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Creating the perfect picnic basket for an outing in 209
Hilmar Cheese Visitor Center Cafe
The Hilmar Cheese Visitors center offers an array of delectable treats that can help anyone looking to create that perfect picnic basket. - photo by JAYDEEP BHATIA

FAVORITE PICNIC SPOTS IN THE 209

• KNIGHTS FERRY RECREATION AREA: While known as a put in for rafting trips, the sprawling park includes multiple picnic table and BBQ sites, river access, extensive hiking trails, and access to the oldest covered bridge west of the Mississippi River. The recreation area is located off CA-108, 20 miles east of Oakdale.
• TURLOCK LAKE: The recreation area features the lake with its 26 miles of shoreline and foothill country. Picnicking, day-use, and boat launch ramps are offered at the lake. Turlock Lake is located about 25 miles east of Modesto on the south side of the Tuolumne River. From Modesto take Highway 132 East 14 miles to Waterford; in Waterford turn right on Hickman Road (county road J-9) and drive 1 mile to Lake Road. Turn left on Lake Road and drive 10 miles to Turlock Lake SRA.
• NATURAL BRIDGES: This day use area is an awesome geological place off Parrots Ferry Road, on the North side of the Parrots-Ferry Bridge over the Stanislaus River.  The entrance presents the appearance of a noble Gothic arch of massive stone-work, 32 feet in height above the water, and 25 feet in width at the abutments. The rock and earth above, supported by the arch, are 30 or more feet in thickness, and overgrown with trees and shrubbery. There is a picnic table right next to the water.
• OTHER PLACES:  You don’t have to travel far to find the perfect picnic spot, however. Manteca, Oakdale, Turlock, Modesto and most towns in the 209 have at least one peaceful park perfect for picnicking. Visit your city’s website to find the locations of local parks and recreation areas.

HILMAR - Looking to go on a picnic? Well, instead of scouring the aisles of conventional supermarkets why not add a local touch to create that perfect picnic basket? The Hilmar Cheese Company visitors center offers an array of meats, cheeses, spreads and other delectable delights that will make your picnic basket so tantalizing that Yogi Bear might even steal it.

So, where to start? Easy. Head to the direction of protein. Instead of settling for lousy deli meat, head down to Hilmar and pick up fresh Columbus Italian Salami or Saag’s Beef Summer Sausages. These tasty meats are a perfect addition to any summertime picnic and their flavor will have you wishing you packed more 

Well, now that you’ve quenched the craving for your carnivorous taste buds, it’s time to move onto the cheese. No picnic basket is complete without the perfect cheese, but when you’re at the Hilmar Cheese, the possibilities are quite literally endless.

Elisabeth Sawyer, specialty cheese buyer at the Hilmar Cheese Company Visitors Center, says choosing the perfect cheese is vital in creating the idea picnic basket. According to Sawyer, a slice of salami goes along perfectly with harder cheeses like piave or a sharp cheddar.

“Unless, you have a cooler or ice pack, bringing a soft cheese is not the best idea, “ said Sawyer.

Alright, so now that you’ve got your heaping helps of the perfect meat and cheeses, it’s time to move on to the crackers. Commonly overlooked as a less important member of the family of picnic foods, crackers are actually an integral part in developing the perfect picnic basket. Luckily, Hilmar Cheese offers a broad range of crackers that can serve as the perfect bed for your meats and cheeses.

According to Sawyer, water crackers, a flavorless plain cracker, is ideal for really bringing out the flavor in your carefully selected meats and cheeses. If painting the perfect picnic basket were a work of art, consider the water cracker to be the canvas.

So, let’s go over the list. Meats? Check. Cheese? Check. Crackers? Check. Although this is quite the collection of delectable treats, there is still something missing. Luckily, Hilmar Cheese has just the thing to fill that picnic basket void. So what might that be? One word. Spreads. No basket is complete without the tantalizing texture of the perfect spread.

Well, Hilmar Cheese offers a variety spreads that’ll make your basket the taste of the town. Their best seller is the olive basil spread, a flavorful spread that liven up anything it tops. Along with the olive basil spread, Hilmar Cheese also offers up tomato, basil and crushed pepper spreads that will want you to go a picnic every weekend of the month. If you’re looking to make your picnic basket a little more gourmet, Hilmar Cheese also offers up stuffed pepper jack olives and jalapeno garlic that will add delicious aristocratic feel to your picnic basket.

Now that your basket is almost complete, it’s time to go ahead and add probably the most popular component, dessert. Now you could walk over to a commercial ice cream chain and order the same sugar ridden desert, or you could walk over choose the local route. Hilmar cheese offers up chocolate dipping pretzels, apricot pepper jelly and mascarpone cheese that will have your sweet tooth jumping for joy.

Your picnic basket is almost complete. Just stop by one of the area’s many fruit stands or farmers’ markets and add fresh fruit. Now, you’ve managed to create the perfect basket, while also supporting the local economy.

“By shopping here, you know you’re getting more local product,” said Sawyer. “We’re proud to host the vendors we do.”



— JAYDEEP BHATIA / The 209