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Geneva Anderson digs into art

The 13th California Artisan Cheese Festival is this weekend: cheese and all the wonders that pair with cheese

Petaluman Phaedra Achor, founder of Monarch Bitters, will be sampling her craft bitters and flavored syrups at Sunday’s Artisan Cheese Tasting and Marketplace at Grace Pavilion.  Last September, Monarch Bitters was ranked second place in a USA Today people’s choice competition for the nation’s top 10 Best Craft Mixers and in November 2018, the Press Democrat ranked it #6 of top Sonoma County businesses.   Achor’s bitters, potent extracts, are handcrafted from organic and wild harvested roots, barks, aromatic herbs and flowers which are sourced in Sonoma County and bottled by hand in Petaluma. Achor operates out of a rented space in an industrial park in Petaluma, so the Artisan Cheese Festival is an opportunity to meet her in person, learn all about bitters and taste her wondrous concoctions.  Her newest flavors include Smoked Salt & Pepper Bitters; Honey Aromatic Bitters; and Honey Lavender Bitters, which join her famous Bacon Tobacco, Citrus Basil, Cayenne Ginger, Celery Horseradish, Cherry Vanilla, California Bay Laurel, Orange, Rose Petal, and Wormwood bitters.  Photo: courtesy Monarch Bitters

Bring on the cheese and please, bring on the cocktails!  For the first time, specialty cocktails will be served at the California Artisan Cheese Festival’s Sunday Marketplace at Grace Pavilion at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds.  Of course, cheese is front and center as the California Artisan Cheese Festival kicks off this Saturday morning with eight fabulous full-day Farm and Producer tours all around Sonoma and Marin Counties (there are a few remaining spaces in five of these tours) as well as educational seminars and pairing demos in the morning and afternoon at Santa Rosa’s historic mid-century Flamingo Hotel.  Led by cheesemakers, cheese experts, bestselling authors and luminaries of wine, craft cocktails, ciders, and beers,  these seminars ($75-$85) are a convergence of expertise and passion.  Each seminar entails informed tasting, useful science and lots of ideas for inspired pairings.  This year’s Seminar #5 “Cheese & Cocktails: The Basics of Bitters, Booze and Cheese,” promises to demystify the universe of bitters and help identify the cheeses that will round out cocktails like Manhattans and Mai Tais.   Saturday evening’s new event, “Cheese, Bites & Booze!” at the Jackson Family Wines Hangar at the Sonoma Jet Center is sold out as is Sunday’s celebrity chef gourmet brunch.

Sunday’s Artisan Cheese Tasting and Marketplace, from noon to 4 p.m. at Grace Pavilion, at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds, is the event’s grand finale ($50).   If you never attended the festival before, it’s an excellent introduction.  The soirée is abuzz with energy, bringing together over 125 leading artisan cheese and food producers, winemakers, brewers, specialty spirit producers and makers for a final round of indulgence as participants chat, taste, sip, shop while meandering through a delightful epicurean maze.  Everyone brings home an Artisan Cheese Festival insulated cheese tote bag, a wine glass, and oodles of ideas for elegant home gatherings.  And most importantly, new and dear cheese friends.

 

Phaedra Achor, owner of Petaluma-based Monarch Bitters. Photo: courtesy Monarch Bitters

It was ARThound’s pleasure to speak with Phaedra Achor about Monarch Bitters, which will be featured in Saturday’s seminar, “Cheese & Cocktails,” Saturday evening’s swank “Cheese, Bites & Booze” event at the Jackson Family Wines Hangar, and Sunday’s Artisan Cheese Tasting and Marketplace.

What are bitters?

Phaedra Achor: Bitters are high ABV (alcohol by volume), mine are 40-44%, and extracts that are created by macerating alcohol with any number of botanicals and aromatics such as spices, barks, roots, fruits.  My syrups have no alcohol content, and are infusions.

What’s behind the name “Monarch Bitters”?

Phaedra Achor:  I’ve always been very drawn to the monarch butterfly, its beauty and place in the world, its journey and metamorphosis, all of which are very symbolic for me.  Another piece fits in with my logo—a woman wearing a crown of wild flowers.  Since this is a botanically based product, I really wanted to convey the message of a strong and purposeful woman, a monarch of the forest, who is using the power of botanicals to create.

When and how did you start Monarch Bitters?

Phaedra Achor:  I love flavor chemistry, especially working with plants and botanicals to create flavor profiles.  In 2015, I hosted a cocktail party and wanted to do something very different, so I started planning a few months early.  My idea was to create five unique cocktails.  In my research, I came across these wonderful pre and post-Prohibition cocktails, all of which called for bitters.  I remember looking into bitters and thinking ‘I can do this.’  I ended up using barks and roots and herbs and spices and I created five bitters, one for each of the cocktails I served.  It was a huge hit.  At some point during this gathering, I walked into my living room and found this woman, a guest of a guest, someone I did not know at all, sniffing my tincture bottles.  She asked where these bitters came from.  I told her I made them all and she was blown away.  She explained that she was a bartender and that my bitters were far superior to what she was using and she offered to connect me with the owner where she worked.  I never followed through on that, but she planted a seed at just the right moment.  She left and I never saw her again but she was vital.

After that party, I started researching who was making bitters in Sonoma County, no one, and the craft cocktail industry.  I learned that people were using bitters like cooks use spices in the kitchen, so I thought this was a very interesting niche.  I was surprised that no one was doing this in Sonoma County because we are such an artisanal community.  I spent all of 2016 researching and reformulating and that’s because a lot of the botanicals I had chosen to use were considered dietary herbal supplements by the FDA.  I had to decide if I wanted my business to be categorized as a medicine, a dietary herbal supplement, or if I wanted it to be food bitters.  I’m not an herbalist and wasn’t interested in making herbal medicine, so I had to make some changes.  I launched in 2017 and from there, it just taken off.  Those contests which have recognized my bitters have been such a complement and honor and really fueled my business.

How do you come up with your flavor profiles, which are so unique?

Phaedra Achor:   The ideas just come to me.  I think this comes from my culinary background.  It’s taken a long time for me to own this and to state it out loud but I have ‘flavor wisdom.’  I just know how flavors will come together and taste.  Aside from the orange, lavender and aromatics, which are quite common bitters flavors, I have very intentionally created flavor profiles that didn’t previously exist outside of my brand, such as cayenne ginger, bacon tobacco, and honey aromatics.  I recently created a smoked salt and peppercorn bitters, which is also a fantastic culinary bitters.  Bitters can be used widely and people just aren’t aware of their versatility.  Aside from alcohol, bitters can be added to sparking water, lemonade, teas, coffees and in baking and cooking to replace an extract.  I’ve added my cherry vanilla bitters to whipped cream and it creates a wonderful cherry cordial whipped cream with a gorgeous flavor.

Is there a reason why you use dropper bottles?

Phaedra Achor:  Yes, it’s for accuracy and it recalls the history of bitters, which were initially used as medicine.  When I’m using the dropper and drawing up the bitters, it feels healing and right.

What the best way to taste bitters?

Phaedra Achor:  If people want to taste bitters straight, I will have them make a fist and hold out their hand upright, like they were holding a candle.  I’ll put a little drop right into that little divot between the thumb and index finger and they can taste it with their tongue.

Your ideas for bitters and cheese.

Phaedra Achor:  I tend to like softer, creamier cheeses, like bries.  Typically, the astringency of high fruit alcohol can be challenging with foods, so for a cocktail, I tend to go with a lower AVB  (alcohol by volume) content found in sherries or brandies and add my bitters to that when I want to indulge in cheese.  I’ve also taken my Citrus Basil Bitters and mixed it with honey to create a bittered honey to use as a pairing with cheese.   Bitters, adding bitter to the palate, can create wonderful opportunities to pair with food and cheese.  When it comes to cheeses, I work more with my citrus and aromatic flavors.

What’s next for Monarch Bitters?

Phaedra Achor: I am working on opening up a little apothecary in downtown Petaluma that will be a storefront for all of my products and hope to be open in June.  Right now, I am one of three bitters companies in the North Bay (King Floyd’s, Bitter Girl Bitters) and on Sunday, March 31, we will all be competing in The Bitter Brawl at Young and Yonder Spirits in Healdsburg.  This is a benefit for Compassion Without Borders.  We’ll each be paired with a bartender and will compete to create the best cocktail.

 

Details:  California’s 13th Artisan Cheese Festival is March 23-24, 2019 at various cheese country locations in Sonoma and Marin counties. Tickets for all festival events are sold separately online.  All events take place, rain or shine.

Click here for full information. Chick here to go to Eventbrite to purchase tickets

 

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March 21, 2019 Posted by | Food, Wine | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Connoisseur’s quest—13th Annual California Artisan Cheese Festival, March 23-4, 2019

Farm tour participants at Tomales Farmstead Creamery, learning all about dairy goats and cheese-making.  This year, nine farm tours are offered at the California Artisan Cheese Festival.   In Tour E,  “Farm Forward, ” Farmstead Creamery will showcase their new Daily Driver SF venture by providing a gourmet brunch to participants.  This tour starts out Saturday morning at Tamara Hicks and David Jablons’ Toluma Farms dairy in West Petaluma, where guests will meet “the kids.”  Afterwards, it’s off to historic Tomales to Jan Lee’s AppleGarden Farm, where grazing pasture has been transformed to an orchard where apples are dry-farmed for cider. The tour wraps at the Marin French Cheese Company, the country’s oldest continuously operating cheese company.  All along the way, there are bites, drinks, and photo ops. Photo: Kelly J Owen

It happens every March—people from round the country gather for the California Artisan Cheese Festival and a weekend of cheese and all it can be paired with.  Tickets are on sale now for the two-day festival, which turns 13 this year, and is now headquartered at the Flamingo Hotel in Santa Rosa.  If you are interested in a farm tour, buy your tickets now.  Who wouldn’t be?  Nine wonderful tours kick off this year’s festival on Saturday morning and they all include an upscale lunch as well as lots of interaction and sampling.  You get to meet innovative local cheesemakers and “ooh and ahh” their baby goats in bucolic abodes, as well as sample and learn about artisan delicacies that pair well with cheese.

Back in town, at the Flamingo Hotel, the festival offers five interactive seminars with bestselling authors, cult cheesemakers, and luminaries of cocktails, ciders and craft beers. On Saturday evening, a new event, “Cheese, Bites & Booze!” at the Jackson Family Wines Hangar, promises nonstop fun as cheesemakers, chefs and cheesemongers compete to create the best cheesy bite.  Regional artisan wine, cider, spirits, and beer are on the house!

Get up early Sunday morning for a scrumptious brunch, at Saralee & Richard’s Barn at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds, featuring cheese in every course and a live cooking demonstration by chefs/owners Daniel Kedan and Marianna Gardenhire of Michelin Guide awarded Backyard Restaurant in Forestville.  The weekend concludes with the renowned Artisan Marketplace which brings together leading artisan cheesemakers, authors, and dozens of specialty food, beer, wine and spirit producers for a final round of cheese and shopping.  This year, the marketplace will be serving specialty cocktails too.  And did I mention samples galore?  The festival has non-profit status and its proceeds support California farmers and cheesemakers in their ongoing effort to advance sustainability.

For those of lucky enough to live in the heart of cheese land, this is an event that is too good to pass up.

Details:  California’s 13th Artisan Cheese Festival is March 23-24, 2019 at various cheese country locations in Sonoma and Marin counties. Tickets for all festival events—farms tours, seminars, Saturday evening “Cheese, Bites & Booze,” Sunday morning “Bubbles & Brunch,” and Sunday’s Marketplace—  are all sold separately online.  All events take place, rain or shine.

Click here for full information. Chick here to go to Eventbrite to purchase tickets.

February 3, 2019 Posted by | Food, Wine | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cheese Lover? Your Ultimate Cheese weekend awaits at the 11th California Artisan Cheese Festival, Friday-Sunday, in and around Petaluma

Cheese royals Sue Conley and Peggy Smith (L & R), co-founders of Cowgirl Creamery, will join sisters Jill Giacomini Basch and Lynn Giacomini Stray of Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese to share their cheese stories in a “Cream of the Crop” seminar Saturday morning at the 11th California Artisan Cheese Festival.  Participants will savor artfully composed bites of cheese paired with local craft rums while learning about the unique terroir of the picturesque Point Reyes area. They will also receive a comp subscription to “Culture” magazine. This is just 1 of 6 exciting seminars offered at this year’s festival, which includes farm tours, curated wine and cheese evening tastings, gourmet competitions, cheese-centric dinners and a brunch prepared by celebrity chefs and Sunday’s legendary tasting tent and market. Photo: Books, Inc.

From newly-released small-batch artisan cheeses to those that have an international following, the focus of the 11th California Artisan Cheese Festival is on our region’s artisan cheese and the inside track on haute pairings and pours.  This wonderful event, which kicks off Friday, is held in and around Petaluma’s Sheraton Sonoma County and is considered one of the country’s top, if not the best, artisan cheese festivals.  Friday is always devoted to day-long farm tours which get more creative every year.  These are so popular they sell out within days of being announced in January.  The opportunity to meet the farm animals and to get the low-down on what makes our area’s cheese so special straight from the farmers who produce it always proves too good to pass up.  Each tour also includes a gourmet lunch with wine in a bucolic setting and an informative talk by a leading cheese educator.  Don’t despair, there are still two full days (Sat and Sun) of fascinating activities that are not yet sold out.

Saturday’s Seminars and Pairings Demos

A good number of spaces are still available in the seminars listed below, all which are held in or within a few steps of the hotel (click here for full descriptions and pricing).  Show up early to purchase your tickets in person at festival headquarters in the lobby of the Sheraton.

Saturday morning: 10 to 11:30 AM:

Cheese & Charcuterie (Vanessa Chang and author, educator Laura Werlin) Foolproof pairings of artisan cheese, old world meats and rosé.

Mighty Morphing Milk (author, educator Janet Fletcher, Liam Callahan (Bellwether Farms), Jennifer Bice (Redwood Hill Farm & Creamery) Explore the magical transformation of exceptional goat, sheep and cow milk into yogurt, fresh cheese and aged cheese with an emphasis on cultures, techniques and timing decisions.  Plentiful tastings.

Cream of the Crop (Sue Conley and Peggy Smith, co-founders Cowgirl Creamery and Jill Giacomini Stray and Lynn Giacomini Stray, co-founders of Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese) A lively conversation about cheese, politics and preserving family farms with tastings and cheese pairings with local craft rums.

Petaluma’s Achadinha Cheese Company (Osh-a-deen-a), renowned for its blended goat and cow milk cheese, participates regularly in the festival’s popular farm tours.  The Pachecho family’s third generation run both Achadinha Cheese Company and the Pacheco Family Dairy but will swear that it’s the animals that run everything.   Their 250 goats and 60 cows are pastured on 230 sprawling acres on Chileno Valley Road.  Achadinha is the creator of the famous mold-ripened aged goat’s milk cheese, “Capricious,” whose memorable sweetness is directly related to the farm’s terroir.  The family also produces a mean feta.  Photo: Achadinha

Saturday Afternoon: 1:30 to 3 PM:

Cheese and Chocolate (Vanessa Chang and author, educator Laura Werlin)  An indulgent exploration of two of life’s pleasures: cheese and chocolate with an emphasis on great pairings and how to heighten the pleasure even more with beer and port.

California Cheese: Past, Present, and Future (Kiri Fisher, The Cheese School) Taste your way through the history of cheese as you learn more about the special roots of our local dairy industry, the cheese-making renaissance of the 1980’s and 1990’s, the challenges the industry currently faces and what cheeses are on the horizon.

Saturday evening Cheese & Cocktails, 5 to 7 PM:

A new two hour event, event under the Big Top at the Sheraton featuring cheesemakers showcasing their favorite cheeses while local craft distilleries sample their best spirits both as straight pours and mixed cocktails.  The mood is celebratory and this is great place to meet friends for drinks.

Sunday Artisan Cheese Tasting & Marketplace, 12 to 4 PM:

Say “hello” to the makers as you gather under the big top Sunday for a final cheesy soirée with over 90 artisan producers of local cheeses, wines, beers, ciders and other specialty foods.  Discover the next wave of interesting cheese accompaniments, cheesemaking products, books and the new innovative cheese vaults that let you preserve your expensive cheeses.

Sunday’s Artisan Cheese Tasting and Marketplace is the festival’s bustling grand finale. New this year is Volo Chocolate of Healdsburg—small-batch handmade chocolates with beans sourced from Mexico’s Chiapas and Oaxaca regions and stone ground and fire-roasted in traditional Mexican style. Each bar comes in an earthy expressionist wrapper, just as artful as the contents. Photo: Volo

Don’t miss the demos!  Pick up new recipes, tips and tricks from cheese twins, Charlie and Michael Kalish, winners of Season 7 of “The Great Food Truck Race” and hosts of their own Food network Show “Big Cheese,” who will give a “Grilled Cheese Two Ways” demo at 12:30 PM.

Award winning local food writer and author, Michele Anna Jordan will demonstrate Butter Making at 1:45 PM, teaching everyone how they can churn their own butter at home in just minutes. There will ample samples of organic goat, sheep and cow milk butters and attendees can take a hand at the churn.

Aside from eating well and to your heart’s content, the tasting tent is an exciting launch pad for gourmet products which are just getting their start.  This year’s “gotta have it” find is Volo Chocolate, the love child of Healdsburg chefs, Jeff and Susan Mall.  In 2015, the couple sold their beloved Zin restaurant and moved to Baja to embark on a quiet life as resort chefs.  Soon, they found themselves enamored with Mexican cacao and they embraced the traditional Mexican method of fire-roasting the cacao beans to create their own chocolate.  Now, they are back in Healdsburg creating small-batch handmade bean-to-bar chocolates with beans sourced from Mexico’s Chiapas and Oaxaca regions.  These delectable bars are available mainly through their website, so this is your chance to sample and pounce.

Other newcomers to this year’s tent include:  Chico Honey Co., Dick Taylor Chocolates, Firebrand Artisan Breads, Hensley Hard Goods, Joseph Jewel Winery, Lemonbird Preserves, Moonside Creamery, and Seismic Brewing.

Details:  California’s 11th Artisan Cheese Festival is March 24-26, 2017 at the Sheraton Sonoma County in Petaluma and various cheese country locations.  Tickets for all festival events are sold separately online until March 23 (Thursday) and then will be available at the event itself.  All events take place, rain or shine.

Click here for full information. Chick here to go to Eventbrite to purchase tickets.

March 23, 2017 Posted by | Food | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cheesemaking in Poland 7,500 years ago: Princeton Archaeologist, Dr. Peter Bogucki tells the story with archaeology, analytical chemistry and genetics at SRJC this Sunday, March 6, 2016

Early in his career, Princeton Archeaologist, Dr. Peter Bogucki based a ground-breaking theory on the development of Western civilization on cheesemaking and ancient chards of pottery he unearthed in Northern Poland. It took thirty years for developments in modern biochemistry to prove him right. Photo: Frank Wojciechowski

Early in his career, Princeton Archaeologist, Dr. Peter Bogucki based a ground-breaking theory about the development of Western Civilization on cheesemaking and ancient chards of pottery he unearthed in Northern Poland. It took thirty years for developments in modern biochemistry to prove him right. Photo: Frank Wojciechowski

We all know that archaeology entails a great deal of puzzle solving. In 1981, Princeton Archaeologist Peter Bogucki was a key player on an international team of archaeologists investigating ancient Polish agricultural sites when he revisited a site in the Kuyavia region of Northern Poland.  The site yielded some roughly 7,000 year-old hole-pierced “potsherds”—prehistoric pottery fragments.  Later, when Bogucki (pronounced bow-good’-ski) was back in the States visiting a friend in Vermont, he examined some 19th century sieve-like ceramics used in cheesemaking that were somehow similar.  The spark was lit!  On the drive home, it hit him.  Could it be that those shreds of perforated pottery, that had been unearthed for years at Neolithic farming sites in northern Poland, were evidence of ancient cheesemaking?   In 1984, he revealed his theory in the Oxford Journal of Archaeology.  The hitch was that it was impossible to prove that that the bits of pottery were the remains of a cheesemaker rather some other type of strainer.

It would take some of the most cutting edge developments in biochemistry—and 30 years—until researchers at the University of Bristol used a new type of test to measure ancient molecular remnants embedded within the pottery.  When evidence of bovine dairy lipids were found, Bogucki’s hypothesis was finally confirmed and the scientific floodgates were opened.

The presence of these bovine milk byproducts in the potsherds not only provided evidence that perforated pots were used to separate cheese curds from whey, it also explains how Neolithic Europeans, who were generally unable to digest lactose, were able to use milk for food—the whey retains the bulk of the lactose in milk, allowing the farmers to eat the low-lactose cheese.  This discovery, which highlights the interplay between human cultural development and biological evolution, was published in the scientific journal Nature in December 2012 and has attracted worldwide attention.

Science is the art of refinement and enlightenment.  The transformation of milk to a more tolerable product, cheese, for the lactose-intolerant may have helped promote dairying among the first farmers in Europe, Bogucki postulated.  Richard Evershed and his team at the University of Bristol, who were in close contact with Bogucki, further postulated that the presence of dairying over several generations may have set in motion a biological change in Europeans—lactase persistence—retaining the lactase enzyme, which breaks down lactose, well into adulthood, which changed Western digestive capabilities.  The discovery that the modern European digestive system is partly a legacy of Neolithic dairy farming practices is in turn fueling new research.

A clay fragment, or potsherd, found to be early cheese-making equipment. (Mélanie Salque et al, Nature)

A clay fragment, or potsherd, found to be early cheese-making equipment. (Mélanie Salque et al, Nature)

This Sunday, at 4 p.m., Bogucki will give the Robert Braidwood lecture, The Archaeology of Cheese: Cattle, Strainers, Chemistry, and Genes, at the Petaluma campus of SRJC in Ellis Auditorium (Room PC310).  His talk is free and open to the public.

With the 10th California Artisan Cheese Festival following next weekend (March 18-20), in and around Petaluma’s Sheraton Sonoma County and various cheese country locations, March promises a bounty of cheese-related events. The cheese festival, which focuses on cheese sampling and education, also offers a full day of cheese-related seminars but none of this year’s seminars focus on the history of cheese or offer the depth of science and archaeology that will be covered in Bogucki’s talk.  Click here for ARThound’s coverage.

More on Dr. Peter Bogucki: Currently, Dr. Bogucki is Associate Dean for Undergraduate Affairs at the School of Engineering and Applied Science at Princeton University.  He received his degrees from Harvard University (Ph.D.) and the University of Pennsylvania.  Since 1976 he has studied early farming societies in Europe (ca. 6000 – 3000 BCE), specifically in Poland with excavations at the sites of Brześć Kujawski and Osłonki.  Dr. Bogucki has published extensively, and received numerous honors for his work.

Details: The Archaeology of Cheese: Cattle, Strainers, Chemistry, and Genes is Sunday, March 6 at 4 p.m., Ellis Auditorium, Petaluma campus of SRJC, 680 Sonoma Mountain Parkway Petaluma. The lecture is free but a parking fee is required for all-on campus parking.

March 5, 2016 Posted by | Food | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tickets for the 10th California Artisan Cheese Festival are now on sale: ARThound talks cheese with Judy Groverman Walker, the festival’s executive director

My heart goes to ewe! The 10th California Artisan Cheese Festival has expanded its beloved Farm Tours and will offer tours on both Friday and Saturday and two new tours in the State Capitol Area. These intimate tours are held at various farms and creameries and give visitors a glimpse into the important role of the farmer and where cheese gets its start. Lunch is included and there’s plenty of time to pet and ohhh and ahh the babies as well watch artisan cheese being made. The festival is March 18-20, 2016. Image: courtesy Derrick Story, California Artisan Cheese Festival

My heart goes out to ewe! The 10th California Artisan Cheese Festival is March 18-20, 2016.  The festival has expanded its beloved Farm Tours to both Friday and Saturday and will offer two new tours in the Sacramento Valley area.  These intimate tours are held at various farms and creameries and give visitors a glimpse into the life and important role of the farmer and where and how artisan cheese gets its start. Lunch is included and there’s plenty of time to pet the babies.  Image: courtesy Derrick Story, California Artisan Cheese Festival

 

Love cheese?  A growing number of artisan cheese aficionados travel far and wide to cheese gatherings across the country, but we in the Bay Area don’t have to because Petaluma and its pastoral farmlands are cheese paradise for both producers and consumers.  This March 18-20, 2016, California’s Artisan Cheese Festival, takes place in and around Petaluma’s Sheraton Sonoma County and it’s considered one of the nation’s top, if not the best, cheese festivals.  The festival celebrates its 10th anniversary this year and promise a glorious immersion in all things cheese.  From new small-batch and very rare artisan cheeses to those that have already garnered international recognition, the spotlight is on the vibrant hues, bold aromas, and surprising flavors that make our region’s cheeses so divine.  You’ll meet the local farmers who produce these cheeses and get to “ohh” and “ahhh” and cuddle their kids, lambs and calves.  You’ll have classes with legendary food tzars who will feed you and, in the process, help you drill down on your own personal preferences. You’ll be briefed on the latest trends in pairing artisan cheeses with special foods, boutique wines and artisan brewed beers and ciders.  And what stories you’ll hear!  But unless you register soon, you’ll miss out on the farm tours and the special events this three-day extravaganza has to offer because the festival always sells out.

In honor of its 10th anniversary, the festival will expand its beloved Farm Tours to both Friday and Saturday with two new destinations in the Sacramento area and educational components will be included in every Farm Tour.  A not-to-be-missed 10 Year Anniversary Celebration will be held under the Big Top on Saturday night. For the festival’s full schedule and to buy your tickets ($45 to $135), click here.

ARThound spoke with Judy Groverman Walker, the festival’s executive director, about this year’s festivities.  Judy has been at the helm for the past five years.  Like Arthound, Judy grew up in a 4-H farming family with deep roots in Sonoma County and has had lots of experience with raising and grazing animals as well as understanding the economics of running a dairy and bringing a product to market.  Her transition to a career in designing and promoting food events seems a perfect fit for this Windsor resident who spent most of life in Sonoma County.

Judy Groverman Walker, Executive Director, California Artisan Cheese Festival, March 18-20, 2016. The Festival celebrates its 10th anniversary this year takes place in and around the Sheraton Sonoma County, Petaluma. Cropped photo. Original photo: Derrick Story, photographer California Artisan Cheese Festival

Judy Groverman Walker, Executive Director, California Artisan Cheese Festival, March 18-20, 2016. Cropped photo. Original photo: Derrick Story, photographer California Artisan Cheese Festival

 

This is the 10th anniversary of this very special festival…what’s your history with the festival and how has it changed since you became the executive director?   

Judy Groverman Walker: I’ve been involved since 2012 and, prior to that, I organized a number of local food and wine events—I helped start Kendall Jackson’s Heirloom Tomato Festival and worked with River Valley Winegrowers who used to do Grape to Glass, a three-day event.  The California Artisan Cheese Festival has been growing steadily each year, both in attendees and cheesemakers.  This year, we have 33 artisan cheesemakers already confirmed. This is always a struggle because those who are located further away from the festival are the hardest to pull away for a weekend because, either they’re a small farm and just can’t get away, or it’s just not cost effective.  Most of the cheesemakers are from around the Bay Area.  There’s never been much Southern California representation but, this year, Golden Valley Farm, from Chowchilla, the only sheep dairy in the San Joaquin Valley, will be participating again.  They produce some wonderful Pecorino cheeses that  have the flavor and aroma of various wines.  Last year was their first time at the festival and they participated in a seminar and were at Sunday’s Artisan Cheese Tasting & Marketplace.  Phillip Franco from Sierra Cheese in Compton will participate as a panelist in one of our Farm tours too.  While I’ve been with the festival, I’ve noticed more cheesemakers popping up in proximity to the festival (the Petaluma area) and I think the festival has had something to do with that.

Golden Valley Ubriaco from Golden Valley Farm, Chowchilla. Ubracio means “drunken” in Italian and this Pecorino cheese is aged three months and then covered completely in grape pomace (the post-press pulpy remains) and aged another three months. The result is a Pecorino cheese with the aroma and flavor of Chardonnay. This is also available in Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel. Photo: Golden Valley Farm

Golden Valley Ubriaco from Golden Valley Farm, Chowchilla. Ubracio means “drunken” in Italian and this Pecorino cheese is aged three months and then covered completely in grape pomace (the post-press pulpy remains) and aged another three months. The result is a Pecorino cheese with the aroma and flavor of Chardonnay. This is also available in Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel. Photo: Golden Valley Farm

 

You were the first festival in the country to offer an extended weekend of artisan cheese-related events. There are more cheese festivals now; what remains unique about your festival?

Judy Groverman Walker:  Because we live in an area that really appreciates fine cheese, you might assume there would be cheese festivals all over the rest of the country too.  Actually, there are just a handful and ours is one of the biggest, the most comprehensive, and the best.  The Great Wisconsin Cheese Festival in Little Chute (three days, early June) and the Vermont Cheesemaker’s Festival (one day, mid-July) are large festivals but don’t have our breadth.  The Oregon Cheese Festival is also very well known but it’s little and just one day and is mainly about sampling.  We give participants the chance to taste cheeses from over 30 artisan cheesemakers, so that’s a lot of variety.  Because we represent California and so many diverse artisan cheesemakers, we maintain a strong education element that reflects and sets trends.  All of this is in one place.  Our farm tours are very special too and we are always working to improve them. They give consumers a chance to see firsthand how the cheeses are made and to meet and pet the goats, sheep and cows and water buffalos and get up close and personal with the farmers and ask questions about the entire process.  These are our most popular events and they start to sell out a couple of days after we put up the announcement.

This year, we’ve added a panel discussion or some sort of education aspect to each tour. We’re seeing a lot of interest in local farmstead ciders right now and they happen to pair wonderfully with cheeses, so we’ve incorporated cider stops into a couple of the farm tours.  Farm Tour C will visit Apple Garden Farm in Tomales and Farm Tour D visits Devoto Orchards in Sebastopol. We realized that some of some of our cheesemakers don’t get enough attention because they are further away, so we added two farm tours that take place in the Sacramento Valley area.  One tour goes North and the other goes South, with stops along the way where participants can meet cheesemakers and find out what they are doing that might be different from what we are doing here.

How do like them apples? Devoto Orchards Cider is a family owned farm and cidery in Sebastopol. Jolie Devoto-Wade and husband, Hunter Wade, tend her family’s orchards, growing over 100 heirloom apple varieties, all dry-farmed and certified organic, and create two lines of artisanal ciders with the nuances of fine wine. Their “Save the Gravenstein” cider salutes the long history (back to 1812) of the once abundant Gravenstein apple, a victim of the region’s vineyard mania. This cider is made from 90% Gravensteins, semi-dry and heavy on the acidity, balanced by caramelized apple and spice notes. It boasts low alcohol content so you won’t get smashed drinking it. Farm Tour D includes lunch at the picturesque Devoto farm, with ample time to tour the orchard and taste their three estate ciders paired with cheeses from Redwood Hill Farm. Image: courtesy Devoto Orchards

How do like them apples? Devoto Orchards Cider is a family-owned farm and cidery in Sebastopol. Jolie Devoto-Wade and husband, Hunter Wade, tend her family’s orchards, growing over 100 heirloom apple varieties, all dry-farmed and certified organic, and create two lines of artisanal ciders with the nuances of fine wine. Their “Save the Gravenstein” cider salutes the long history (back to 1812) of the once abundant Gravenstein apple, a victim of the region’s vineyard mania. This cider is made from 90% Gravensteins, semi-dry and heavy on the acidity, balanced by caramelized apple and spice notes. It boasts low alcohol content so you won’t get smashed drinking it. Farm Tour D includes lunch at the picturesque Devoto farm, with ample time to tour the orchard and taste their three estate ciders paired with cheeses from Redwood Hill Farm. Image: courtesy Devoto Orchards

 

Are there any special plans for your 10th anniversary?

Judy Groverman Walker:  We’re still working out the details but Saturday night will be our 10th anniversary celebration.  We’ve invited restaurants to come in and we’re partnering up cheesemakers with chefs and we’ll have live music and a photo booth and it will be a very fun and festive environment.  Look for more on that in the coming weeks on the festival webpage.

Laura Werlin has written six bestselling, award-winning books on cheese, the first of which, The New American Cheese, published in 2000, set the stage for what is now the American artisan cheese movement. She received the prestigious James Beard award for her 2003 book, The All American Cheese and Wine Book. Over the years, she's remained relevant, humorous and ever passionate about cheese. This year, her Saturday seminar tackles pairing cheese and chocolate. Photo: Derrick Story, California Artisan Cheese Festival

Laura Werlin has written six bestselling, award-winning books on cheese, the first of which, The New American Cheese, published in 2000, set the stage for what is now the American artisan cheese movement. She received the prestigious James Beard award for her 2003 book, The All American Cheese and Wine Book. Over the years, she’s remained relevant, humorous and ever passionate about cheese. This year, her Saturday seminar tackles pairing cheese and chocolate. Photo: Derrick Story, California Artisan Cheese Festival

Laura Werlin's 2015 seminar, "Mac & Cheese Please!" was a hit. Werlin always includes informational placements in her seminars that make it easy for participants to follow and remember the pairings they sampled and liked. Photo: courtesy Derrick Story, California Artisan Cheese Festival

Laura Werlin’s 2015 seminar, “California’s Sheep’s Milk Cheeses (and Wine)” was a hit.  Informational placements are used in most of the festival seminars making it easy for participants to follow and remember the pairings they sampled and liked. Photo: courtesy Derrick Story, California Artisan Cheese Festival

 

Janet Fletcher is the author or co-author of more than 20 books on food, cheese, and wine, including her very popular newsletter Planet Cheese. She resides in Napa Valley but teaches cheese-appreciation and cooking classes around the country. This year, she is teaching the Saturday afternoon pairing seminar “Dubbel Down: Belgian-style Beer and Cheese,” a primer that will introduce the best Belgium-style craft beers made stateside and pair those with their perfect American cheesy partners. Be prepared to be inspired─Fletcher can tease apart the mechanics of flavor and explain the science behind taste like no other. She’s also conducting cheese tasting seminars for Friday’s Farm Tours A & B. Image: courtesy Derrick Story, California Artisan Cheese Festival

Janet Fletcher is the author or co-author of more than 20 books on food, cheese, and wine, including her very popular newsletter Planet Cheese. She resides in Napa Valley but teaches cheese-appreciation and cooking classes around the country. This year, she is teaching the Saturday afternoon pairing seminar “Dubbel Down: Belgian-style Beer and Cheese,” a primer that will introduce the best Belgium-style craft beers made stateside and pair those with their perfect American cheesy partners. Be prepared to be inspired─Fletcher can tease apart the mechanics of flavor and explain the science behind taste like no other. She’s also conducting cheese tasting seminars for Friday’s Farm Tours A & B. Image: courtesy Derrick Story, California Artisan Cheese Festival

 

Any speakers who have proven to be crowd favorites over the years that you invite back again and again?

Judy Groverman Walker:  We include Laura Werlin and Janet Fletcher every year because they are such experts and such great communicators and teachers.  This year, they will also participate in the farm tours.   Laura will do a seminar with some California’s instrumental cheesemakers (Farm Tour C) and she’ll also do a Saturday afternoon seminar, ‘Farm to Table, Bean to Bar’ on pairing cheese and chocolate, which is selling very well.

Janet Fletcher, who has spent years and year working with cheese, will do a mixed milk cheese tasting seminar that we’ve incorporated into Farm tours A and B) and will lead a Saturday afternoon pairing seminar,  ‘Dubbel Down: Belgian-style Beer and Cheese’ which is a primer on Belgian style beers made in the U.S. and American artisan cheeses.

Chef, author and teacher, John Ash, has been involved with the festival since it began and has done wonderful seminars and cooking demos and has overseen some of our dinners and carried out the live festival broadcast with KSRO.  This will be the first year he’s doing the Sunday morning brunch which has California cheese at every course and features our region’s sparkling wines.  He’ll also do a live cooking demonstration and I’m very excited about that.

You offer a sake and cheese pairing seminar on Saturday afternoon with Chef Tominaga of Hana and sommelier Robert Bath…is this the newest trend?

Judy Groverman Walker:  We’ve had some of our cheesemakers experimenting with sake and that’s why we’re giving it a try.  I’ve not heard that this is trending but after the festival there may be a lot more interest.  And, of course, if sous chefs believe it can work, then it will be in restaurants and take off.  It’s such an odd combination but we feel it will have appeal.  I wish I could go because it’s something I know very little about.

For someone who has one day to spend at the festival, what do you recommend?

Judy Groverman Walker:  If you like cheese and you’re a restaurant person and you want your cheese prepared into something, then Saturday evening’s special California Cheesin’ event is for you because chefs from leading restaurants are going to use cheese in very creative and diverse dishes.  If you just want pure cheese sampling then Friday night’s Cheesemongers’ Duel will offer cheeses that famous cheesemongers have turned into “the best bite” and Sunday’s Artisan Cheese Tasting and Marketplace is straight cheese in its raw form.

Sunday’s Tasting Tent & Marketplace is the festival’s bustling grand finale. The event brings together nearly 100 artisan cheesemakers, winemakers, brewers, chefs and producers who sample and sell their products directly to attendees. Guests can sample the next wave of local, hand-crafted cheeses, boutique wines and artisan-brewed beers as well as cheese products and haute accompaniments. Photo: courtesy Scott McDaniel, California Artisan Cheese Festival

Sunday’s Tasting Tent & Marketplace is the festival’s bustling grand finale. The event brings together nearly 100 artisan cheesemakers, winemakers, brewers, chefs and producers who sample and sell their products directly to attendees. Guests can sample the next wave of local, hand-crafted cheeses, boutique wines and artisan-brewed beers as well as cheese products and haute accompaniments. Photo: courtesy Derrick Story, California Artisan Cheese Festival

 

What is the “value” in spending $45 to enter Sunday’s tasting tent?

Judy Groverman Walker:  We give you the opportunity to try all these cheeses and include all all the beer, wine and cider you can drink, along with live entertainment.  You also get an insulated insulate shopping, an ice pack and a wine glass. You are face to face with the actual cheesemakers, talking cheese and can come away with a lot of information.  In between tastes, you can watch live demonstrations conducted by local chefs and cheese experts on topics like how to put together the perfect cheese board for a party.  There are lots of cheese accessories too—cheeseboards, cheese knives—and local high-end gourmet accompaniments like small batch jams, tapenades, olive oils, and the latest artisan whole grain crackers.  You’re not going to see jewelry makers because we keep it cheese-related. Lots of people use this as a head-start on holiday shopping and entertaining too.  The newest CA artisan cheese spreads are showcased too.  This year, I’m excited about Chevoo (pronounced SHAY-voo), run by an Australian couple who live in Sonoma.  They’ve taken fresh Cyprus Grove goat curd and put it into an olive oil base that has been infused with different herbs.  This is brand new.  The tasting tent is the place to try all of these new gourmet products.

We have artisan cheesemakers from outside our area who want to participate but we try to limit it to California. We let Beehive Cheese (hand-rubbed Barely Buzzed, Teahive, Seahive) attend because they’re from Northern Utah and there’s no other cheese organization they can associate with and we are the closest festival they can attend.  And we also let Willapa Hills come down from Southwest Washington come too.  They started out with just sheep’s milk cheese and now have expanded into sheep/cow milk blends (Two-faced Blue, Ewe Old Cow).

Chevoo CDP&G Jar Single

Sunday’s Tasting Tent & Marketplace at the 10th Artisan Cheese Festival brings together nearly 100 artisan cheesemakers, winemakers, brewers, chefs and producers who sample and sell their products directly to attendees. Just launched in October, CHEVOO is an exquisite combination of hand-blended chèvre marinated in extra virgin olive oil that has been infused with unique combinations of spices, herbs, chiles and pollens. You can slather it on pretty much anything, melt it, or crumble the chèvre over your favorite dish and toss with the infused oil. The Sonoma-based company is run Gerard and Susan Tuck, Aussies who relocated. They use Cypress Grove Chevre and California Olive Oil. Three blends to date: CHEVOO Smoked Sea Salt & Rosemary, CHEVOO California Dill Pollen & Garlic, and CHEVOO Aleppo-Urfa Chili & Lemon. Photo: courtesy CHEVOO

Sunday’s Tasting Tent & Marketplace is the place to scout all that’s new in cheese. Just launched in October, CHEVOO is an exquisite combination of hand-blended chèvre marinated in extra virgin olive oil infused with unique combinations of spices, herbs, chiles and pollens. You can slather it, melt it, or crumble the chèvre over your favorite dish and toss with the infused oil. The Sonoma-based company is run by Gerard and Susan Tuck. They use Cypress Grove Chevre and California Olive Oil. Three blends to date: CHEVOO Smoked Sea Salt & Rosemary, CHEVOO California Dill Pollen & Garlic, and CHEVOO Aleppo-Urfa Chili & Lemon. Photo: courtesy CHEVOO

Details:  California’s 10th Artisan Cheese Festival is March 18-20, 2016 at the Sheraton Sonoma County in Petaluma and various cheese country locations.  Tickets for all festival events are sold separately and all events take place, rain or shine.  Click here to go to Eventbrite to purchase tickets.

January 12, 2016 Posted by | Food | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment