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Dole Taste of Spain Salad Summit {Carmel, California}

Carmel Valley Ranch in California

Over the years, I’ve heard countless wonderful things about the natural beauty of Carmel-by-the-Sea and its surrounding Monterey Peninsula. So it was something of a wish-come-true when I received a personal invitation from Dole, the world’s largest provider of fresh fruits and vegetables, to spend a few days with them there, in the heart America’s salad growing region.

If you’re aware of the long winter we had here in Minnesota (that still seems to continue on and on…ugh!), you’ll know how much I was looking forward to the sunshine that California is famous for. So joining a group of fabulous bloggers/friends from around the country at the Carmel Valley Ranch felt like a gift to my winter weary soul. Staying at this stunning property was a huge treat. With about a hundred cherries on top. Oh my, for fabulous!

dinner on a patio

The warm sun on my face could not have been more lovely while I sat amongst friends at lunch upon arrival. Around the table are, from left to right, starting with Christy in the red, then Ali, Kristen, Chung-Ah, Liz, Heidi, and Heather (my favorite farmgirl). Of course, for the occasion of a Salad Summit, I enjoyed a salad. Loaded with avocado and grilled achiote prawns, it was the perfect dish to kick off my time with Dole. But, yes, I did sneak a few amazing truffle fries and a giant onion ring, or two. There was just no denying them!

the pool at carmel valley ranch

The sunny pool area at Carmel Valley Ranch was a beautiful and welcoming spot for our group to get to know each other better. We chatted under the shade of cabanas. And sometimes we were even visited by Roxy, the Ranch’s resident English Bulldog.

The guest suites that we called “home”, scattered along the resort’s hillsides, were super spacious, in comfortable understated neutrals. The Ranch thought of absolutely everything…a separate living room, a fireplace in the bedroom, large flat screen TV’s, iPod docking stations, Keurigs with a variety of K-cups, small lamps on the headboards for bedtime reading, little vases of fresh lavender picked from their property, a fabulous shower and separate soaking tub, and indulgent aromatherapy bath products. And everyone had their own private deck. I was perched on a bluff, with an outdoor space looking out over the valley. Just the perfect spot to put up my feet and take a few deep breaths in quiet solitude.

park trail

The resort’s property was incredible.

a path going through a park

This was the walk to my suite. I was in constant stop-in-my-tracks awe of the fabulous old oaks dangling with Spanish moss.

a lavender plant

And the lavender…everywhere! The Ranch boasts of 7,000 lavender plants! Blooming shoots of violet, so fragrant, my fingers simply couldn’t help but roam through its intoxicating scent.

a collage of food and drinks

This gorgeous backdrop was easy to get used to. It took no coaxing for friends (left to right: me, Heather, Heidi, Ali, and Sandy) to relax and share each other’s company over many courses involving some kind of salad greens. Dole’s “Taste of Spain” theme was fun and flavorful, and I enjoyed every single nibble and sip. Even the Spanish style sangrias were muddled with a variety of greens. Delicious!

lettuce farm

Getting out in the fields and earning a little dirt on my soles is something I’ve always loved. Growing up on a grain farm in South Dakota, I have a deep appreciation for the hard work, dedication, and smart management it takes to be successful in farming.

We met with local farmer Mark Pisoni at one of his fields in the Salinas Valley. After graduating from UC Davis and Cornell University, Mark is now in charge of the family farm that’s over 100 years old. He and many other local farmers contract annually with Dole, providing a harvest of lettuce 3 to 4 times each year.

I found it incredible that the Salinas Valley supplies 80% of our nation’s lettuce. Dubbed “America’s Salad Bowl”, this fertile valley also grows massive quantities of broccoli, cauliflower, celery, peppers, tomatoes, and strawberries.

We walked in the tracks of this freshly harvested lettuce field, watching Dole’s employees harvest iceberg lettuce by hand. The lettuce heads are lightly washed in the field, then whisked away to Dole’s facility nearby for more thorough washing, packaging, and shipment to grocery stores everywhere. This process, from California field to our store’s refrigerated shelves, takes just a few days to accomplish, promising the freshest produce available.

One of my favorite memories from this trip? Eating ultra crisp and sweet iceberg lettuce, straight from the field. It was SO GOOD!

dole packaged lettuce

And a very sobering memory from the trip? Well, that would be the “Lettuce 101 Matching Test”, where we were challenged to match 22 fresh Dole lettuce samples with their respective variety names. Whoa!

wine grapes

Besides producing tons (literally!) of fresh fruits and veggies, the Salinas Valley is also known for its wine grapes.

lunch in a vineyard

Our group enjoyed a fabulous lunch amongst the grape vines at the local Paraiso Vineyards.  The Smith family treated us to their beautiful wines (I especially liked their Riesling and port) and, yes, some awesome salads incorporating Dole’s greens. (bottom righthand photo, left to right: Liz, Chung-Ah, Nikki, Heidi)

appetizer table

But that wine and lunch were not free. Nosirree!

We headed back to the Carmel Valley Ranch for a Basque Pintxos Competition, to earn our keep. After learning from Gabe Georis, owner of Mundaka, the Spanish style tapas restaurant in downtown Carmel, that “Basque Pintxos” simply stands for small snacks eaten in northern Spain…we were divided into teams to create our best small plate for judging. Thanks to the fun and whimsical direction of DJ, our team won in the “most creative” category, with a recreation of the Spanish woman on the Dole salad bags. (lefthand photo, left to right: Lisa, me, Kristen, and DJ. And Heidi in the background, totally wishing she was on our team.)

We also learned about eating trends from Lisa Gosselin, Editor of EatingWell magazine. And we feasted on even more salad after a demonstration from Chef Brandon Miller of Mundaka, a tasty precursor to the evening ahead of us.

dinner at mundaka

Our day ended with a trip to downtown Carmel, to eat together family-style at Mundaka. It really was the perfect way to bring Dole’s “Taste of Spain” theme to fruition for us, as a group of food bloggers. The scene was illuminated only by the flicker of candles as we sipped sangria and noshed on the fabulousness of insanely delicious fried chickpeas with white truffle salt, Dole cauliflower gratin with horseradish and gruyere, duck leg confit, mussels in saffron sauce, and an amazing paella. I missed naming about 4,000 other good things we ate there, including the extremely noteworthy desserts, but you get the picture. It was good. Way good. Every last bite.

a rope swing on a tree

And now I leave you with one last photo. That of a swing from Carmel Valley Ranch. There are several of these swings, made of knotted ropes and planks, located throughout the Ranch. Hanging from massive old oaks, they beg you to sit, take the weight off of your burdens, and sway slowly, back and forth. To inhale that magical California air, perfumed with lavender and the nearby coast.


For more recaps from this same trip, please check out these posts from my friends who joined me:

Sandy, Reluctant Entertainer

Catherine, Rabbit Food for my Bunny Teeth

Chung-Ah, Damn Delicious

Kristen, Iowa Girl Eats

Heidi, Foodie Crush

Lisa, Authentic Suburban Gourmet

Tessa, Handle the Heat

Ali, Gimme Some Oven

Liz, The Lemon Bowl

Thank you to Dole for inviting me to attend the Taste of Spain Salad Summit. I was honored to be your guest. Thank you also to Carmel Valley Ranch for a fabulously memorable stay. I do hope to return one day! 

Disclosure: My trip was paid in full by Dole. I was not compensated to attend or to write this post. All opinions are my own. To read the full disclosure of this site, please go here

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30 comments on “Dole Taste of Spain Salad Summit {Carmel, California}”

  1. You’re making me miss my home town. California really is beautiful. Great pictures, glad you enjoyed it!

  2. Ali | Gimme Some Oven

    I wish I were back there on that swing right now! Loved getting the chance to spend more time with you, and soak up the California-ness together. :) Look forward to seeing you again soon!!

  3. I’m so glad you all had a great time. It looks like you were able to get a little fun and relaxation in as well which I’m sure felt wonderful too. Yippee!!

  4. Teresa@SassySuburbanite

    Hi Brenda.
    I was just in Carmel-by-the-Sea this past March for my honeymoon. It really is breathtakingly beautiful. We stayed 2 blocks off of the downtown area which was also just a short walk to the beach. What a paradise! One of our favorite parts was seeing some of the architecture of the area with the sloped, moss covered roofs of the pristine homes near downtown. We called some of them Hobbit homes because of their shapes and the roofs. I’m glad you enjoyed yourself. It sure sounds like a lot of fun.

    1. Hi Teresa! It was killing me that we had such a tight schedule and I had to fly out right away…I wanted to explore more! I got a glimpse of a few of the “Hobbit homes” you mentioned, so sweet!! I need to go back there some day, for sure.

  5. Carmel is one of my most favorite spots that I have ever had the pleasure of visiting! It is so pretty around there and I love the downtown area. You are one lucky girl to have Dole treat you to a trip there Brenda! So happy for you! :-)

  6. Oh my gosh – seriously ? What a GORGEOUS dream trip!! You totally deserved it after the winter you had :)

    1. I have to agree with you there, Aggie. The setting and SUNSHINE…SO wonderful. And you know how much I love getting out in the fields and behind the scenes, Dole was awesome!

  7. Sandy@ReluctantEntertainer

    It was such a great trip! So fun to spend time with you once again, Brenda. I loved learning more about Dole, too. See you this week!

  8. Liz @ The Lemon Bowl

    Such an amazing trip – I’m so glad I got to meet you and experience the California sun with a fellow midwestern gal!!