As a child I wished that my mother would take me to a candy store, lean over and whisper in my ear that all of the candy was for me. Flash forward to last Saturday night at the Sheraton in Petaluma for a special dinner offered as part of the 4th Annual Artisan Cheese Festival - eight stations with eight chefs, eight cheesemakers, and eight vintners. In addition to the stations there were more tables of artisan cheeses and breads plus an upstairs Sweets Lounge.
Standing at the entrance to the room I smiled with anticipation knowing that there was a plate at each station just for me. Each station was unique and offered the opportunity for guests to try something new that they might not have ever thought to try.
I turned to my right and started my dining adventure. I began with a station featuring Laura Chenel artisan cheese, Chef T. Chris Jones from The Girl and the Fig, and Dutton Estate Winery. A Roasted Beet Salad was served with a lovely portion of Laura Chenel Chevre Cabecou. The salad had Kumquat Vinaigrette drizzled over Toasted Pistachios and Upland Cress. I was deliciously surprised at the flavor of this dish paired perfectly with the wine.
With excitement I made my way to the next station which featured Cowgirl Creamery, Chef Mark Stark of Willi's Wine Bar and Stark's Steakhouse, and Fortress Vineyards. The combination of two of my favorite foods, chorizo and cheese, was enough to trigger rumblings from my stomach that said, "Let me at it!" The Cowgirl Creamery Wagon Wheel Pot de Creme tasted wonderful with Chorizo, Roof Dried Cherry Tomatoes, and Fennel Pollen Sofrito. I hadn't tried Fortress Vineyards wines yet and as I sniffed the 2007 Petite Sirah I knew it was going to be very good. I was not disappointed - an excellent pairing with an excellent wine that showcased all things beautiful in Petite Sirah.
By my fifth station my palate was still fresh and ready for more due to the continuation of the winning combinations of expert chefs, cheesemakers, and vintners. There was a plate of tasty food in front of me begging to be eaten. I gazed at Point Reyes Farmstead Toma and Bacon Souffle to enjoy with American Kobe Hanger Steak and Original Blue Mornay Sauce created by Chef Jesse Llapitan of the Palace Hotel in San Francisco. I had already explored the accompanying Pride Mountain Vineyards Cabernet Franc which was an alluring ruby red and perfection on my palate. This was one of my favorite stations.
After finishing the last three heavenly stations, I headed upstairs to the Sweets Lounge. As I ascended the stairs I could hear the music from the live band and the voices of friends exchanging opinions on their adventure so far. In the middle of the room there was a selection of chocolates, bread pudding, truffles, and more! There was champagne from Keller Estate, Semillon Late Harvest from Fortress Vineyards; and Port from Trentadue, Sonoma Valley Portworks, and Pedroncelli Winery. I nibbled and sipped - a grown up kid in a candy store that surpassed my greatest imaginations.
My excitement continued into Sunday at the Artisan Cheese Marketplace. This year there were two sessions which alleviated the crowd. As soon as I arrived, I opened my insulated tote bag that was included with the price of the ticket and found a frozen ice pack to keep my cheeses cold. I unwrapped the wine glass in my bag and wondered what exquisite wines were waiting for me. It wasn't long before my tote was holding delicious artisan cheese, local honey, and wines from Fortress Vineyards (they don't have a tasting room yet!) and Montemaggiore (open by appointment only). I can't wait for next year!