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The bounty of Humboldt’s pastures



A sketch from the comedy show Portlandia mocks a food-aware couple at a farm-to-table restaurant who demand specifics about their chicken. Unsatisfied with the animal's name and history, the couple asks the waiter to hold the order until they've visited the local farm that raised the animal. Far-fetched joke?

In Humboldt County, the source of your animal proteins might be grazing right around the corner, on farms and ranches from McKinleyville to Garberville. You can sample nationally renowned goat cheese in restaurants close to the herd's roaming pastures. You can sink your teeth into a burger at a restaurant just down the road a piece from the owners' ranch. There's no place like Humboldtia for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Boss ladies Bice, Dwight and Collins. - AMY KUMLER
  • Amy Kumler
  • Boss ladies Bice, Dwight and Collins.

Business partners Marriete Dwight, Lora Collins and Jennifer Bice started making and selling beef jerky from Dwight's family ranches in Ferndale six years ago. The jerky sold well at farmers markets in the summer but winter rolled around, and with it a beef surplus. What to do?

Three years ago, the women obtained a historic building in Fernbridge, right across from Humboldt Creamery. They kept the charming worn wood floors of the one-time dance hall and added rancherly touches — glass panes sporting cattle brands from Humboldt ranches, barn board art crafted by Dwight and a hay bale hook hanging from the ceiling. The Ridgetop Café's namesake is the ridge a few miles off where 150 head of Angus munch on tall grasses at the 2,300-acre Whatcheer Ranch. Dwight, a fifth-generation Humboldt County rancher, says she processes beef at two to three years, which makes for young, lean and delicious meat.

The Western Cheeseburger - AMY KUMLER
  • Amy Kumler
  • The Western Cheeseburger

At the café, the menu highlights pasture-grazed beef from Whatcheer and other area ranches in every imaginable way. For a hearty beefy breakfast, choose from Ridgetop's signature breakfast burrito ($11.25) — with ground beef, eggs, potatoes, cheese and salsa wrapped in a spinach tortilla — the ground beef omelet ($12) or ground beef hash ($12.50). The Ridgetop Benedict ($13.25) is a novel Bennie twist with ground beef patties over eggs on housemade buttermilk biscuits — topped with rich creamy ground beef gravy. Ground beef gravy? Owners say customers were dubious, at first, about the sauce. But now everyone's hooked on biscuits served with savory, sagey sauce with its crumbled burger bits.

Hot Cowgirl beef strips - AMY KUMLER
  • Amy Kumler
  • Hot Cowgirl beef strips
Landjäger - AMY KUMLER
  • Amy Kumler
  • Landjäger

For lunch, succulent beef fills taco salads ($10.25) and ground beef quesadillas ($9.75). Worthy options, both. But if you order these, sadly, you'll miss the killer burger. The Ridgetop burger ($12) is a simultaneously lean and juicy third-pound of house-seasoned heaven. It's served with lettuce, tomato, onion and house aioli on a ciabatta bun branded with the letters "RT." Perfect as served. 

Beef Salami - AMY KUMLER
  • Amy Kumler
  • Beef Salami
Original - AMY KUMLER
  • Amy Kumler
  • Original
Or you can combo it up with fixings that include various cheeses, grilled onions, jalapenos, sauerkraut, salsa, ham and eggs. Smoked jack cheese is popular and you can't go wrong with the sriracha-glazed bacon that comes with the Western cheeseburger special ($15). What makes it so good? Longtime restaurateur Collins demurs on recipe specifics for the house seasonings but answers the quality question simply: "It's all about the beef."

Feeling groovy — and full — you walk out the door and peer up over the roof of Fernbridge Tractor & Equipment Company. See that ridge against the Humboldt sky? Your spectacular burger came from right there.

Orders up at Folie Douce. - AMY KUMLER
  • Amy Kumler
  • Orders up at Folie Douce.

Folie Douce, across U.S. Highway 101 from Humboldt State University, could bill itself as the local tasting room for Cypress Grove, the Arcata-based chevre producer with national goat cheese renown. The restaurant is an easy walk from the Cypress Grove creamery on Q Street, where the good stuff is made and aged. Both are a scenic bike ride from the Cypress Grove dairy on Dow's Prairie Road, inland from Clam Beach.

The cheese plate with Truffle Tremor, Humboldt Fog and homemade flatbread. - AMY KUMLER
  • Amy Kumler
  • The cheese plate with Truffle Tremor, Humboldt Fog and homemade flatbread.

At the dairy, about 1,000 goats — LaMancha, Toggenburg, Alpine and Saanen — feed on 35 acres of lush Humboldt grasses and have access to comfy naturally lit indoor spaces. The farm is so swank that employees dub the place a "country club" and the American Humane Association awarded Cypress Grove its highest rating of 100 percent humane.

Sage gnocchi with chèvre, morels and shaved Lamb Chopper. - AMY KUMLER
  • Amy Kumler
  • Sage gnocchi with chèvre, morels and shaved Lamb Chopper.

That goat bliss comes through in all those Cypress Grove cheeses. If you've encountered the creamy tang of soft-ripened Humboldt Fog with its rich strip of vegetative ash, you're just getting started. You'll want to sample everything else from fresh Fromage Blanc to the rich, aged Midnight Moon.

For a satisfying side-by-side tasting, Folie Douce offers its Cypress Grove cheese plate ($18). Selected cheeses vary but might include a hearty wedge of the Truffle Tremor, some of that Humboldt Fog, a plentiful pile of the gouda-style Lamb Chopper slivers and the showstopper — a warm slice of savory artichoke-heart cheesecake crafted with the Fromage Blanc. The cheese plate comes with seasonal fruit, glazed nuts and Folie Douce's housemade flatbreads, including a gluten-free sea cracker. Such seedy satisfaction. A zingy drizzle of orange-tomato marmalade sets off those rich goat cheese proteins. This is living the dairy dream and it's such a treat it reprises on the dessert menu.

Goat at the farm - AMY KUMLER
  • Amy Kumler
  • Goat at the farm

Ask your server for beer or wine pairing recommendations. Folie Douce sells several local wines by the glass that pair perfectly with the Cypress Grove experience. If you're a red head, try the 2012 Whitethorn Pinot Noir with the piquant Truffle Tremor to bring out the cheese's earthy notes. The 2014 Trinity River cuvee, a cabernet-merlot blend, balances the gouda-style Lamb Chopper.

Savory artichoke heart cheesecake. - AMY KUMLER
  • Amy Kumler
  • Savory artichoke heart cheesecake.

Your cheese trip's just kicking in when the enticing scent of the Douce's wood-fired pizza wafts to the table. Folie Douce pizza offers a perfect foodie canvas. One masterpiece is a duck confit salad-style pizza with cherries, arugula, Cypress Grove chevre and lemon-olive oil dressing ($24). Did you save space for something sweet? Let's go with Fromage Blanc incorporated into seasonally inspired amaretto cherry cheesecake ($12).

Duck confit salad pizza with chèvre. - AMY KUMLER
  • Amy Kumler
  • Duck confit salad pizza with chèvre.

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