As always, the farm tours are a hot ticket for Sonoma’s Artisan Cheese Festival. For this year’s 6th Annual Artisan Cheese Festival running March 23 through 25, nearly all the visits to creameries and ranches are already sold out. So sorry, it’s too late to get in on the fun of “Tour A: Sheep, Cows & Water Buffalo,” which meanders through Petaluma’s Bellwether Farms, the Bianchi-Moreda Ranch and Valley Ford Cheese Company, plus Craig Ramini’s dairy farm and Ramini Mozzarella where Ramini is raising a herd of water buffalo for his handmade buffalo mozzarella.
Yet there is still so much more delightful cheesiness to explore in this three-day event that brings world-class cheese experts to Petaluma for a showcase of California-made varietals in an array of flavors, colors, aromas and fanciful names.
For example, why not take a bite of a toothsome seminar? Author and lecturer Laura Werlin is an expert in American artisan cheeses. She received the prestigious James Beard award for "The All American Cheese and Wine Book," which was the first tome to focus entirely on the now classic pairing, and a James Beard award nomination for "Laura Werlin’s Cheese Essentials" book. She also wrote "Great Grilled Cheese" and "Grilled Cheese, Please!" -- books that are odes to this favorite heart-warming, belly-filling comfort food.
This Saturday, she offers a “Grilled Cheese, Please!” workshop as well as a “Cheese Essentials, Wine Essentials” presentation with Master Sommelier Tim Gaiser, who is an adjunct professor for the Rudd Center for Professional Wine Studies at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in Napa Valley.
For another peek into cheesy greatness, Peg Smith and Sue Conley – the co-founders and genius inspiration behind the award winning Cowgirl Creamery - will be conducting a seminar titled “The Cheesemaker and The Chef: Milk’s Mysteries Explored from the Creamery and into the Kitchen.”
It’s also still possible to get tickets to the grand tasting events, lavish dinner parties, tours of creameries and picnics that remain a highlight of the weekend. In previous years, more than 6,000 attendees have converged to learn how to taste, buy, serve, and perhaps even make distinctive artisan cheeses, as told directly from the award-winning experts like Achadinha Cheese Co., Bellwether Farms, Central Coast Creamery, Cowgirl Creamery, and Cypress Grove Chèvre.
Plus, if you act fast, you might be able to grab a seat at one remaining tour. “Tour F - Artisan Cheese Loves Craft Beer - Brewery Tour and Cheese Inspired Dinner with Beers to Complement” is a decadent adventure, and sure to be a new signature of the Festival. The five-hour beer and cheese extravaganza features a six-course dinner prepared by chef Danny Mai (Tolay Restaurant at The Sheraton Sonoma County) and paired with the artisan beer from the nationally recognized local Petaluma brewery, Lagunitas.
The evening begins with an appetizer and a brewsky on the way to the brewery (enjoyed in a charter bus, so no worries), followed by more beers straight from the source during an interactive and informative tour of the brewery itself. Next, it’s a cheese pairing dinner that continues the sudsy magic with a menu of local artisan cheeses created specifically to be enjoyed with an array of Lagunitas specialty beers, plus a bonus of some rare finds pulled straight from the Lagunitas cellars.
Whey fun, eh?
Tip: Many of the Artisan Cheese Festival adventures are at locations around Sonoma, including specialty dinners at restaurants. Gather your cheese-loving friends and plan a night on the town with a Pure Luxury limo or Town Car.