The Napa Valley of California is best known for its vineyards. Recently, however, this region has become synonymous with a culinary style that is as well known as those in Provence, France or Tuscany, Italy.

Napa Valley is located in northern California, at the northeastern tip of the San Francisco Bay. For many years, there have been three major industries in this area—wine grape growing, wine production and tourism. Recently, a fourth industry has blossomed, one in which food producers and restaurants are branding the Napa Valley name. From a culinary perspective, Napa Valley cuisine is described as locally grown ingredients that are used to create Mediterranean-, Italian- and French-influenced food products and recipes.

Mezzetta is a family-owned business located in Napa Valley. Since 1935, this company has produced a line of Italian- and Mediterranean-influenced peppers, olives and sauces. Recently, 16 new products were added to their collection. Eight are gourmet pasta sauces, made with 100% extra virgin olive oil, and they are all-natural, containing no preservatives. One of the popular sauces is called the Napa Valley Bistro Garden Rustica Pasta Sauce (25oz), containing California ripe tomatoes, red and green bell peppers, fresh onions and garlic, Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon wine, extra virgin olive oil and aromatic herbs.

There are also eight new olive-blend products containing Napa Valley wines. One unique product from this collection is the Napa Valley Bistro Italian Antipasto (12oz), containing green olives, pepperoncini, red bell peppers, fresh garlic, Napa Valley chardonnay and Italian seasonings.

One of the most successful people to bring Napa Valley to mainstream America is a television Food Network star, chef Michael Chiarello. He is the owner of four retail stores called Napa Style–all located in California. The stores combine Chiarello’s Napa Valley lifestyle with his southern Italian heritage and his passion for seasonal, sustainable living.  He says, “When I cook, I like to push my flavors in all directions. Intensity, surprise, variety—they’re what make everyday life more exciting.” A line of Chiarello’s popular bread spreads can be found in his Napa Style stores. Flavors include spicy roasted peppers, olive and white bean, and Tuscan artichoke. There are also three appetizer spreads: Sicilian eggplant caponata, roasted garlic paste and proscuitto and marinated Parmesan dip. However, these Napa Valley-influenced food items are only the tip of the iceberg. The Napa Style stores also sell his best-selling cookbooks—Casual Cooking at Home, At Home with Michael Chiarello and Michael Chiarello’s Flavored Oils and Vinegars. One can also shop for Chiarello’s branded food mixes, food processors, kitchen tools and home furnishings, as well as his Emmy-award winning cooking show DVDs. All of the merchandise can further be found on the company’s website at www.napastyle.com.

Wilbert Jones

Great Flavor Combinations

For the past 14 years, Catherine Bergen has been the creator and manufacturer of Made in Napa Valley gourmet pantry products. “We started out with private label oil and vinegar products for the wineries. In a short amount of time, we landed some large national accounts that really helped put us on the map,” says Bergen. Six years later, Made in Napa created a product line of sauces and condiments with great flavor combinations, inspired by the abundance and beauty of Napa Valley. This success has led Made in Napa to several NASFT (National Association Specialty Food Trade) awards. Some bestsellers include the Lemon Dill Vinaigrette with Chardonnay and the Green Olive with Roasted Tomato Tapenade. Bergen recently introduced a new cookbook to the marketplace titled Made in Napa Valley: Gourmet Every Day. The book features Napa Valley-inspired recipes using an assortment of the company’s products—vinaigrettes, dipping oils, fruit balsamics, marinades and sauces, herb rubs, savory sauces, tapenandes and condiments, mustards and dessert sauces. “Our goal is to make food products that will allow people to enjoy gourmet foods everyday,” says Bergen.

Fifteen years ago, Napa Valley Grille opened its first restaurant. Today, there are six locations: San Diego; Paramus, N.J.; Providence, R.I.; Bloomington, Maine and two locations in the Napa Valley. Napa Valley Grille restaurants create the charm, generosity and tastes of Napa Valley. The menus showcase chef-driven offerings that are influenced by the wine country, local seasonal ingredients and artisan products. Some of the popular menu items are the Oakwood Grilled Kobe “Sliders” (made with white cheddar, applewood smoked bacon and caramelized onions) and French fries (served with a spicy remoulade, rosemary aioli and kalamata dipping sauces).  Many of the restaurant’s regular customers enjoy the grilled Kobe sliders and French fries with a Lavender Margarita (made from tequila, freshly squeezed lime juice and lavender syrup) or the Cucumber Martini (made from vodka, muddled mint and cucumber, and apple juice).

Some of the signature entrée items include the Boneless Pork Loin (pesto and balsamic-tossed potatoes, pearl onions, Spanish sweet pepper rellano and roasted tomato relish) and the Bone-in Veal Ribeye Steak (buttermilk and black olive mashed potatoes with sauce pomodoro).

Since 1995, Olivier Napa Valley has been producing gourmet olive oils, flavored vinegars and sauces. Its retail store has been open since 1999, specializing in a large selection of Olivier Napa Valley products and tableware exported from Provence, France. Some of Olivier Napa Valley’s unique products are the Orange Tarragon and Lemon Pepper Dipping Oils, the Portobello Sun-dried Tomato Tapenade, the White Bean Dip with Caramelized Garlic and Sage, and the Orange Honey Grilling Sauce.

Some food marketing authorities believe the name Napa Valley, Calif. will eventually become as popular and well-known as Tuscany, Italy or Provence, France. Wines grown and produced in Napa Valley are leading the way by commanding premium prices globally, due to their quality and the overall image wine buyers perceive about Napa Valley.

Ancient Almonds

ALMONDS ARE ANOTHER FOOD THAT HAS BECOME SYNONYMOUS WITH CALIFORNIA AND THE NAPA VALLEY. ALMONDS ARE A STAPLE OF THE MEDITERRANEAN DIET—THUS, THE CONNECTION WITH NAPA VALLEY CUISINE. ALTHOUGH THEY ORIGINATED IN THE MIDDLE EAST, U.S. ALMOND GROWERS TODAY PROVIDE 75% OF THE WORLD’S ALMONDS. BECAUSE THEY TASTE GREAT AND ARE VERSATILE, THEY WORK WELL IN BOTH SAVORY AND SWEET RECIPES. PLUS, THEY ARE CONSIDERED A GOURMET INGREDIENT BY MANY CHEFS. SLIVERED ALMONDS CAN BE ADDED TO CABBAGE, RAMA NOODLES AND SUNFLOWER SEEDS FOR A NAPA-STYLE CABBAGE SALAD. THE CALIFORNIA ALMOND BOARD LISTS HUNDREDS OF RECIPES ON ITS WEBSITE (WWW.ALMONDSAREIN.COM), INCLUDING ENTRÉES SUCH AS ALMOND-CRUSTED PORK CHOPS AND GREEN PEPPERS PICADILLO, AS WELL AS BREAKFASTS, BEVERAGES, BAKED GOODS AND SWEETS IDEAS. CULINARY USES ALSO INCLUDE ALMOND OIL AND ALMOND SYRUP.

ALMONDS ARE A LUXURIOUS ADDITION TO A RECIPE OR AN EXCELLENT SNACK ALTERNATIVE. U.S. CONSUMPTION HAS GROWN IN RECENT YEARS, MAINLY BECAUSE OF THE NUTS’ VERSATILITY, TASTE AND PERCEIVED HEALTH BENEFITS. ALTHOUGH NUTS USED TO BE CONSIDERED A HIGH-FAT, HIGH-CALORIE FOOD, RESEARCH NOW SHOWS THE NUTRITIONAL VALUE OF NUTS FAR OUTWEIGHS ANY NEGATIVES. THE GOOD NEWS IS THAT CONSUMING SMALL AMOUNTS OF ALMONDS LEAVES ONE FEELING SURPRISINGLY FULL—MAKING THEM AN UNLIKELY AID TO WEIGHT LOSS—EVEN HELPING TO LOWER CHOLESTEROL.

—BARBARA T. NESSINGER, ASSOCIATE EDITOR