Tuesday, September 09, 2008

If you go to Pescadero... A Slow Journey down the San Mateo Coast, Part I

Nancy Vail, the Farm Manager at Pie Ranch
Two Saturdays ago, in the middle of Slow Food Nation, I took a day off from the festivities in the City to go on an all day journey that wound up being the highlight of my trip. It was a "Slow Journey" down the San Mateo Coast, with stops at Pillar Point Harbor at Half Moon Bay, and three beautiful small farms, Pie Ranch, Harley Farms Goat Dairy, and Blue House Farm.
The view of Harley Farms from the loft
Complicated as it was, with multiple overlapping events and venues on opposite sides of town, it took me literally three days of poring over the calendar to come up with my schedule for Slow Food Nation. I decided that I wanted to do one of these trips early on, because they seemed to offer a chance to do something truly unique, and I was curious to be on the receiving end of a tour having guided some this past year myself. The Half Moon Bay journey caught my eye because I had not been to the area before - through what I now know was an outrageous oversight on my part - and because (be still my beating heart!) it included a visit to a goat farm. Those of you who know me well (or at all) have likely heard me wax poetic about my plan to retire to a farm in Northern California to raise goats and make cheese. If you haven't, well, there you have it. I figure it will keep me busy into my old age, and as James likes to say, "Everybody needs a hobby."

Though Slow Food Nation is long over at this point, three out of the four locations we visited are open to the public, and well worth a day trip (and Blue House Farm would probably let you visit if you called.)
Pie Ranch Farm
If you want to go on your own Half Moon Bay Slow Journey, I'd recommend starting at Pie Ranch, located about 20 minutes South of Pescadero.
The farmhouse at Pie Ranch
Pie Ranch is named both for the shape of the property (described to us by Farm Manager Nancy Vail, pictured at top, as "two pieces of pie kissing in the middle" ) and the fact that they grow wheat for flour and fruit that they use to make pies. It's a historic location, the site of one of the area's first and longest running dairy farms - and the farm house and buildings are still intact but in need of repairs. They are farming the lower half of the property pursuant to a lease from Peninsula Open Space Trust, an organization that works to preserve coastal property for agricultural use in the face of rising property values, and are currently in the midst of a capital campaign to raise funds to secure a long term lease and restore the buildings.

The farm works with urban high schoolers from Palo Alto and San Francisco, teaching them about about growing food, working on the farm, and the rewards that come from making something delicious with your own two hands. Pies made with the fruit they grow on the farm are sold at Mission Pie in San Francisco, but for the pies made by the students with wheat milled on the property, you'll have to go to the farm stand. If you're interested in visiting, you can call and ask about work weekends, or just ask for a tour in exchange for a donation.
A mobile chicken coop at Pie Ranch
The farm overlooks Highway 1 from the East, and we were dropped off at the top of the hill and walked down, past the crops and the farm buildings, all the way down to the farm stand right on Highway 1. They had two mobile chicken coops where they just harvested some wheat, and were producing strawberries, citrus, apples and pumpkins for the pies. They also sell pastured eggs through a "Community Supported Eggriculture" program as well as at the farm stand. The eggs looked so beautiful that I was sad that I couldn't buy any since I wasn't going home right away. (Don't you just love those pale green ones?)
Tarts and Galettes at Pie Ranch
The farm stand also features their pies, these galettes and tarts, jam, pancake mix, and the beautiful produce from Blue House Farms. It's not inexpensive, but everything is gorgeous, sustainably grown and in my opinion, well worth it (especially the plum and frangipane tart I bought, which barely made it back to the bus.) The Olallieberry jam (which came in a lovely reusable Weck jar) is some of the best I've ever had.
Produce from Blue House Farm at the Pie Ranch Farmstand
If you took any time getting to Pie Ranch, and especially if you've had a tour - you're probably ready for lunch by now. Based on this recommendation from Tara of Tea and Cookies and the recommendation of our tour guide, Anne Duwe - a local resident and staff member at the Peninsula Open Space Trust, I'd probably go to Duarte's Tavern (pronounced Doo-arts) for some artichoke and green chile soup before heading around the corner to the dairy.
The loft (upstairs) at Harley Farms
Harley Farms is a picture perfect farm and dairy located just behind the main downtown area of Pescadero. We had lunch arranged in the loft of the barn (the open door in the photo above), which is where they normally do the tasting after their very popular tours. They served us fresh soft goat cheese on grilled bread, wine, raviolis filled with more goat cheese, a green salad made with lettuces from Blue House Farms, and for dessert - what else? Pie from Pie Ranch of course.

While we ate, Jesse Cool, the owner of three organic restaurants in the Menlo Park area, talked with us about the challenges of running a restaurant using a sustainable business model and her own experiences with Slow Food, and entertained us with some stories about the locals.
Harley Farms goat cheese at the farm lunch
After lunch (and did I mention wine?) we trundled down to the field to meet the milking goats and tour the milking shed. We even got to milk a goat, which is something I won't soon forget - and there was time for shopping in their store - which is always open even if you don't have an appointment for a tour. The cheese is worth seeking out, with a soft texture and sweet clean flavor. I also saw it at San Francisco's Whole Foods, but I don't think it makes it all the way down to San Diego. Someone please correct me if I'm wrong - so I can go buy some.
And just as sweet as they look
One of the most surprising things I learned at the farm was that they use llamas to protect the goats - the llamas are fiercely protective, especially of the babies (kids) and won't let the adult goats, or anything else, near them. The female goats are very social and love to come up and rub their heads on you, hoping to be petted (and milked.) Harley Farms does not sell goats for meat - they loan them out for land clearing projects and sell them as pets occasionally, but the females are used for milking and quite literally put them out to pasture when they're done - across the street.

You can read more about Harley Farms on the owner's blog and view more photos here.

To be continued... Coming up - Blue House Farm and Pillar Point Harbor

Pie Ranch
2080 Cabrillo Highway (Hwy 1)
Pescadero CA 94060
call for farmstand hours - currently open 12-6 Saturdays and Sundays

Mission Pie
2901 Mission St. (entrance on 25th Street)
San Francisco

More about Mission Pie and Pie Ranch (and their Mixed Berry Pie Recipe!) from SF Gate

Harley Farms Goat Dairy
205 North St.
Pescadero, CA 94060

Duarte's Tavern
202 Stage Road
Pescadero, CA 94060


  1. Those galettes have to be the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. Did I mention I have a pie fetish? I am going to have to recreate this tour for myself someday.

    p.s. did you REALLY post this at 3 a.m.??

  2. WAGS *

    * What a groovin' safari,

    Tor Hershman

  3. Those are some terrific looking rustic-style desserts! What a fabulous trip. I was up there not too long ago and wish I'd discovered such treasures!!

  4. i feel like i just had a mini vacation...

    those pies!!!

  5. How cool that you went to Blue House Farms. I stop by and read your blog every now and again. I was surprised to see Blue House mentioned. My friend's Ryan and Ned run it. Small world. Happy Eating!

  6. Hi, I'm so glad I discovered your blog after you left a comment on mine. It's great that you took this tour of some of the best food (and scenery) we have to offer here in Norcal. Reminds me that I need to get down to Pescadero more often. Just a hop, skip, and a jump, really. Thanks for the reminder. And Mission Pie is great and oh so much closer.

  7. I gre up going to Pescadero and and eating at Duartes. Palo Alto is where I was raised aand we would go jump in the frigid water then go eat at that little tavern. Classic eats. Wonderful post...

    Another farm that helps innder city kids learn about nature and where food originates is a place close to my heart called Hidden Villa. It is on the bay side of the Santa Cruz mountains and is gorgeous with many hiking trails.