It’s a delicious slice of life when you visit or live in Sonoma County Wine Country: the Artisan Cheese Festival that’s now in its 9th year and drawing more cheese lovers than ever. Whether you go for the Gouda, crave chevre, fantasize over fromage blanc, or prefer dry Vella jack, you’ll want to get your tickets now for the event running March 20 through 22 across the western cities and farming towns.
Yes, it can be tough to figure out how to fit in all in, with dozens of must-do activities ranging from the host property of the Sheraton Petaluma Hotel to the coast. But here are some of our don’t-miss picks.
Cheese Creamery Tours (Friday, Mar. 20 – various tours from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.)
As always, the hands-on farm tours are a hot ticket, with all the visits to creameries and ranches quickly selling out. Guests can go straight to the source, tasting the differences between cow’s, sheep’s and goat’s milk cheeses, meeting the animals, watching cheese being made, and learning about how an animal’s diet affects a cheese’s flavor. The multiple farm visits include a lunch stop in between, with Pure Luxury Transportation shuttles to and from the Sheraton plus among each farm.
Pair If You Dare Seminar (Saturday, Mar. 21, 9:30 to 11:30 a.m.)
We love cheese, but cheese paired with pickled vegetables, smoked shellfish, chocolate, teas, sour beer, and tropical fruits? It’s possible, with the guidance of Stephanie and Thalassa Skinner, co-owners and publishers of Culture: The Word on Cheese. Sample and learn why interesting cheeses can go so well with interesting food and drink.
Chefs vs. Chefs (March 21 – 6 to 9 p.m.)
This roaming small bites and wine feast in the Sheraton ballrooms showcases more than 20 top Bay Area chefs using local artisan cheeses in a rainbow of dishes from sweet to savory. You’ve likely had cheese soufflés and sandwiches before, but this gastronomic showdown features cheeses in many mouthwatering, new and often unexpected recipes.
Bubbles and Brunch (March 22 – 9:30 a.m. to noon)
Join J Vineyards & Winery and J Executive Chef Erik Johnson take over the Sheraton for a sumptuous three course, artisan cheese-centric brunch hosted by chef Erik himself. It’s as much education and entertainment as it is eating, and he shares his tips, tricks and recipes on combining curds and cuvees. Tickets include brunch, sparkling wine and early entry into the Artisan Cheese Tasting & Marketplace at 11 am before it opens to the public at noon.
Artisan Cheese Tasting & Marketplace (March 22 – noon to 4 pm)
The Sheraton Petaluma turns into a big top for with tents sheltering some 90 artisan producers of local cheese, wine, beer, ciders and other specialty foods. You can eat, drink, discover new skills through cooking demos, and round out your culinary arsenal with a shopping treasure chest of boutique foods, cheesemaking products and books.
Tip: Many of the Artisan Cheese Festival adventures are at locations around Sonoma County, 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.