Our long weekend away started like any other. This one was just a hop, skip and jump north to Napa Valley. Our itinerary there always includes a stay at a B&B with bike trails nearby, a visit to wineries we’re members of, and a list of restaurants we’ve yet to try. This time we also built in a couple of extras. One being a cooking class and the other, lunch with Mari and Ross, longtime friends who live in Petaluma.
Arriving at the Napa Inn & Spa, we were greeted by a lovely hostess at the blue Victorian house with brown trim. Lush greenery and colorful flowers wrapped the B & B in a warm embrace. Everything about this place was pleasing. From its short walking distance to the city center, trails right outside our door to the Turret Suite we had booked on the third floor. The bathroom was actually inside the peaked ceiling!
The next morning, after a gourmet candlelight breakfast with the inn’s other guests, we set our GPS for 450 W. Spain Street. Twenty minutes later, we parked outside the Seven Branches Inn in Sonoma. It housed our true destination, Ramekins Culinary School. Although Robert had taken cooking classes, I had not. Yet, this was the first time we’d both learn to make a personal-sized rounded slice of heaven with all of its ooey gooey deliciousness on top!
Once our group of sixteen was assembled, the first demonstration began. Suzanne led us in the fine art of making cheese. The basic steps involved adding vinegar to warm milk, then mixing a coagulant like rennet in. Once it had a gel-like firmness, the curd blob was cut into chunks. These chunks were stirred over heat. The more they cooked, the drier they became. One of the final steps involved separating the curds and whey. The curds were then mushed together forming smooth elastic cheese. Salt was added for taste and that’s all there was to it!
Peter was the base and topping expert. While explaining dough is made of yeast, water, flour, oil, salt and sugar, a floured wooden paddle holding a ball was given to each of us. We followed along as he instructed us to roll it out by hand. Stretching techniques were shared next. The main goal is to get an even consistency, but not too thin that you can “see through” it. Ladling sauce on top was preceeded by the dolloping of the newly created mozzarella cheese over it. Scrumptious!
Next, combinations of toppings were discussed. Peter’s tip – make it simple. He said sweet and savory work well together. He also warned that too many items will weigh down the dough, possibly tearing it, and worst of all – hindering it from slidding easily off the board. After a little thought, I decided on bacon and figs for my pizza. Robert chose bacon, sausage and pepperoni. Two and a half minutes in the wood-fired pizza oven heated at 800 degrees, and “Mama Mia!” our lovely creations were ready to bite into it! De-lish!
The next afternoon, we met our friends at Venge Vineyards, a 17-acre property nestled into the foothills of Palisades Mountain in Calistoga. A member of their hospitality team hosted us as we sampled various reds on the porch of the Ranch House. After catching up on the latest news, the conversation turned to what we had done and had planned for the rest of our stay. Still excited about our Ramekins experience, Robert talked about how cool it was to cook a pizza in an outdoor oven, a Mugniani no less, just like the ones (yes, plural!) Guy Fieri has at his home. At that, Ross’ s eyes lit up. He said he was glad we were around a little longer because…he had a friend in Healdsburg that we just had to meet.
October 20, 2015 written from Napa, CA
“Meeting with Ross’s friend Johnny before heading home today… If nothing else, maybe we can pick up a few souvenirs, maybe a cook book.”