Between Buellton and Lompoc in Santa Barbara County, about 11 miles from the ocean on the inland side of the Santa Ynez Mountains, you'll find Rancho La Viña–and some of the best walnuts in this part of the country. This pleasant fact is particularly noteworthy at the moment, as the 2009 walnut crop is promising to be unusually good. Which makes for good nuts. And for even better walnut oil.

Rancho La Viña, a family owned and operated ranch on 2,800 acres, has been growing walnuts–and 60 acres of Pinot Noir grapes–since 1869. Their La Nogalera oil (La Nogalera is a partership between three area ranches) is made from three different varieties of walnuts, mostly from coastal Payne walnuts. This year the cooler nights have made for a particularly buttery crop with slightly lower acidity. The walnuts will be harvested in the next month, then husked and dried and, because they're organic, briefly cured. After this process, in which the walnuts are cooled down close to freezing, they'll be shelled and then packaged or pressed. This year's new batch of walnut oil will be ready by Christmas.

Walnut oil, if you're not familiar with it, is a terrific dipping oil for bread; great drizzled on goat cheese and used in salad dressings; and wonderful in place of olive oil in pizza dough and as a finishing sauce. It also makes fantastic roasted potatoes.

Roasted Rosemary Potatoes

Note: From La Nogalera.

Serves: 4-6

2 pounds baby new potatoes (gold or red)

1/3 cup walnut oil

2 teaspoons coarse sea salt

2 tablespoons fresh rosemary

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

2. Cut potatoes into thick wedges. Toss in a large bowl with remaining ingredients to thoroughly coat

3. Spread the potatoes out evenly onto a cookie sheet and bake for 20-30 minutes, turning occassionally, until crisp and golden.

La Nogalera: 8615 Santa Rosa Road, Buellton; (805) 245-9457. The oil can be purchased online and in some local shops, and at the Santa Monica, Santa Barbara and Ojai farmers markets.

LA Weekly