Lodi, CA: Aprons On

Look what we’ve found in a wine country where vineyards stretch as far and wide as the imagination! Unique cooking classes, captivating progressive dinners, kitchen shops, and celebrity chef menus to arouse your inner chef.

Published: 6/28/2017

Located 100 miles east of the San Francisco Bay at the tip of the San Joaquin/Sacramento River Delta, Lodi, California, has long been a leading grower of winegrapes and an array of other crops that inspire great cuisine. Recently, members of the region’s fourth and fifth generation of farmers as well as the arrival of innovative winemakers and culinary artists to the area are stirring things up. We trace the movement back six years to the opening of Cheese Central in downtown Lodi founded by the effervescent Cindy Della Monica, whose extensive experience in the food industry includes catering and the position of Chef de Cuisine at Woodbridge Winery by Mondavi. Cindy’s cozy shop is packed with goodies such as new and gently used cookbooks, fustis containing local olive oils, a pantry of local foods, craft beers, Sparkling wines, and a plethora of cheeses from around the world. What’s more, an inviting kitchen awaits in the back. This appealing space, appropriately called Grand Central Kitchen, hosts an impressive variety of classes taught by Cindy and instructors from all walks of life. Cindy’s daughter, Sara Blighton, a Cordon Bleu graduate and corporate chef for Apple, also plays a major role in the curriculum.

Cheese 101 is one of the most popular classes. The 90-minute overview of the cheese families includes samples from four (mild/buttery, Alpine/mountain, chèvre, and crème), and tips for tasting cheese. Bread Baking Basics features techniques for quick breads, scones, traditional yeast sandwich bread, and a microwave baked bread. The shop’s busy calendar is available at cheesecentrallodi.com. A series of Progressive Cooking Classes, each with an individual theme, was recently launched. The class begins at Cheese Central with a short lesson and tasting and then students are transported by Lodi’s Sip Shuttle to a series of wineries. Another lesson is given and another food course is served at each winery.

The beautiful grounds of Wine & Roses are now home to W&R Cooking School, led by the resort’s Executive Chef John Hitchcock and Culinary Education Coordinator Lorraine Hitchcock. “Our goal is to teach you how to prepare something you can create at home,” Lorraine explains. The classes, designed for avid home cooks and food enthusiasts of all levels, focus on technique and emphasize seasonal ingredients.

Last spring, I was invited to participate in one of W&R’s hands-on class offerings: The Art of the Tart taught by Lorraine. Beyond one quiche back in the late 1970s, I had never made a tart. First, I learned that they are delicious— sweet or savory—open-faced pastries stuffed with goodies. Lorraine began our class of 12 students by demonstrating how to measure the ingredients (by weight, not measuring cup). As she introduced each ingredient, she talked in detail about its properties and what specific type was best to use. For example, all-butter (unsalted) is the way to go for the crust, and pastry flour is better than all-purpose flour because it has less protein in it, making it lighter. I mixed my own ingredients in a food processor and then rolled out my crust, a pâte sucrée. As our crusts baked, Lorraine gave a stovetop demonstration on how to make the pastry cream filling. When the crusts were baked to golden perfection, we filled and then topped them with berries brushed with warmed, strained apricot jam. After our class took pictures of all of our masterpieces together, we lovingly boxed them for the trip home. W&R Cooking School has a nice lineup of classes on the horizon including easy pan sauces, an advanced pasta workshop, and vegetable side dishes. Classes fill quickly and can be reserved online at winerose.com/cooking. Besides an inspiring lineup of culinary classes, Lodi is now home to the renowned Celebrity Chef Bradley Ogden who is presenting a brilliant four-course meal each Sunday evening at Rosewood Bar & Grill. Named Sunday Supper, the meals feature fresh local ingredients. Recently, Chef Ogden also became the culinary director for Wine & Roses and has joined the team of instructors at W&R Cooking School.

As seen in the issue Summer/Fall 2017 of Touring & Tasting Magazine.