watch the waves to understand their ebb and flow. The mixed swells combine to produce varying wave heights, which, along with the added height of wind waves, can produce waves of up to 16-20 feet. Sometimes we cut and run,” d’Selkie explained.

“Other days the ocean is flat, but there is no predicting what ocean conditions are, and only regular use of a weather radio and a good tide book” can give human searchers the edge.

“Even though safety is a priority, I have been swept off rocks I was harvesting on. The pull of the ocean after the wave hit the rock was so strong that I lost my hat, shoes, knife and bag to the ocean. I was lucky enough to be swept back against a rock and grabbed onto the ocean ribbon seaweed holdfast — and hold fast I did.

“We drive the seaweed back through the redwoods and, at a 2,000-foot elevation, we dry the seaweed in the sun’s rays to preserve its prana,” she said, using the Sanskrit word meaning “life force.”

ocean harv seaweeds

“This drying process is very tedious, long and hot. We take great care to keep the seaweed at a stable temperature and dryness throughout the year. Seaweed loves to soak up any ambient moisture,” she added.

“Seaweed harvesting is a right livelihood and an amazing way to get nutritious and delicious food to seaweed lovers. The minerals in seaweeds are more complete than those in any other plant-based foods.”

Adherents to the macrobiotic movement, along with everyone who loves Japanese cuisine, would happily agree. D’Selkie offers annual Seaweed Safaris for those who would like to join the harvest firsthand. It’s not your typical dip in the sea, but it sounds like a life-changer to us.

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