By Jennifer Kramer
While people are flocking to Baja’s Valle de Guadalupe for the burgeoning wine and foodie scene these days, one of the best and lesser-known spots in the valley isn’t one of the fancy wineries or acclaimed restaurants, but a humble farm. Rancho Cortes flies under the radar because of it’s unpolished appearances, but it’s one of the most famous places in the area by those who are in the know. In my experience, a trip to the valley for wine tasting isn’t complete without a stop at the ranch to have a tasting of their famous cheeses and olive oil.
Rancho Cortes is a working ranch known for its grass-fed beef and lamb, its artisanal cheese and its olive oil. The ranch serves as the hub where olive farmers from all over Ensenada and up to Tecate bring their olives to be pressed and turned into olive oil under the brand Misiones de Baja California. The smooth and neutral-tasting olive oil has garnered a cult following, and at only $9 a liter (California olive oils can go for up to $40 a liter), people buy it in bulk.
In addition to the liquid gold that the ranch produces, high-end restaurants around the region (and as far as Mexico City) serve the beef, lamb and cheese from Rancho Cortes. Famed restaurant Laja, in the Valle de Guadalupe, is one such restaurant to have Rancho Cortes meat on the menu, and it’s in good company with other Baja Med restaurants around northern Baja that serve lamb and beef from the ranch. And if you’ve been to a winery in the valley that serves cheese as an appetizer, chances are it’s from Rancho Cortes.
While you can try a taste of Rancho Cortes without going to the ranch, I suggest making the trip anyway for the experience. It’s not a fancy set-up like you can expect at many of the newer wineries and restaurants around the valley. It’s a working ranch complete with livestock pens and turkeys wandering the grounds. There’s a room where you can go in to watch them making the cheese, as well as a cheese cave you can view where they store and age the cheese wheels.
There’s also a small and modest tasting room on the ranch where you can purchase cheese to take with you and try a cheese tasting. For about $3 you can taste eight types of cheese with the famous olive oil for dipping. Queso fresco, queso añejo (aged 5 months) and cheeses with ingredients such as basil, jalapeño and olives are some of the flavors that the ranch has become famous for.
It’s a nice stop off of the beaten path and the delicious cheeses and olive oil make it well worth the trip.
The best way to plan a visit to Rancho Cortés is to book a tour through Baja Test Kitchen.
You can take as much olive oil as you want back to the U.S., and up to 11 pounds of cheese – (but don’t forget to declare it!). Wine is limited to one liter per adult.