The California Artisan Cheese Festival
By Teri Tith Concannon and Denise Creek Garcia
Cheese lovers and professionals alike will mingle at California’s Artisan Cheese Festival making its eighth annual appearance in lovely, pastoral Petaluma. It all takes place March 21-23, 2014 at the Sheraton Sonoma County.
This is considered one of the nation’s premier wine and cheese events, bringing together artisan cheesemakers, authors, chefs, brewers, wineries and enthusiastic guests for three days of cheese tasting, learning and celebration. Not surprisingly, almost all of the cheesemakers will be from California. The two exceptions are Willapa Farms in Washington, a natural sheep and cow milk cheesemaker, and Beehive Cheese Company from Utah.
“We became members of the California Artisan Cheese Guild back in 2005 when we were just starting out. At the time, there were only a few small goat creameries in Utah, and we had no resources. The Guild was kind enough to allow us to join and we have stayed active in the organization, a supporter and now a sponsor of the upcoming cheese festival,” said Katie Johnson, a representative from Beehive Cheese Company.
By all means visit the festival’s website and peruse the workshop offerings. Cheesemaking classes are $95, all others are $65, including lunch, either morning 9:30 – 11:30 a.m. or afternoon sessions 1:30 – 3:30 p.m. At the time of this publishing, most of the Friday farm tours (tickets $75/$135, 8:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.) are sold out, but take heart, and consider attending one of the events where all attendees will come together.
On Friday evening, the Meet the Cheesemakers Reception brings guests up close and personal with some of California’s best cheesemakers and their cheeses. More than 20 participating cheesemakers will offer samples of their products, along with artisan wineries and breweries at this informal walk-around reception to kick off the weekend. There is also a “Fantasy Cheese Table” featuring a spectacular cheese display for guests to sample as much as they like. (Tickets $35, Sheraton Sonoma County, Friday, March 21, 5 – 7 p.m.)
The Grand Cheese Tasting and Best in Cheese Competition is the ultimate cheese-centric culinary challenge. At this Saturday night event, guests taste their way around the Sheraton Sonoma County, sampling dishes from 25 of the Bay Area’s best chefs and caterers, each of whom have incorporated their favorite cheese into a dish for attendees. Guests cast their vote for their favorite, “cheesiest” dish and the winner is announced on-site during this lighthearted and festive competition. Artisan wineries and breweries will be on hand to provide beverages to pair with each dish. (Tickets $75, Sheraton Sonoma County, Saturday, March 22, 6 – 9 p.m.)
As you can see, there is something to fit every cheese aficionado’s budget, and if you simply cannot afford to stretch your pocket book to attend, you can sign up to volunteer. Volunteers with proper food handling certification are in particular need. Many hands are also needed in “The Marketplace” which is a walk around exposition that will bring together more than 75 artisan cheese and food producers, wineries, breweries and chefs in one place.
If you do spend some money to attend, feel good knowing that the Artisan Cheese Festival donates 10 percent of all ticket proceeds to Sonoma Land Trust, Marin Agricultural Land Trust, Petaluma Future Farmers of America, California Artisan Cheese Guild and Redwood Empire Food Bank. To date the Artisan Cheese Festival has contributed more than $55,000 to these non-profit organizations that work to support the artisan cheesemaking community and its infrastructure in California.
Featured photo above: Weirauch Farm cheese. Photo courtesy of California Artisan Cheese Festival, by Derrick Story.
Teri Tith Concannon and Denise Creek Garcia are co-founders and cheesemongers at Cheese Therapy, an emerging mobile cheese business based in the Livermore Wine Country. Look for their Artisan Cheese plate at the Bankhead Theater in Livermore and like Cheese Therapy on Facebook to follow their progress.