Sonoma County, as everybody knows, has been having a difficult time lately. Recovery from the fires that devastated Wine Country is slow and arduous, and even for people with the financial means to start new chapters in their lives, there are very few houses in the area to move into. It’s only natural to feel guilty over the prospect of visiting a place mired in such difficulty, but as a tourist-dependent region, the more people who travel there the better off Sonoma will be.
We have a great opportunity a month from now, when the 12th annual California Artisan Cheese Festival takes over Santa Rosa from Friday to Sunday, March 23-25. A weekend in Wine Country pairs wonderfully with the bounty of fermented dairy products, and while a few artisan tastings have already sold out, you can still visit Straus Home Ranch for a “Gateway Cheeses” tour with Liz Thorpe to learn about the family’s role in preserving open spaces in the North Bay through the Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT).
Most people probably think the U.S.’s oldest continuously operating creamery is somewhere near Montpelier, Vt., but it’s actually Marin French Cheese, which fed the stevedores in S.F.’s bustling port more than a hundred years ago. You can eat as they did, or else opt to visit Boonville’s Pennyroyal Farm, a hay field that became a combination vineyard and creamery in 2006.
On Saturday, March 24, Juliana Uruburu leads a food-pairing seminar at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds on how to identify flavor profiles in cow, goat, and sheep cheeses while Cowgirl Creamery cofounder Peggy Smith explains the nuances of fromage blanc and clabbered cottage cheese. Beer fans should take note of Master Cicerone Rich Higgins’ “Sour vs. Hoppy” class, which scours the region for the best cheeses to serve alongside offerings from Northern California’s flourishing craft beer scene. And Roederer Estate winemaker Arnaud Weyrich leads a 90-minute discussion and tasting on why sparkling wines dovetail so nicely with cheese.
See the full schedule of events here. Whichever tour, seminar, or tasting you attend, you’ll never find yourself single and sitting around the cracker barrel with 64 individually wrapped anything ever again.
California Artisan Cheese Festival, March 23-25, various locations in and around Sonoma County, artisancheesefestival.com