What a Whey to Spend the Day: a Cheese Farm Tour

Nicasio Valley Cows

The word is curd, and what we’ve heard is “More cheese, please.”

People have been eating up newly introduced cheese farm tours through 2011, and so in response, the organizers are offering expanded schedules, with a longer list of destinations in more areas across Sonoma and Marin.

The interest in cheese tours began with the annual California’s Artisan Cheese Festival in Petaluma, where over the past few years, attendees could visit a select group of creameries and dairies. The trips have been sell-outs, and for this spring’s gala, another day of tours was added.

It still wasn’t enough for a hungry public.

So now, anyone who wants to take a traipse down the dairy trail can, with the inaugural Cheese Country Tours schedule kicking off June 15 and running through September with half- and full-day trips to locations across the North Bay. If things go as well as expected, the tours will open to a year-round program.

At Relish Culinary Adventures in Healdsburg, meanwhile, owner Donna del Rey has answered the creamery call with a brand new program called “A Day of Cheese: Dairy and Creamery Tours, Cheese Tastings and Lunch.” The first event, on July 7, showcases Point Reyes Farmstead and Nicasio Valley Cheese Company, including guided tastings and cooking classes.


Why people have an udder fascination for the creamy, tangy, sharp and sometimes sweet stuff is obvious to anyone who has gone to California’s Artisan Cheese Festival. It’s a true labor of love for the craftspeople, it involves well-cared-for animals in gorgeous, countryside settings, and the result is delicious.

Cheese Country Tours boasts an impressive line-up of small and large family-owned dairies, farmsteads and artisan creameries such as Bellwether Farms, makers of classic Carmody and the brand-new Whole Milk Ricotta, and Point Reyes Farmstead where the Giacomini family has turned out two new cheeses this year – Toma and a yet un-named new blue cheese. Tours will also visit some of the county’s newest operations including Weirauch Farms where Joel and Carleen are busy perfecting their first cheese, Karen Bianchi-Moreda’s expanding creamery at Valley Ford Cheese, and Barinaga Ranch where Basque-influenced sheep cheeses are hand-made by Marcia Barinaga.

Intimate groups of not more than 20 guests per visit will ride in style via Pure Luxury Transportation coaches, and expert guides will share the inside stories, plus fascinating details about the cheesemaking process (think beautiful bacteria and marvelous mold).

With Relish, guests will spend an entire day visiting two family-owned artisan creameries—one large and established, and the other new and emerging—where they will learn about sustainable dairies and cheese making methods, plus taste and cook with award-winning cheeses.


The first stop is at Point Reyes Farmstead overlooking Tomales Bay, for a behind-the-scenes tour of the dairy and creamery with co-owner Jill Giacomini Basch. On the agenda: meet the cows, learn how the Giacomini Family makes their famous cheeses, and discover the incredible steps they’re taking for sustainable farming techniques designed to protect the fragile ecosystem around their farm.

Cheesemaker Kuba Hemmerling will also personally lead a private tasting of all the Point Reyes farmstead cheeses, followed by a cooking class in the high-tech kitchen of The Fork at Point Reyes, capped by a seasonal cheese-infused lunch paired with local wines.

Next, it’s off to the Nicasio Valley Cheese Company, where the Lafranchi family has been farming since 1919. The fourth generation of Lafranchis began making organic farmstead cheese last year with milk from their herd of 400 Holstein cows, in a Swiss-Italian tradition.

Cheese lover heaven, indeed. No matter how you slice it, each tour is guaranteed to be a mooooving experience.

Cheese Country Tours: Check the Cheese festival website for itineraries and schedules, and buy tickets at artisancheesefestival.com. Tours cost $90 to $125, including tastings.

Relish Culinary Adventures: Inaugural cheese tour, July 7, 2011 from 
9:45 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tickets are $149, available at relishculinary.com.

Tip: If you can’t make a scheduled cheese tour, you can still explore the cheeses. Pure Luxury Transportation can recommend your own private itinerary for a small or large group of friends, working with either Cheese County Tours or Relish for a dream-dairy day.

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