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.