Thursday, February 28, 2008


Photo: Sierra Mountain Tomme, made by my friend Caroline Hoel at La Clarine Farm in Somerset, El Dorado County, California.

Festival after festival. March seems to be a month of getting together and strutting your stuff on the West Coast.

Here in the Bay Area, we have not one, but TWO cheese festivals occurring back to back in Sonoma County. The first takes place in the scenic town of Sonoma from March 4-6, "The Food Chain - From the Farm to the Table, Opportunities and Challenges Conference at the Sonoma Valley Inn in Sonoma, CA. " The sixth annual cheese conference is geared more at the cheese professional, with workshops and gatherings focused on issues facing the cheese industry today. The focus this year is on agri-tourism. My definition of agri-tourism: visit the farm, meet and/or watch the cheesemakers/farmers/artisans work their magic, and buy some locally produced products while you're there. I plan on doing something like that on my own farm (once we find it.) I'm signed up for this conference and I am looking forward to spending two and a half days immersed in deep discussions about the state of cheese today. Sheana Davis is the organizer. She's an enthusiastic chef, educator, and a big promoter of local food, especially cheese. I've worked with her at the Cheese School of San Francisco. She's a lot of fun.

Immediately following the conference in Sonoma, is another gathering just down the road in Petaluma, California. The second annual California Artisan Cheese Festival is March 7-9.

This get-together is geared more at the cheese enthusiast. There will be workshops and cooking demos, even field trips to local cheesemakers. It is organized by Lynne Devereaux. She also teaches classes at the cheese school, but I have not had the opportunity to work with her. (She'll be teaching cheese and wine pairing classes later in March and April.) I'm sad I cannot attend this festival. Jim and I are heading to Portland to continue our property search. Perhaps by next year I'll have cheese of my own to feature at these gatherings! I truly hope so. Lots of cheesemakers will be there, letting folks sample and buy their cheese. Some are very small producers like my friend Caroline Hoel, owner of La Clarine Farm, who makes cheese from her herd of 30+ goats. Her goats are very luck and get to live on her oak dappled farm adjacent to their biodynamic vineyard in the Sierra Foothills. I love her Sierra Mountain Tomme, a mouthwatering, semi-firm goat cheese, with a beautiful, natural rind. Janet Fletcher of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote about Caroline's cheese recently in her Cheese Course column.

The following weekend is the Oregon Cheese Festival in Central Point, Oregon (near Medford.)
March 14th and 15th Rogue Creamery hosts every licensed cheesemaker in Oregon and the public can celebrate their greatness. The event features a dinner, a wine, cheese, and chocolate marketplace, and the world's best cheese plate featuring all Oregon cheeses. This is something I should see! Don't think I'll be at this one, unless Jim wants to jump in the car and drive to southern Oregon Friday night (highly unlikely.) NEXT YEAR. Mark your calendars.

Moving north on the map, the festive atmosphere continues with the Seattle Cheese Festival. The fourth annual event will be May 16 -18 at Pike Place. Wine tastings, food demos, and a cheese showcase will be happening all weekend. There is even a scavenger hunt. I haven't had the good fortune to check this one out, either. It might be a good excuse to go to Seattle. Seattle is only four hours from Yamhill County, Oregon. That sound you hear are the gears turning in my head, trying to figure out a way I can attend these events.

Should you be in Chicago at the end of July, the American Cheese Society will be hosting its annual conference at the Chicago Hilton. The highlight is the Festival of Cheese, featuring all of the cheeses entered into the yearly competition. Anyone can buy a ticket to attend the festival and gorge themselves on 1200+ cheeses from all across America. Nirvana.
This is an event not to be missed. I am still mad I could not make it last year when it was in Vermont.

Are these cheese festivals a growing trend? It sure looks like it. I'm sure there will be a few more popping up in a town near you if not this year, than next.


Cynthia said...

I have some of that Sierra Mtn Tomme in my fridge right now! I tasted it on Tuesday -- yowee, it's good.

That other tomme I was talking about at your party was Tumalo (sp?). Yummy too.

Sairbair said...

You have excellent taste, my dear! But we knew that already.