Friday, November 14, 2008

Pescadero Wanderings

I've driven around the San Mateo County coast for years, ever since I was a little kid and my parents would head south from our house in Pacifica to visit friends and family in Half Moon Bay, Pescadero and San Gregorio, where my father had an artichoke farm before I was born. There are lots of memories and nostalgia associated with a trip "down the coast" and it doesn't take much to get me interested in spending a day there. So, I couldn't resist an the invitation to visit what has become a must stop for northern California foodies -- Harley Farms Goat Dairy in Pescadero. With friends a couple of weeks ago, we set out on a stunning fall day, a bright sun shining on the glittering Pacific Ocean to the west. In the fields, pumpkins were still scattered about and late-season artichokes were sprouting.
It seems like nothing changes in small town Pescadero. Norm's Arcangeli General Store still bakes artichoke-studded sourdough bread each morning. We were there at 10 a.m when Don Benedetti was getting ready to take a batch out of the big ovens in the back of the store. Across the street, Duarte's was getting ready to open. The case of pies that used to take up room in the waiting area is now gone: if you want to come in and buy a pie you ask the hostess to get you one, Ron Duarte told us: they needed to get rid of the pie case to make more space for waiting customers. But everything else is the same: the funky bar from 1894 and, best of all, the menu, with cream of artichoke soup, cream of chile soup (or the favorite for many, half of one and half of the other), the warm bread and butter, and the ollalieberry pie, of course. This is one of the few U.S. restaurants named an "American Classic" by the James Beard Foundation.
Harley Farms Goat Dairy is just a few of blocks east of Duarte's. It was founded by an Englishwoman, Dee Harley, who settled in Pescadero and married into the Duarte family. Her husband, Tim, runs the tavern and restaurant with Ron. The two are the fourth generation of Duartes to operate the old roadhouse.
Dee took over a dilapidated 1910 ranch (photo above) once run by two brothers from Portugal a few years ago. Without any dairy experience, she got a few goats, thinking it was a convenient side family business while she stayed home to raise her son. Well, it's become much more than a side business. Today, Harley Farms has 200 American alpine goats and the milk that they produce is transformed into much-sought-after, award-winning cheese.
They do a terrific tour that's fun and informative. Who knew that goats could be so adorable? The goats are milked twice a day, 5:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., times when the tours aren't run. But it's so entertaining to watch that Harley set it up so that you can stop by and watch through a glass window. People stand along the road, we were told, at 5:30 p.m. sharp, to wait for the milking event. There's also a charming retail shop, open daily 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., in the old ranch barn where you can buy several kinds of fresh goat cheese. There are "milk pipes" that run through the shop from the milking shed to the cheese-making room where 200 pounds of cheese (photo, above left) is made each day.
I loved the cheese topped with dried apricots and another mixed with herbs, which I spread on toasted Norm's artichoke bread the next day.
It was a day full of lots of adventures, but Harley was a highlight along with lunch at Pasta Moon in Half Moon Bay. If you go, don't miss the to-die-for pizza with their homemade sausage and the delicious porcini pappardelle.