Get steppin’ over to Stepladder Creamery!

This month we decided to take a little trip to a nearby farm just outside of Cambria, CA.  Stepladder Ranch and Creamery products (think artisan goat cheese & pork) are often featured on our menu, as well as at sister eateries, Luna Red and Mint+Craft.  

It’s worth the drive.

At the base of San Simeon, you take a turn and begin a slow fade away from the world as the creek gurgles louder & the trees grow thicker beside the dirt road. By the time you make it to Stepladder’s gate, you’re ready for farm life.

When we arrived, the farm was more crowded than usual. With each milking goat (they have over 40) birthing one to three kids this kidding season, the farm was full of baby goats and their mothers. Aside from this plethora of cuteness at this time of year, Stepladder has a magical quality. As Jack Rudolph, the farm’s manager & Stepladder Creamery owner, gave us the tour we found out he too, was drawn to the property. The Russell Family start here began in 1983, when Jack’s grandfather bought the rundown cattle ranch. He refurbished a barn (more on this later), planted 5,000 avocado trees, 3.5 acres of passion fruit, and citrus trees across the acreage. But it wasn’t until about five years ago that Jack moved back to farm, after a short career in the tech industry, when the farm was in need of some help. He revamped the cattle and avocado program, started raising pigs, and brought a new industry to the property: cheese.

“I was an amateur, home cheese maker before—I was just experimenting and it kind of got to be this really big hobby til two years ago we started doing it as a business.” And it quickly took hold—the creamery is now a huge part of their business. Jack built a modern cheese making facility—complete with milking parlor, creamery, and ripening room—within the old hay barn, effectively preserving the historic structure. After milking the goats (good milkers will give up to 1 gallon per day), the milk goes into a vat pasteurizer and then, depending on the style cheese, cultures and special surface molds will be added, curds drained, until finally the cheese goes into the ripening room to mature. Their flagship cheese, Ragged Point, ages just a short stint of two weeks while their other cheeses will sit anywhere from three months (Roily Run) to one year (Clothound Cheddar). Right now their operation is still small batch, with only 70 gallon batches being run through at a time, but Jack just bought some new machinery with plans to ramp up to 200 gallon batches at a time—effectively almost tripling production.

You can also get a pretty good taste of the Stepladder spirit without ever setting foot on the farm—just pick up any of their cheeses at farmers’ markets (or our cafe, Mint + Craft) & take a nibble. And that’s exactly Jack’s intent: “We spend a lot of time and attention making sure the goats have access to everything they need to thrive…that’s what makes our goats happy and also contributes to the terroir of the cheese—the fact that what they eat, where they’re born, where they live is all within relation to this property.” With each different cheese Stepladder produces, you get a different taste of the farm—most companies have a trademark style of cheese, but it’s more interesting to Jack to keep making his different styles. His current line includes Ragged Point, Clothound Cheddar, Rioly Run, Paso Vino, and Cabrillo. Besides increasing production to keep up with their growing demand, Stepladder’s main goal is to reach a level of sustainability so they can keep doing what they they love to do: making really delicious and interesting cheese.

To take your own tour of Stepladder Ranch & Creamery, go to stepladdercreamery.com—they also offer farm stays & venue rentals or pick up some cheese at Mint + Craft cafe and mercantile on 848 Monterey St here in SLO.


SLO Grown Produce

Flexibility and determination are two necessary strengths of a farmer, at least we learned they are for Arroyo Grande farmer Philip Langston and wife Nancy of SLO Grown Produce. Last month a storm took them out of operation for 5 days. For a hydroponics system, that means crops dry out and die and the only option is to start all over. It’s this hopeful and resilient spirit that has kept SLO Grown rooted in the SLO County farming industry since 1991.

A crop science graduate of Cal Poly, Philip’s work has always been in controlled environmental farming. He managed a green house for some time after college before he and Nancy started to research their own operation. With some helpful direction from Score (Business Mentoring) and a sweet dose of serendipity, they were very much guided to the land they occupy in rural AG. One can tell Nancy loves to tell the story of how they started out. Born from a desire to spend their days in each other’s company, they put a classified ad in the local paper. Wanted: land to lease long-term for a greenhouse, must be near the coast. “We asked God to please send us a nice family,” recalls Nancy.

Sure enough, the Smith family answered their call. Mrs. Smith said she had never known her husband to read the wants ads except for that one Sunday. Mr. Smith invited Philip and Nancy out to the ranch, where cattle were raised at the time. A former PT Boat Captain in World War 2 and football coach, Mr. Smith came across as a tough and honest man. Nancy had a good feeling about him and their first five-year lease was sealed with a handshake. The Smiths have been family ever since.

The SLO Grown hydroponic greenhouse took a year to build and was erected solely by Philip and Nancy, and a few friends who came to help on the weekends. They created a game to see how fast they could put a truss together and after 9 months of building trusses every day they reached their fastest time of 20 minutes. Nancy even did all of the electrical wiring. The only thing they didn’t do themselves was install the high-pressure gas line.

The greenhouse is fully run by the hydroponic system. Water runs through a structure of connected tubes, gets filtered and then goes back into the system. The plants sit in little holes and the roots grow inside the tube. Water runs for 15 minutes every hour in the super efficient system. The only water loss is what the plants use and the fertilizer stays inside the plant.

Since we visited soon after their product loss from the storm we got to see production working double time in the various stages of growth. There’s a nursery area with the starts. It takes 2-3 weeks on the bench before they are ready to go into production and then another few months of growing time. Philip and Nancy gave us a tour to showcase their multiple varieties of basil, tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, eggplant and green beans. They even have a 4-acre olive orchard (all Tuscan varieties), which they press to produce their private label oil, Lone Oak Olive Oil.

Most impressive are their organic and sustainable farming methods. They control crop-damaging pests with Lady Bugs, predatory wasps and midges. Philip’s other calling in life was to be a botanist but Nancy says he could have just as easily been an entomologist with his vast knowledge of bugs. When the plants are transferred to soil they are grown in a media called Coir: ground coconut husks. Philip says it’s a neutral media, so it doesn’t have any biological affect on the plants. It’s also renewable and compostable as its final resting place at SLO Grown is around the olive trees.

 

In the last couple of years Nancy has had to focus on her health and says she misses going to market and connecting with the community. The market is where they connect with local chefs and find out what is needed. Staying flexible and productive is a fine balance, as they shoot for big production with little overage. Our produce buyer finds Philip at the weekly markets but he also makes deliveries as needed to local restaurants that include Big Sky, Sally Loo’s, Honeymoon Café, and Ember.

To try their fresh and organic produce or award-winning olive oil you can find SLO Grown Produce at the following markets:
Baywood on Monday
Smart & Final in Arroyo Grande on Wednesday
Morro Bay on Thursday
Madonna Plaza in SLO on Saturday morning
Village of Arroyo Grande on Saturday afternoon

Discover more about SLO Grown Produce by visiting their website: http://www.slogrownproduce.farm


Slow Money SLO – Feeding Community Business

Supporting our community’s food economy has always been the foundation and heart of Novo Restaurant.  That means not only do we plate the highest quality farm-fresh ingredients, but we are helping to sustain  local food growers and purveyors.  Without these efforts from the community at large farmers’ markets would dwindle and local farms would find it harder and harder to thrive.  Thanks to Slow Money SLO further efforts are hard at work to support our region’s food scene.

Founder Jeff Wade began Slow Money SLO in 2012, inspired by author Woody Tasch (Slow Money: investing as if food, farms and fertility matter).  They provide coaching, networking and support for small, local food and farm businesses. Slow Money SLO is also a connector and facilitator of peer-to-peer lending.  Small business lending is risky, but there are many benefits beyond the financial return and higher risk is often something folks are willing to endure for the greater rewards. These include, knowing where your money is invested; the satisfaction of buying a local product that you helped to support; introducing friends to a local product that you have supported and seeing their business grow; also the enjoyment of seeing the excitement of a food entrepreneur as they see their vision come to fruition.

In many cases, the growth of a small food business which is already successful can be a challenge, because it takes a long time to become eligible for traditional lending. Slow Money SLO’s goal is to help a business grow to the point where they can qualify for an SBA loan or a line of credit. Of course, they would like to see businesses stay local and add jobs and contribute to the overall quality of the local food system, while helping them to grow.
One example is Baba Small Batch, a local hummus company. They had created some great opportunity for themselves, based on the quality and variety of products they sold, but could not keep up with production demands. This often happens with a cottage food business that needs to move to a commercial kitchen, but in their case, their only choice was to find a co-packer. Infrastructure assistance for business such as this,  is something that SLO County does not offer. Food businesses must seek out co-packers in other parts of California and the minimum runs and cost that is added to the product can make a big difference in their ability to survive and grow.
Baba Small Batch was brave enough to decide that if they could purchase some equipment that many co-packers use to fill tubs, than they could maintain control of their production and keep costs within reason. They found some used equipment and Slow Money SLO assisted them with the purchase.
Through local events, meetings, word of mouth and Jeff Wade’s proactive outreach, Slow Money SLO has brought folks to the table who are retired, locally employed, students at Cal Poly and those who may be new to the area and see this as a great way to become immersed. “I enjoy meeting with anyone who may want to learn more, there is never any obligation, but if there is potential interest, I add them to an email list specifically for them to hear about new opportunities as they come along or perhaps provide a loan” – says Jeff.
Slow Money SLO is always seeking to meet local food entrepreneurs, potential lenders, volunteers and donors. They gratefully accept tax deductible donations to support their programs.
Anyone interested may go to their website to learn more, www.SlowMoneySLO.org or call, Jeff Wade, 805-300-2805
Their next public gathering is Tuesday February 76-8 pm at the SLO Guild Hall, 2880 Broad St.. SLO  Details on the food business speakers are on the website, and there is always some great food to sample, door prizes and interesting people to meet!

New Featured Artist: Larry Hammons

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Meet Manager, AJ Fewell

photo_1On December 1st manager AJ Fewell celebrated his two-year anniversary at Novo Restaurant and as a SLO resident! Originally born and raised in Cape May, New Jersey, AJ always loved California for it’s great weather, beautiful terrain and coastal features. When he had the opportunity to move west he jumped on it and never looked back. He says moving to SLO was the best decision and every step of the way his transition has been graced with ease and lots of luck.

AJ has always worked in the service industry. He got his start as a dishwasher at fourteen years old and quickly worked his way up to serving. He affectionately recounts being groomed by inspiring managers who took the opportunity to not just tell him how to do his job, but gave him a rich education in food & beverage pairings, spirits and the elements of genuine customer service. His career expanded into bartending, managing and eventually fine-dining. He moved to Philadelphia to work at a fine dining establishment called R2L, on the 37th floor of a downtown high rise. The servers wore tuxedos and white gloves when polishing the stemware. Along the way he picked up and resonated with the (Four Seasons) slogan, “We are ladies and gentlemen, serving ladies and gentlemen.”

AJ shines in the arena of customer service and loves teaching and coaching his staff whenever possible. His management style reflects the past training he received, as he desires to guide servers rather than discipline. He encourages mindfulness in how we speak to our guests, being personable, smiling and taking the utmost care to ensure the contentment of Novo guests. AJ certainly has that special spark that is infectious among staff and guests alike!

When not at Novo you will most likely find AJ immersed in his other passion, yoga, and biking, hiking or soaking up the sun on a coastal beach. He says he feels lucky to have found a home in SLO with Novo and an amazingly supportive community of friends that share so many of his joys and passions. #NowYouNovo


A Unique Dessert Idea for Fall: Purple Sweet Potato Ice Cream

sweet-potato-ice-cream-web4 C Okinawan Purple Sweet Potatoes, peeled and diced
2 oz. Unsalted Butter
8 oz. Dark Brown Sugar
8 oz. Granulated Sugar
2 C Milk
4 C 1/2 and 1/2
1/2 tsp. salt
12 Egg Yolks
Procedure:  Peel and cut the sweet potato into small 1/2″ cubes.  Place them in water to prevent them from oxidizing.  In a medium stock pot, melt butter on low heat.  Drain the sweet potatoes from the water and add them to the melted butter.  Stir the potatoes until slightly softened.  Add the butter, brown sugar, milk and 1/2 & 1/2 to the sweet potatoes.  Simmer until the sweet potatoes are soft and cooked through.  Carefully blend the sweet potato mixture until smooth.
In another stock pot, bring 6 cups of water to a boil.  In a separate large mixing bowl, combine the granulated sugar, egg yolks and salt.  Whisk the yolk mixture until completely blended.  Slowly pour the warm cream/potato mixture into the eggs, whisking constantly to temper the mixture.  Strain the mix through a screen into a bowl and set the bowl over the boiling water.  Whisk the mixture until the eggs cook through and the mixture thickens slightly.  Chill the mixture down and then place the mix into an ice cream machine to finish.

Fall Cocktail: Pumpkin Spice Float

pumpkin-spice-rootbeer-float-webAutumn is here! While it might not always feel like autumn on the central coast, you can still cool off with a Pumpkin Spice Float in our wonderful lounge or out on the creekside patio. Combining fall flavors with Crown Royal blended whiskey and Bailey’s Pumpkin Spice Irish Cream creates a Fall delicacy sure to delight your taste buds. Topped off with Hank’s Gourmet Root Beer, this libation harks back to the soda fountain favorites of yesterday while showing off the oh-so-popular trends of today.

1 oz Crown Royal
1.5 oz Bailey’s Pumpkin Spice Irish Cream
.5 oz Vanilla Puree
1 bottle Hank’s Gourmet Root Beer

Combine Crown Royal, Bailey’s and Vanilla Puree with ice in shaker. Shake well and pour into Collins Glass. Fill generously with Hank’s Gourmet Root Beer and enjoy!


Call for Artists!

 

submit:  art@novorestaurant.com
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Meet Kitchen Manager, Ian Holland!

IMG_6875Ian Holland, Novo’s Kitchen Manager, grew up in Atascadero and moved to San Luis Obispo during high school. He quickly fell in love with cooking while working at various establishments, such as Firestone Grill and Big Sky Cafe. Though his appreciation for good cooking was established in his early years by watching his grandparents cook for the family. Ian’s grandfather was an avid hunter and fisherman and his grandmother turn wild game and seafood into incredible meals.

Ian was working at Big Sky when Novo first opened in 2003. He fell in love with “Mr. Robin’s” attention to detail and passion for quality ingredients. Soon after he came onboard as a nighttime sauté cook. Ian was with Novo for many years before pursuing other opportunities for a time. In February 2016, he returned to the team with more enthusiasm than ever. He learned everyone was their own way of doing things but he says “Mr. Robin” just does it better. Additionally, Ian enjoys working with Chef Ben and says, “Chef Ben is extremely professional in his approach but also compassionate and hands-on with his crew.”

If he had to pick a favorite, Ian finds a lot of enjoyment and excitement in cooking Latin cuisine. As a young man he fondly remembers spending time with family friends in Oaxaca, Mexico and learning that style of cooking. He has adventurously explored cuisine styles of different regions in Mexico and even central and southern parts of the US.

When not on the Novo line, Ian enjoys hiking and road biking on the various trails of the Central Coast with his dog and girlfriend. #nowyounovo


Pepper Creek Family Farm: Pushing the envelope of innovated farming on the Central Coast

IMG_6424The Pepper Creek Family Farm has been a fixture in the rural farming community of Arroyo Grande for over 25 years. Their grandfather, Jack VanOtterloo, found the property when it was used for raising grass-fed cattle. In 1990 his daughter in-law, Diane Boyd, transitioned the land from cattle to produce after the recession caused her husband, Mike Boyd, to lose his job as a mason. Thus began the family farm. In 2006 their daughter, Jessica Newell, joined the business full time, followed by her brothers, Eric and Morgan Boyd, in 2014 after the men were discharged from their military careers.

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Eric and Morgan Boyd found great comfort in the family farm during their transitions back to civilian life. During this time Morgan attended Cal Poly to get his masters degree in public policy, focusing on sustainable agriculture policy and veterans affairs. His brother Eric received a degree in soil science and attended a program in San Diego called Archie’s Acres (www.archisacres.com). The program, which is highly focused on supporting military service members and veterans, provides training to those interested in learning more about the production and business behind sustainable agriculture. This provided Eric extensive training in hydro-organic technology and organic greenhouse operations.

Today each family member plays a vital role in operating and growing the family farm. Diane Boyd has been a fixture in the local farmers’ market seen for the last 20 years and is currently Farmers’ Market Association Manager. Morgan is in charge of Pepper Creek production and grows on about 8 acres of the land. Jessica, “the face of the farm,” is in charge of marketing, harvesting (she harvests right before market to ensure freshness and a true farm-to-table IMG_6409experience), as well as, distribution. There is no need for cold storage since on this farm! Eric built the farm’s long tunnel hydroponics system, which when fully operational, produces 1,500 pounds of leafy vegetables per week. Along with the large production capabilities, the family says it’s a major step towards operating a regenerative farm. The hydroponics system can save up to 90% of water usage (depending on the time of year), saves four times the space and is capable of having 5-6 crops cycles per year. This allows them to pull less from their shared aquifer and provides an opportunity to sell to larger customers, such as a store like Whole Foods Market.

From its inception the farm has always been transparent in their organic and sustainable farming practices.   They use zero pesticides, no GMOs, and operate on a drip irrigation system. Occasionally they resort to natural methods of spaying chrysanthemum oil and releasing lady bugs to battle aphids. This season they are tolerating a higher-than-average gopher problem, which they recognize as a mere side effect to operating a truly organic farm.IMG_6446

So what is the family growing these days? Early Girl tomatoes (and many other varieties), corn, green leafy vegetables, avocados, pomegranates, apples, apricots, zucchini, beans, grapes, onions, garlic, various varieties of peppers, Persian mulberries, boysenberries, carrots, beets, leeks, potatoes, lemons, guavas, …and well, it goes on and on. As Jessica puts it, “pretty much anything that grows in California with the exception of just a few things.”

Today the farm is busier than ever with many exciting plans in the works. Morgan has been developing a program through Cal Poly, called FEED: Farmer Experiential & Education Development. It’s a 12-week certificate program that trains veterans and under-served members of the community on sustainable agriculture. Heavily business focused, the program will train students in creating business plans and farm plans in three primary areas of sustainable agriculture: protected systems (hydroponics, high tunnels), conventional row cropping and orchards, and free range farming & permaculture design. Morgan is the program director and this summer will be finalizing the IMG_6431curriculum with help from the College of Agriculture, Center for Sustainability and the Department of Extended Education. Students will receive morning classroom instruction with afternoon hands-on experience at the Pepper Creek family farm. With extra hands on the farm the goal for the next year will be to incorporate permaculture design principles, nudging the farm closer to being much more efficient and regenerative.

 

In addition to selling at many of the Farmer’s Markets in San Luis Obispo County, the farm also distributes directly to local restaurants. Pepper Creek products can be found on plates at Novo Restaurant, Luna Red, IMG_6389Robin’s Restaurant, Thomas Hill Organics, Ember, Artisan, The Spoon Trade, Foremost, Marisol, Lido and more.

You can find Pepper Creek Family Farm almost every day of the week at one of our local farmers’ markets. Tuesday at the SLO grange, Wednesday morning in Arroyo Grande, Thursday in Morro Bay and in downtown SLO in the evening and on Saturday in the Village of Arroyo Grande and Templeton.

For more information follow on Pepper Creek Family Farms on Facebook and Instagram. Website coming soon…