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4 Foods to Buy for the Perfect Sonoma Picnic

Gustafson Family Vineyards in Healdsburg has a great overlook view for a picnic. 

Blessed with predictably mild picnic weather from May through October and an almost endless supply of places to enjoy an impromptu alfresco meal, Sonoma County also offers picnic provisions that are a cut or two above the typical fare.

Here are just a few shops to consider when picking up foods to buy for the perfect Sonoma County picnic.

If you are visiting the coast or the Russian River area, you should make a point to stop off in the tiny town of Freestone:

Freestone Artisan Cheese

Owner Omar Mueller learned cheese making in Vermont, but fell in love with the small batch, local artisan cheeses of Sonoma County. Fast forward a few years to a perfectly stocked store that reflects his passion and considerable knowledge of cheeses of all kinds.

This is an invitation to go ahead and ask about a cheese in his dairy case. Any cheese. He can tell you the particular creamery, the specific cheese making process, and the type of pasture that nourished the cow/sheep/water buffalo that was the source of it.

Be prepared to spend a little time collecting the perfect basket of cheeses, crackers, charcuterie, and dried fruit, as well as preserved and fermented sides like locally made kraut and kimchi.

Then consider your choices from what must be dozens of spreads from savory tapenade and mustards to black truffle honey from Tennessee and fruit pastes from New Zealand. All of which were chosen specifically to complement fine cheeses. A bit overwhelmed? Omar will be delighted to create a cheese picnic plate that caters to your palate.

Wild Flour Bread

Don’t be put off by the line out the door: it moves quickly and the offerings inside are well worth the wait. Wild Flour specializes in sweet and savory varieties of sourdough bread — each with that characteristic crunchy crust that is typical of bread baked in a professional wood-fired oven.

You can stop by for a breakfast of warm, gooey, and intensely aromatic cinnamon sticky buns or fresh fruit scones with your coffee. Or pick up a loaf or two of the kind of bread you won’t find elsewhere, like Egyptian fig, pear, and ginger bread; orange, apricot, and pecan bread; a stellar garlic rosemary bread; and seasonal breads like the pumpkin, candied ginger, and walnut bread coming in October.

Even the more basic breads are created with care and artistry. If you have any doubts, check out the reviews from any source. One word of caution: they only take cash or checks. No plastic.

Heading to a park? Or out for a scenic drive? Don’t forget a bottle of local wine and a gourmet lunch:

Pascaline Patisserie and Café

Try an elegant French “Pret A Manger” or “ready to go” lunch. Stop by this tiny cafe and bakery on Highway 116 between Forestville and Sebastopol. It’s run by two French chefs who met while creating delicacies for the Ritz Carlton in San Francisco.

Co-owner Celine Plano is a pastry chef originally from the Basque country. She arrives at 5 a.m. each morning to oversee the creation of at least 10 different, and incredibly addictive, concoctions for breakfast and dessert including light, flavorful, and buttery kouign amann and flaky almond croissants.

The other owner is Didier Ageorges, whose background spans 20 years in some of France’s most acclaimed hotel kitchens. He is responsible for the catering and lunch fare — much of it sourced locally, including vegetables from Kendall Jackson’s Estate Gardens, baguettes from Forestville’s famous Nightingale Bakery, and meats from Zoe’s Charcuterie of Santa Rosa.

Andy’s Produce Market

It’s kind of hard to visit this open air farmer’s style market without coming out carrying more … much more… than you went in for. The variety of gourmet, highly munch-able picnic goodies available here is kind of mind boggling.

Begin with the fact that the readers of the Press Democrat daily newspaper voted this as the best place to buy local produce. So if it’s fresh and local, you’ll find it here. You can choose local wines, freshly pressed juices or opt for Sebastopol’s Ace Cider hard ciders in addition to the usual drink selection.

Then load your basket with your choice from dozens of kinds of chips, dried fruits, jerky, more than 20 kinds of olives, cheeses, salamis, breads, and cookies to round out your meal. They also offer pre-made salads, sandwiches and snack boxes if you just want to grab and go.

Best of all, it’s situated on the Joe Rodota Trail that begins in Santa Rosa and becomes the well maintained bike/walking West County Trail that goes all the way through Sebastopol to Forestville.

Happy travels and bon appetit! 

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