Every March, the creme de le creme of California’s cheese-making community descend on Petaluma for the state’s annual Artisan Cheese Festival. This incredibly three-day cheese extravaganza supports and brings awareness to local farmers and cheese makers. The event kicks off tomorrow, Friday, March 18, in Sonoma County with an adventure-packed series of farm tours and creamery lunches. On the tours, cheese lovers get the chance to explore a variety of local farms, like Marin French Cheese, Redwood Hill Farm, and Cowgirl Creamery, where they will watch how the cheese is made, identify the difference between goat’s, cow’s, and sheep’s milk cheeses, and learn about how the animal’s diet affects the flavor of the cheese. Each tour has a different headliner like Sue Conley and Peggy Smith, from Cowgirl Creamery, and features a lunch stop and tasting of a local artisanal product such as Rustic Bakery’s flatbread or Devoto Orchards hard apple cider.
If you can’t get out of the office and up to the North Bay for a cheese farm tour, consider attending tomorrow’s evening event, the Cheesemongers’ Duel. The region’s top cheesemonger’s will be given a block of cheese and are asked to create the best bite. Party goers will rate the cheese and there will also be a fantasy cheese table with local, rare, and limited edition cheese to taste. On Saturday, there are more farm tours and a series of educational cheese seminars and pairing demos. Learn about the latest trends in California cheesemaking, how to pair cheese and chocolate, or all about Belgian-style beers and the cheese that was made for these pale ales and tart sours. Saturday evening at 6 pm is the festival’s 10-year anniversary party. Local vintners and breweries will be on hand pouring wine and beer, while the chefs from restaurants like Rich Table and the Girl and the Fig, will be serving up dishes made with their favorite local cheese.
The final day, Sunday, starts off with a brunch from chef John Ash that combines curds and cuvees. Sip sparkling wine while you enjoy an elegant meal that features multiple cheese preparations. The final event is one that’s not to be missed: the grand cheese tasting and marketplace. Over 90 artisanal producers will be serving cheese, pouring brews, and plating up tasty accoutrements. There are also chef demos, book signings, and the opportunity to purchase all of your favorite cheeses.