Sample the Sierra highlights local agriculture & small-batch food products |

Sample the Sierra highlights local agriculture & small-batch food products

Jack Barnwell
Diane Weidinger, owner of Heart Rock Herbs & Spice Co., prepares spice samples for the upcoming Sample the Sierra event on Sunday, Sept. 6. Weidinger, a master gardener, prepares spice blends herself.
Jack Barnwell / Tahoe Daily Tribune |

Grilled meat, spicy aromas and cold beer await at the sixth-annual Sample the Sierra on Sunday, Sept. 6. This Tahoe Chamber-sponsored festival tips its hat to Sierra Nevada’s growing farm-to-fork culture. More than 50 vendors are participating, including breweries, local farms and restaurants.

For Tahoe’s agricultural community, the event offers ingredients for fun, education and promotion. Two area businesses — Heart Rock Herbs & Spice Co. and the Jacobs Family Berry Farm, among many others, will be featured at Sunday’s event.

Heart Rock Herbs and Spice

Diane Weidinger owns and operates Heart Rock Herbs & Spice Co., a Stateline business making spice blends. Her lineup includes more than 60 blends available for purchase locally and online. This is her fourth Sample the Sierra. She said the event helped create a local following for her product.

“Americans don’t use a lot of spices,” Weidinger said. “I think we should introduce our kids at a young age to a pinch here and pinch there to get accustomed to flavors over time.”

Weidinger started Heart Rock Herbs & Spices Co. in 2010 when she worked as a master gardener at the Thunderbird Lodge in Incline Village, Nev.

Gardeners would get together during the winter for cooking sessions, so she researched how to make Ras El Hanout, a Moroccan spice blend; it included lavender petals and dried rosebuds.

“Everyone said I should sell the blend,” Weidinger said.

The cooking session spurred a winter of research, blending and using her family as taste testers before creating 60 different spices.

According to Weidinger, Tahoe Blend, a signature spice mix, provides “an up-front citrus note from its lemon and orange peel, with a middle note of prepared curry, followed by hints of rose petals and lavender.” And Beach Retreat and Lodge’s Executive Chef Brian Sunkamaitis will use her spices in dishes prepared for the festival this year.

Weidinger said Brian Cohen with Overland Meat and Seafood Company on Lake Tahoe Boulevard uses her concoctions as well.

“He uses the spices in his own personal cooking and sells about 16 of the blends,” Weidinger said.

Sample the Sierra offers tremendous benefits for the community by introducing them to new foods and flavors, she added.

Jacobs Family Berry Farm

This year’s Sample the Sierra will be a first for Jack Jacobs and his crew at Gardnerville’s Jacobs Family Berry Farm.

“We’re glad to share,” Jacobs said. “I’ll enjoy having different chefs learn what they can do with our berries.”

Jacobs Family Berry Farm started growing blackberries and raspberries five years ago. Fruit is sold fresh or frozen, and it is also made into jams.

The farm dates back to 1887 when German settler Wilhelm Lampe founded Lampe Ranch. Over the years parcels were sold off to accommodate growing demand for land in the Carson Valley.

The Jacobs family purchased five acres in 2002. The farm is also used for wedding venues in the Carson Valley.

According to Jacobs, events like Sample the Sierra introduce people to farms and different foods. It brings people closer to farms, something the Jacobs family has been trying to do for years.

“When I grew up we went to the farm to get many of our groceries,” he said. “We’ve grown into a society where we go to a grocery shop and expect everything to be there for us.”

For more information about Sample the Sierra vendors, visit

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