Cheese Lover? Your Ultimate Cheese weekend awaits at the 11th California Artisan Cheese Festival, Friday-Sunday, in and around Petaluma
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Tickets for the 10th California Artisan Cheese Festival are now on sale: ARThound talks cheese with Judy Groverman Walker, the festival’s executive director
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.