People frequently ask, “Don’t you get tired of traveling all the time?” And my answer is an unequivocal “no.”
Right now, for instance, I’ve recently returned from the 2017 Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco. The FFS is always a great experience, and a chance to catch up with my industry friends. I touch base, for example, with my British counterparts from Wensleydale and Belton Farms. We always have a jolly good time while we catch up on what’s new and what’s next in our business.
But as soon as I’m home, catching up on my reading, I spot another favorite event – and it’s happening next month
The California Artisan Cheese Festival takes place each year on the third weekend of March. The celebration features a lively group of experts from the world of artisan cheese, there to promote the artisan cheesemaking community.
This year’s festival, March 24 – 26, includes farm, creamery and artisan tours, The Ultimate Best Bite Competition, cheesemaker dinners, a Cheese & Cocktails event, Bubbles Brunch, seminars and the Artisan Cheese Marketplace and Tasting.
Through this nonprofit’s educational offerings, we can better understand artisanal cheeses, their advantages over non-artisanal cheeses, and the wide variety of artisan cheeses available.
Sounds like fun, right? It is – but much more. Events like this one are an opportunity to source great local, artisanal cheeses and cheesemakers – another fundamental part of my job at ANCO.
Northern California is a great place to find unique farmstead flavors
This fertile region, stretching from Oregon to San Luis Obispo County, is known for its redwood forests, dramatic coastline and cities including San Francisco, home to the Golden Gate Bridge, and San Jose with its Silicon Valley technology hub. Traveling north, we find Napa and Sonoma valleys and hundreds of vineyards amid rolling hills.
California has a rich history of cheesemaking. Specialty cheeses make up about 11 percent of California’s current cheese production. According to a division of University of California, today artisan cheesemaking is a $119-million dollar industry in Marin and Sonoma. These two counties are home to the second-largest concentration of artisan and farmstead cheesemakers in the country.
So last fall, as I continued my search for the next superstar lineup of artisanal cheeses, I headed to Northern California and its California Cheese Trail to seek out the best and brightest makers. Here’s what I found:
⋅ Fiscalini Cheese: Modesto
The Fiscalini family came to America in the late 1800s and have been dairying ever since. Their Purple Moon cow’s milk cheese is a fanciful, fun young cheddar. Soaked in award-winning California Cabernet Sauvignon, it’s purple on the outside and creamy on the inside.
⋅ Nicasio Valley Cheese: Nicasio
Over 100 years ago, 17-year-old Fredolino Lafranchi left his home in Switzerland to come to America with the dream of owning and operating his own dairy. Try the Foggy Morning, the maker’s most honored cheese and a four-time national award winner.
⋅ Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co.: Point Reyes
In 1938 Grandfather Waldo Giacomini moved his family to Point Reyes. In 1959 son Bob purchased the dairy with a dream to make cheese. I highly recommend the Original Blue – it’s creamy, all natural and made with raw milk and microbial (vegetarian) rennet.
⋅ 4. Rumiano Cheese Co.: Crescent City
The Rumiano brothers immigrated to the United States from Italy to create what is now the oldest family-owned cheese company in California. They are known for their development of Dry Jack cheese, especially one rubbed with black pepper dust, cocoa powder and oil.
⋅ 5. Valley Ford Cheese Co.: Valley Ford
Five generations of the Bianchi/Grossi family have raised dairy cows on this farmland in Sonoma County. Karen Bianchi Moreda and son Joe make cheese from the raw milk of their Certified Humane Raised herd. Their Italian-style cheeses are reminiscent of those you would find in Italy.
What’s a close second to my love of finding great new cheeses? My passion for educating retailers and consumers
And UC thinks like me! The University of California Cooperative Extension advisors nurture this emerging farmstead culture. Working with local producers, they have developed a cheesemaking certificate program and published the leading book on building an artisan and farmstead cheese business.
Want to find new artisanal varieties of your own? Make California your Spring Break destination!
Plan a visit to the California Artisan Cheese Festival next month. Then take a drive up the California Cheese Trail to discover your own favorite farmstead cheeses.
Can’t travel right now?
Try cheeses from the makers I mentioned above, found while on my search along the California Cheese Trail and all available from ANCO. You’ll support the California farmstead cheesemaking community while you enjoy the creations of the artisan cheesemakers!
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m packing…