California's culture beckons people to try new things. From early settlers in search of gold to modern settlers in search of fame, fortune and fair weather, it seems like everyone comes to California looking for something new.
My first trip to California - 10 years ago - was full of new experiences in neat places: Hollywood, Alcatraz, Tulare County dairy farms, a brewery and a candy factory.
One of my favorite memories of trying something new on that trip was sitting down at an establishment in San Francisco with my friend Morgan (and Norm from Cheers) and telling the bartender, "Make me something new."
He came back with what has become one of my favorite cocktails - a Jamaican Bicycle. Fittingly, since I was in California on a dairy club trip, the cocktail's main ingredient is milk.
My second trip to California, as part of the Minnesota Milk California Dairy Tour, confirmed my belief that California is all about trying something new.
The dairy tour, itself, was Minnesota Milk's first bus tour outside of the Midwest. For many of the almost 50 people on the tour, this was their first visit to California. For one excited participant - Julie Schefers of Paynesville - this trip was her first time flying.
One day of the tour was spent at the World Ag Expo in Tulare. Like similar expositions here in the Midwest, World Ag Expo was full of opportunities to see, learn and try new things - from equipment for test driving to the newest milk harvesting technologies to dairy seminars.
The adventurous attitude that seems to define California's culture (think Hollywood and Silicon Valley) is present in the state's agricultural industries as well.
We stopped at an almond farm on the tour. I found the parallels between the almond industry and the dairy industry interesting. The farm's operators showed us the rubber mallets (for banging on tree trunks) and wire scoops they used to harvest almonds before mechanized harvesting equipment was introduced. Now, just as there are very few dairy farmers who hand milk their cows, very few almond growers use mallets and shovels.
Even more interesting was hearing the growers' take on the almond industry's rapid growth. Not that long ago, almond growers were concerned about a 500 million pound harvest flooding the market. Almond prices have attracted legions of growers looking to try something new after the economics of traditional vegetable crops soured. This year, 2 billion pounds of almonds will hit the market. Thanks, in part, to product development and promotion by the California Almond Board, exports and consumer demand will devour that harvest.
Another stop on the tour was the direct result of farmers trying something new. Hilmar Cheese was founded in 1984 by 12 dairy farm families who literally mortgaged everything they had in hopes of developing a better market for their Jersey milk. A quarter of a century later, the company produces nearly 20 percent of the natural American cheese on the market and its sister enterprise, Hilmar Ingredients, was named the 2009 Dairy Exporter of the Year.
Our last night in California was spent enjoying the night life of San Francisco. Somehow, trying something new is simply meant to be in that town.
A small group of us was enjoying an after-dinner drink when a group of strangers asked if they could share our table. The customary "What brings you to California?" started a lively conversation, with several questions about our roles in the dairy industry.
Then, their drinks were served. A round of "What did you order?" followed. Since we were at an Irish pub, most of the drinks were Irish Coffee. But one concoction caught everyone's eye. The frothy, white beverage was introduced as a Ramos Fizz.
I wasn't looking for something new, but I couldn't resist trying one. (Anything made with cream ought to be good, right?) It was a tasty choice. I probably won't ever find one back here in Minnesota, since the Ramos Fizz is a specialty of that pub, and because - as our waitress informed me - it's an extremely old fashioned drink. But it made for a memorable night.
Here's to trying something new! Cheers!