Our Bay Area Travel Writers group recently met at the Mondavi Institute for Food and Wine on the UC Davis campus. It had been years since I had spent any time in Davis, CA (other than to stop for excellent beer and German sausages* at Sudwerk Brewery, which is just off I-80).
My memories of this college town are pleasant--mostly from going a couple of times to the UC Davis "Picnic Day" that is held in April. It's indeed a fun event for the whole family. UC Davis is known for its excellent programs in animal husbandry, agriculture, and veterinary medicine, and the annual Picnic Day reflects that heritage with farm animal exhibits as well as with entertaining dog races (and this year at least, a cockroach race.). There is, of course, much more happening on campus, click here to see upcoming events.
So, I eagerly anticipated my return visit to Davis--and I was not disappointed. Davis retains its small town vibe, but also is on the forefront of Farm to Fork Movement.Our day's activities were hosted by the Yolo County Visitors Bureau and we began with a brief business meeting in the new Robert Mondavi Institute for Food and Wine on the UC campus.
We had a taste testing of extra virgin olive oils. We tried to detect off-flavors--including rancidity. From Dan Flynn, Executive Director of the Olive Center, we learned that 69% of the imported olive oils researchers tested did not meet international accepted standards for extra virgin olive oil. This compares to 10% of U.S. olive oils failing the test.
Flynn said that extra virgin olive oil is generally more expensive to buy than other grades of olive oil because it is more expensive to produce. U.S. olive oil producers face huge challenges when competing with foreign exporters who can flood the market with cheap oils that may also be subsidized and subject to very low tariffs.
The U.S. is the world's third-largest consumer of olive oil. Flynn hopes that the test results will "lead to improved methods for evaluating extra virgin olive oil," and also to greater assurance that what is labeled as "extra virgin" is indeed that tasty product.
Our next stops in the Mondavi Institute were to look into the labs where viticulture, beer, human milk, and tomato "pilot" plants are currently being studied. As a side note, we learned that producing beer, and cleaning the tanks, requires a tremendous amount of water. Much of that water is currently used for irrigation, but studies to reduce usage are also underway.
At lunchtime we wandered through the weekly Saturday Farmers Market in the downtown plaza. There were many tasty choices--either prepared foods such as "naanwiches," tamales, or corndogs, or fresh fruit, veggies, and breads to sample. Perfect weather allowed for eating al fresco.
After our lunch, we strolled next door where we were given a tour of the intriguing U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame. Their unique collection of bicycles included many from the 19th century as well as jerseys and bikes from award winning bicyclists of the 20th. Virtual tour, click here.
Our visit concluded, we made our way back to campus and enjoyed one last treat--the Bakuhatsu Taiko Dan were practicing in the Mondavi parking lot. Check their website to see the schedules for practices and performances.
Yolo County's largest city, Davis, CA, is definitely worth an extended visit. Besides all of the attractions described above, there is much art to enjoy. Go to the Second Friday Art About (free) in the downtown to visit art galleries and hear some music. You'll find plenty of places to get a bit of food and wine. Or next time you are in town, you can take the Davis Transmedia Art Walk. Many of the public art works throughout town have RFID chips installed (the first in the country). You use the scanner on your cell phone and follow the chips as you walk though the downtown and the UC campus to learn more about the installations, artists, and to provide feedback. Sample, map, and more, click here.
*Sudwerk's menu has changed substantially. They now offer a wider selection of food--everything from hamburgers to Cajun Jambalaya to Santa Fe Chicken sandwiches. Perhaps this attracts diners wanting more choices, but it has lost its unique appeal.