Say Cheese! I know, it’s a tired phrase, but so many of us here in the Bay Area are food-obsessed and can’t get enough of the creamy chevres, sharp cheddars, and herbaceous triple crèmes produced in the region. Lucky for us, more and more “swoonable” cheeses (as I like to refer to them) are made right in our own backyards, particularly in and around Petaluma.
In between nibbles of fresh burrata and tantalizing sheeps milk fetas, discover some of Sonoma County’s other culinary artisans, including a honey farm, award winning bread makers, and pioneering olive oil makers from McEvoy Ranch. Combined with a little wine tasting, it’s all the right ingredients for a wonderful weekend getaway.
A Visit to Spring Hill Jersey Cheese Farm
This working Petaluma farm and creamery is unique in that it produces all of its farmstead cheeses from the milk provided by a herd of 400 Jersey cows. These cows produce lower yields of milk, but it contains higher butter fat which results in rich, creamy flavored cheeses. Larry Peter began his dairy in 1987, and started producing Spring Hill Jersey Cheese in 1998.
The homestead, artisan cheese produced by Spring Hill is made entirely from the milk of pasture-grazed Jersey cows. All Spring Hill cheeses are produced with pasteurized milk. Additional cheeses include ricotta, fresh curd, brine cheese, and brie. To arrange a tour or learn where these cheeses are sold, visit their website or call 707/762-3446.
Make Cheese in Sonoma Valley
Located in the heart of Sonoma Valley on Highway 12, The Epicurean Connection offers a swooning selection of artisan and farmstead cheeses, along with an array of locally made olives, preserves, organic meats, and other culinary treasures. Owner Sheana Davis has been an enthusiastic supporter of the artisan cheese community for over 20 years.
I highly recommend signing up for one of Sheana’s cheesemaking classes. Every second Saturday of the month she teaches students how to make crème fraiche, chevre, fromage blanc, and paneer. Each student goes home with 3 cheese cultures and recipes to recreate at home. Classes are from 1pm to 3pm and the cost is only $45 per person. Store hours are Tuesday through Saturday from 11am to 6pm.
Artisan Cheese Festival
If you love cheese as much as I do, you won’t want to miss the annual Artisan Cheese Festival held in late March in the charming and hip (yes, hip) town of Petaluma. Sample locally made jams, jellies, breads, beer, and lots of cheese from as many as 65 artisan producers and discover the many charms of this pastoral town that is only 32 miles north of San Francisco. The event is hosted by the Sheraton Sonoma County and includes demonstrations, tours, and plenty of tasting.
A Dairy Tale
If it’s been far too long since you’ve milked a cow, you’re in luck. At McClellands Dairy you can enjoy a relaxing day amongst the rolling hills of Sonoma County, breathing in the fresh country air while yanking on a cow teat. McClellands Dairy specializes in making organic European-style butter, and you can learn about the entire process if you sign up for a guided tour of their dairy farm nursery (yes, you can play with the adorable calves) and milking parlor. Be sure to inquire about the fascinating history of the McClellands clan while you’re there—it’s a classic American tale.
The Premier Olive Oil Producer in the Country
Traverse through green rolling hills to visit this breathtaking ranch owned by one of the premier olive oil producers in the country. With as many as 550 acres, McEvoy Ranch boasts 80 acres of organic olive trees, extensive flower and vegetable gardens, and fruit orchards. Although known mostly for their high quality olive oils, they have expanded their product line to include Meyer lemon jam, cinnamon apple butter, and even hand and body lotion products. McEvoy also offers ongoing orchard tours, olive oil tastings, and chef demonstrations, but all tours must be arranged prior to visiting the ranch.
America’s Top Bread Makers
Picked by Bon Appetit magazine as one of America’s top 10 bread makers, Della Fattoria makes some of the best bread you will ever taste. Baked in wood burning ovens much like they were 100 years ago and prepared with organic flours and sea salt—these are some loaves. Look for country-French style, semolina, pane integrale, and many more in their retail bakery at 141 Petaluma Boulevard North in downtown Petaluma. You can also schedule a tour of the bakery by calling 707/763-0161.
Lavender Bee Farm Visit
A great place to load up on thoughtful gifts is Lavender Bee Farm in Petaluma, which sells award-winning, organic, pesticide-free gourmet honey produced from their own beehives. Their top seller is Lavender Honey, a Gold Ribbon winner at the 2006 Sonoma County Harvest Fair (and the glass honey-bear bottles it comes in are adorable). You can order all of their honey and lavender products online, but I highly recommend taking a guided tour of their honey farm amid the rolling hills of Sonoma County and 5,000 lavender plants.
For more information about Gourmet Getaways throughout Sonoma County, log on to SonomaCounty.com, the official website of the Sonoma County Tourism Bureau.