Just under 90,000 people call Mendocino County – an area three times the size of Rhode Island, and a hundred times the size of San Francisco – home. But those people seem to love to create. Hundreds of local businesses flourish, producing world-class products. Some of them can be found in stores around the world, while others can be purchased only within the county. All of them have their own fascinating history and stories behind them, though, and all of them are worth a visit if you’re looking to discover a bit more of the authentic Mendo experience.

Here are a few of our favorites – and we’ll keep adding to this series, helping you find your new favorite gems!

Cowlick’s Ice Cream

In 2001 the Jensens founded Cowlick‘s ice cream with the goal of creating a world-class ice cream on the Mendocino Coast. In 2007 the company changed hands, but its reputation has only continued to grow since then. The ice cream is made with local ingredients, in small batches, and all by hand. Dairy comes from Northern Californian cows, chocolate comes from San Francisco’s historic Guittard, cookie dough is locally crafted by the Mendocino Cookie Company, and their most well-known ingredient – the candy cap mushroom – is harvested locally.

All of their ice cream is fantastic, but the star of the show is the candy cap flavor. This local delicacy is not only strange and unique, but is absolutely delicious. “It’s actually really good!” is a phrase you hear a lot in Cowlick’s when people try ‘mushroom ice cream’ for the first time. Candy caps have an amazing scent when dried – something like rich maple syrup – and when you infuse ice cream when them you get a full-bodied, almost earthy, maple syrup flavor.

You can try Cowlick’s Candy Cap Mushroom Ice Cream at their flagship shop on Main Street in Fort Bragg, at Frankie’s Pizza and Ice Cream in the village of Mendocino, and  at JD Redhouse & Co on Main Street in Willits.

A photo posted by Cowlick’s Ice Cream (@cowlicksicecreamco) on Jan 15, 2016 at 1:42pm PST

A photo posted by Cowlick’s Ice Cream (@cowlicksicecreamco) on Jan 15, 2016 at 2:44pm PST

Rising Tide Sea Vegetables

Most of us grew up calling it seaweed, but the folks at Rising Tide prefer the term sea vegetable – and given the wide range of fantastic foods available from the sea, it’s a distinction that makes a lot of sense. Rising Tide has been locally harvesting, drying, and packaging sea vegetables on the Mendocino Coast since 1981. They are committed to environmentally-responsible production, and to create the most delicious foods from the sea.

So how are sea vegetables harvested? Well, it all begins well before dawn. During the spring and summer, when the tides are at their lowest in the pre-dawn darkness, the team at Rising Tide takes to their kayaks and heads to seaweed beds that have been scouted weeks in advance to make sure they are suitably robust to be harvested. The kayak is brought to the site as a sort of pack mule, and the team takes to the water in their wetsuits, using special seaweed-cutting knives to free the seaweed, and loading it into the kayak. Only a portion of each blade is removed, allowing the plant left in the water to continue to grow and to reproduce. Up to 700 pounds of seaweed may be harvested this way in a day, then loaded into a truck, and transported back inland to a sun-soaked drying yard. This all has to happen by not long after noon (another reason for the early mornings), so that the seaweed has time to fully dry in the sun before it sets. Then the seaweed is moved to a drying shed, where dehumidifiers and fans finish the job.

Rising Tide packages and sells an amazing range of sea vegetables – from nori sheets ideal for sushi, to toasted sea palm that make a perfect snack, to iron-rich dulse (they also sell fucus, hijiki, kombu, sea lettuce, wakame, and more!). In addition to straight seaweed, they make delightful seaweed snacks, combining healthy and tasty sea vegetables with sesame seeds, rice syrup, and maple syrup.

You can find Rising Tide products at Harvest Market in Mendocino and Fort Bragg, Corners of the Mouth in Mendocino, Down Home Foods in Fort Bragg, Mariposa Market in Willits, Ukiah Natural Foods in Ukiah, and the Anchor Bay Store near Gualala.

A photo posted by Rising Tide (@risingtideseavegetables) on May 10, 2016 at 1:13pm PDT

A photo posted by Rising Tide (@risingtideseavegetables) on May 30, 2016 at 2:10pm PDT

A photo posted by Rising Tide (@risingtideseavegetables) on May 9, 2016 at 12:19pm PDT

Coffee… in Mendocino?

Black Oak Coffee Roasters

The first ‘third wave’ coffee bar in Mendocino County can be found in downtown Ukiah – part of the wave of revitalization sweeping the entire business district. Black Oak Coffee Roasters is a joint venture between Keith Feigin (with a background in wine and honey) and Jon Frech, and they not only serve amazing coffee drinks at their downtown location, they also roast world-class coffees in-house.

In fact, one of the things you’ll notice when you walk in the door of their coffee shop is that you can actually see the roaster – a 1957 gas-powered Probat. It’s part of their overall philosophy, where everything about their coffee is front and center – the origin of the beans, the working conditions of the workers, how its all made. Coffee is a calling for these two, and a love affair, and they’re eager to share it with the world.

Thanksgiving Coffee

On the coast side of the county is Fort Bragg’s long-time resident, Thanksgiving Coffee, where every cup is “not just a cup, but a just cup.” This philosophy of sustainability in the coffee business dates back to the company’s beginnings when owners, Paul and Joan, moved to Mendocino in 1972. They began Thanksgiving Coffee at the Mendocino Hotel, roasting coffee for the Hotel café using a Royal #5 25-pound capacity coffee roaster. Thanksgiving Coffee works with coffee farmers from around the world, from Laos to Rwanda, carefully roasting each bean to perfection.

Black Oak Coffee Roasters

Black Oak Coffee Roasters

Thanksgiving Coffee

Thanksgiving Coffee