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.
Sonoma County Book Festival’s Windrush Farm benefit features columnist Michele Anna Jordan in conversation with author Anne Zimmerman on writer M.F.K Fisher, Sunday, August 21, 2011
Every August, in preparation for the Sonoma County Book Festival in September, now in its 12th year, there is a delightful benefit at Mimi Luebbermann’s rustic Windrush Farm in West Petaluma. This Sunday, August 21, 2011, from 2 pm to 5 pm, local author and columnist Michele Anna Jordan will be in conversation with Anne Zimmerman, author of An Extravagant Hunger: The Passionate Years of M.F.K. Fisher (Counterpoint, 2010, 261 pages, $26). In addition to lively conversation, the afternoon will feature gourmet wood-fired pizza served straight from Mimi’s outdoor oven, an oyster bar, Sonoma County wines and an “Everybody Wins” raffle where everyone will take home a great book.
“I love the opportunity to talk about Mary Frances,” said Michele Anna Jordan. “A lot of people don’t know her any more, which is a shame. She’s tremendously misunderstood in today’s world, where food has become passive entertainment. I was happy to discover Zimmerman. She takes a look at M.F.K. Fisher’s first five books and does a fairly close reading of them. She adds her own very personal story, which shows why M.F.K. Fisher had such an appeal to her at the time.”
“Fisher always bristled at being called a food writer─she was a writer,” added Jordan. “In those first five books, you see her at the height of her powers—her passion for life and for writing. She was driven to write by her own muse, not by economic need. There was a lot of heartbreak, too, which was the unspoken foundation for all of these first books, and our conversation will explore that.”
For those who aren’t aware, M.F.K. Fisher also had close ties to Northern, California. In 1972, at the age of sixty-three, after decades of extensive travel that took her all over the world, she moved into a home designed by architect David Bouverie that was situated on his 535-acre Glen Ellen ranch (today’s Bouverie Preserve). She lived there for the next two decades, writing prolifically from a cabin that she called “Last House.” She welcomed frequent guests—famous and not famous– whom she loved entertaining in a low-key, pitch-in-and-help style. Julia Child, James Beard, Alice Waters, Anne Lamott, Herb Caen, and Maya Angelou all visited and Bill Moyers filmed his PBS interview with her there.
It is the early years and Fisher’s love and knowledge of food and passion that Ann Zimmerman focuses on in An Extravagant Hunger. “No matter her location or level of emotional anguish, she always noticed the meal in front of her,” Zimmerman writes. From her first salad on the rumbling train into Paris, to the inky wines that swayed in her glass on [a ship called] the Cellina, the colors and flavors of great food and wine brought her incomparable pleasure.”
“This event at Mimi’s is always a special treat,” said JJ Wilson, one of the co-founders of the festival, a co-founder of The Sitting Room: A Community Library, a retired Sonoma State University Professor Emeritus, and a literary tour de force. “There’s amazing food and there’s always a discussion about a great new book. People have stopped reading M.F.K. Fisher and that’s too bad because she’s not dated. She is a wonderful stylist and writer and she so is quotable and that’s one of the joys of reading Anne Zimmerman’s book. She takes so much from Fisher and she had access to a lot of materials—her letters and so forth– that weren’t available to others. This resulted in a fascinating book─it’s like the very best gossip. That’s not a very high-minded way to put it, but this is very good and totally fascinating inside information.”
The “Everybody Wins” Raffle, a fundraiser for the festival, is expected to be quite popular. $10 automatically gets an entrant any book from an outstanding selection of new or gently used books. Culled from the personal collections of avid readers on the Book Festival Steering committee, these books include best sellers from Lorrie Moore, Abraham Verghese, Yiyun Li, Stieg Larsson and others. In addition to the book, the $10 gets the entrant a raffle ticket to win one of these terrific prizes:
— A copy of guest speaker Anne Zimmerman’s book, An Extravagant Hunger
— Lunch for two at the popular Dierk’s Parkside Cafe in Santa Rosa
— A bucket of seeds from the Petaluma Seed Bank supplied by Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company
Raffle tickets are $10 each or 3 for $20.
The Windrush fundraiser menu seems to get better every year. Wood-fired pizzas made with farm-fresh local organic produce will be assembled and baked by Mimi Luebbermann and her team of volunteers. There will be an oyster bar, with oysters from Tamales Bay Oyster Company, and champagne. A cheese board will feature Joe Matos’ famous St. George Azores-style cheese made on his Santa Rosa farm. Windsor Vineyards has provided two cases of wines for the event and Lagunitas Brewery, of Petaluma, has donated its popular beer. Dessert is Michele Anna Jordan’s own elegant creation, “Honeydew in Absinthe, with Fresh Mint.” (recipe provided below for ARThound readers)
Sonoma County Book Festival: This year’s Sonoma County Book Festival is September 24, 2011 and it sponsored by The Literary Arts Guild, a Sonoma County non-profit dedicated to the arts. The book festival is the main literary event in Sonoma County and, every September, for one glorious afternoon, it transforms Santa Rosa’s sleepy downtown square into a glorious hub for readers. “What it really is, is a fashion show for books,” explained of JJ Wilson. “It’s a way of drawing attention to the joys of literacy and, while it’s not in our mission statement, we want to keep these few remaining independent book stores in Sonoma County alive. This gives them a platform from which to meet readers, to sell books and to remind people that they are there. The goal is to get people to read. Sadly, we are the only book festival left in Northern, CA.”
This year’s festival will feature a mix of local writers and big-name draws like Ann Packer, Belva Davis, Maxine Hong Kingston, Jane Hirshfield. There are readings, presentations, book-signings, and panel discussions—including the ever popular panel discussions for mystery book writing and writing for film and stage. Megan McDonald, author of the Judy moody books, is the headliner for an amazing line-up of children’s programming that includes storytellers, marionettes, and a Secret Agent Jack Stalwart Treasure Hunt. There will be over 100 booths and exhibits focused on small and independent booksellers and publishers too. Visit http://www.socobookfest.org for a schedule of the days’ events and more information.
Hungry to start reading? If you haven’t read Fisher yet, Jordan recommends starting with The Gastronomical Me. “It’s Fisher at her height and the essence of who she was as a writer, said Jordan. “It covers her early experiences in California and life in France in the 1930’s and all her exploits─passionate and powerful.” Readers’ Books, of Sonoma, will be selling copies of Zimmerman’s book, An Extravagant Hunger, and an assortment of books by M.F.K. Fisher at the event on Sunday.
Details: Mimi Luebbermann’s Windrush Farm, 2263 Chileno Valley Rd., Petaluma
Sunday, August 21, 2011, 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets: $40; children 12 and under are free.
Tickets are available at Brown Paper Tickets and can be purchased (cash or check only) on Sunday at Windrush Farm.