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California Artisan Cheese Festival, March 21-23: it’s spring break for grown-ups

Tastings, seminars, cheesemaking classes and more -- you learn by doing at the California Artisan Cheese Festival, March 21-23, three days of wall-to-wall cheese in Petaluma, California. Shown here: a cheese and wine pairing class...
Tastings, seminars, cheesemaking classes and more -- you learn by doing at the California Artisan Cheese Festival, March 21-23, three days of wall-to-wall cheese in Petaluma, California. Shown here: a cheese and wine pairing class...
all photos by K. Yencich

The 8th Annual California Artisan Cheese Festival, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, March 21, 22, and 23, in Petaluma California is three days of wall-to-wall cheese: classes, tastings, pairings and dining events.

Taste and learn at the 8th Annual California Artisan Cheese Festival, March 21-23, in Petaluma California.
all photos by K. Yencich

If enjoying cheese – pairing it with wine and beer and cider, cooking with cheese, or cheese-making, learning more about how cheese is made -- is your thing, this is your event.

Use the California Artisan Cheese Festival to launch your spring break in the northern California wine country. In addition to more cheese than you every dreamed of, get insider tips at the event from winemakers, restauranteurs, and cheesemakers for undiscovered side trips, restaurants where the locals eat, classes, events and tours that will put you one step ahead of the guidebooks.

The Sheraton Sonoma County - Petaluma, where the event is held, offers a special rate for Festival guests, offered only through February 17. And really, there's a lot of beer and wine to sample, so staying off the road after some of these events is a good idea.

Meanwhile you have plenty of time to pick up a bargain fare to the San Francisco Bay Area and wine country lodgings for the rest of your trip through discount travel sites like Travelocity, Expedia, or kayak.

Use the links for more information and to purchase tickets. Here’s the line-up:


FRIDAY: "Meet the Cheesemakers" an evening event of beer, wine, cider and cheese and the opportunity to rub elbows the people who make cheese happen. Northern California is becoming, for cheese, what the Napa Valley is for wine -- and this is your opportunity to meet the people who are leading the way.

SATURDAY: Classes and seminars, and an evening dining and tasting event. Morning and afternoon sessions include lunch.

Morning sessions – 9:30 - 11:30

Seminar No. 1: What’s Up with That Rind?

  • Presenter: Janet Fletcher, Food Writer & Educator
 The seminar explores one of the key decisions when transforming milk into cheese; choosing type of rind. Includes sampling. $65.00 per person.

Seminar No. 2: MELT!

  • Presenter: Laura Werlin, Author & Educator
 Taste grilled cheese, mac & cheese, and of course, cheese all on its own, along with specially selected wines to go with each cheesy bite; learn about new cheeses and taste some new recipes for old-fashioned favorites. $65.00 per person.

Seminar No. 3: Terroir de Sonoma: Exploring the Unique Flavors and Attitudes of Sonoma Beer and Cheese

  • Presenters: Rich Higgins, Master Cicerone, Brewmaster and Consultant a la Biere; Michael Landis, American Cheese Society Certified Cheese Professional, Training & Merchandising Manager at Gourmet Foods International
 Sonoma County’s breweries and dairies embrace local flavors, ingredients, and attitudes. Delve into delicious beer and cheese pairings that illustrate the concept of terroir; taste and celebrate the unique flavors of Sonoma County. $65.00 per person.

Seminar No. 4: Cheese Making – Italian Style

  • Presenter: Bob Peak, Co-Owner, The Beverage People
 Learn, hands-on, how to make mozzarella, in your own kitchen The class includes production and stretching of mozzarella curds, and finishes with cheese for sampling. $95.00 per person.

Seminar No. 5: Historic Cider and Honest Cheese

  • Presenter: Sheana Davis, Chef, Cheese Maker, Educator, Owner, The Epicurean Connection
 Introduce your palate to a wide range of regional craft cider styles that pair perfectly with our superlative artisan cheese. $65.00 per person.

Seminar No. 6: Spicing it Up

  • Presenters: Gianaclis Caldwell, Author and Owner of Pholia Farm
 Learn the secrets of adding flavors to cheese including infusions, smoking, marinating, and adding seeds and herbs. The class includes a tasting of several examples of delicious flavor-added cheeses. $65.00 per person.

Seminar No. 7: A Cheese History of the World

  • Presenter: Judy Creighton, American Cheese Society, Certified Cheese Professional
 Take a tour through time by tasting a selection of bloomy, washed-rind, tome, alpine, grana, and blue cheeses specially chosen from a selection of milks and terroirs. Cheese tastings show how has cheese adapted to and created cultural diversity while developing varieties of styles and flavors.

Afternoon Sessions – 1:30 - 3:30

Seminar No. 8: California’s Artisan Foods Throw-down – Counties Battle for Bragging Rights!

  • Presenter: California’s Rock Star Artisan Cheesemakers
California’s best cheese making regions are also home to award winning, non-dairy artisan products -- wine, beer, cider, premium proteins, and condiments created by local artisans. Your favorite cheese makers introduce you to their favorites; you’ll taste cheeses alongside artisan foods and beverages, then vote for the region that will be crowned Ultimate Culinary Throw-down Champion! $65.00 per person.

Seminar No. 9: Explore Pinots and Their Cheese Companions

  • Presenter: Laura Werlin, Author & Educator; Tim Gaiser, Master Sommelier Taste pinots in the form of Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Noir, matched up with mind-blowing cheese companions. $65.00 per person.

Seminar No. 10: Cheese & Beer: Strategies for Harmony

  • Presenter: Janet Fletcher, Food Writer & Educator
 Janet Fletcher, author of Cheese & Beer, guides this tasting of seven styles of cheese with the beers that love them. A skill building session to learn what to pair with malty stouts, hoppy ales, strong Belgian-style beers, sour ales and more. $65.00 per person.

Seminar No. 11: Make Moldy Cheese with The San Francisco Milk Maid

  • Presenter: Louella Hill, The San Francisco Milk Maid
 Make our own delicious wheels of Stilton-style blue cheese under the guidance of cheesemaker Louella Hill (SF Milk Maid). Learn which cultures to use, why blue cheeses differ from one another and finally, how to transform fresh milk into something aged and complex. All participants will take home a mini wheel of cheese for several weeks of ‘home affiange”

Seminar No. 12: The Perfect Bite – Food and Beer Pairing

  • Presenters: Sarah Dvorak, Founder/Co-Owner, Mission Cheese (San Francisco) and Cheese Missionary; Oliver Dameron, Co-Owner, Mission Cheese and Certified Cicerone
 A dynamic session of beer and cheese pairing philosophies -- pairing four beers and four California cheeses, then layering on accoutrement for the perfect bite. $65.00 per person.

Seminar No. 13: Beautiful Bubbles and Artisan Jewels

  • Presenter: Colette Hatch, “Madame de Fromage,” Oliver’s Markets
 Respected food and wine expert, Colette Hatch, discusses cheese cultivation and history, then makes suggestions for pairing with the best of California’s bubblies. Naturally, you’ll try them for yourself. $65.00 per person.

Seminar No. 14: Basics and Classics, Always the Best

  • Presenter: Gianaclis Caldwell, Author and Owner of Pholia Farm
Some of the easiest cheeses to make are also the most versatile. and delicious. Learn to ricotta, Paneer, and mascarpone; they are all in the same family and can be mastered easily and ready to use quickly. Also: how to use novel ingredients to make ricotta, how to fry and freeze paneer, and why mascarpone might just be “the new butter.” $65.00 per person.

Evening session – 6:00 - 9:00

Grand Cheese Tasting and Best in Cheese Competition

This popular roaming feast showcases local Bay Area chefs using artisan cheeses in dishes from sweet to savory. Restaurants, caterers, wineries and breweries vie for your vote in this lighthearted competition of all things cheese. $75 per person.


Bubbles and Brunch + Surprise Celebrity Guest Chef

  • 9:30 11:00 - If you're only going to do one event at the Festival, this is it. An elegantly presented three-course brunch with champagne, presented in live demonstration with recipes by a local celebrity chef. Includes early 11:00 a.m. entry into the Artisan Cheese Tasting and Marketplace before it opens to the public. $115 per person.

Artisan Cheese Tasting & Marketplace

  • 12:00 – 4:00 - More than 75 artisan cheese and food producers, winemakers, brewers and chefs sample hand-crafted cheeses, products that complement cheese, books and recipes, boutique wines and artisan-brewed beers. Also: staged question-and-answer cooking demonstrations with Wine Country chefs – dishes sampled, recipes included. $45 per person, $20 for children 12 and under.
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