Last weekend, I had the chance to volunteer at the California Artisan Cheese Guild booth at the California Artisan Cheese Festival’s Sunday Marketplace! This was actually my first. I had only been to the Oregon Artisan Cheese Festival before that. Cheese events had been going on throughout the week, such as facility visits and seminars, but I could only pull myself away from work on Sunday. My shift began bright and early that morning. It had been pouring rain for the past few days, and fellow festivalgoers were wary about the weather. The marketplace was, after all, taking place under a massive tent on the Petaluma Sheraton’s parking lot. Luckily, the weather cleared up.
I love festivals, even though they get crowded and people get pushy—this one was no exception! It’s energizing to meet new people, discover new products, and catch up on old acquaintances. This time, I had the chance to meet up with my dear friend Kim from the old cheese shop in Southern California, David and Jennifer Bice from Redwood Hill Farm, Kit from Petaluma Creamery, Lenny Moonsammy from Bellwether Farms (and their heavenly ricotta!!) and Melissa and Burt Teaff of Napa Cookie Co. The Cheese Guild table was snuggled very nicely between those of Marin French Cheese Co. and the Cheese School of San Francisco. Just down the aisle of the tent, Tim Welch and his wife Carrie were there to represent Beehive Cheese Company. I was so glad to meet both of them, as I have only met co-owner Pat Ford. Plus, this was the perfect opportunity to sample their new cheese, Teahive, which is a cheddar coated with ground black tea leaves and bergamot. It was as heavenly as it sounds.
The cheese that completely won me over was not even represented there by its maker. The Cheese Shop in Healdsburg was sampling Bent River, a camembert-inspired cheese from Alemar Cheese Company in Minnesota. Tasting it, though, was nothing like tasting camembert (I like to think I know this, after a year living in Normandy, France). This was something completely different—velvety, rich, milky and only mildly salty—it reminded more of a triple-crème like Explorateur than camembert. I don’t know why on earth I didn’t just buy half a wheel. Maybe it was the weight of the knowledge and in my bag of the other 5 cheeses I had already purchased. Long story short—if you come across this cheese, you MUST at least try it.
There were so many delicious products and wonderful makers, I know I am missing the names of some on this list. Here’s a summary of who and what struck my taste buds in particular. Over all, it was a tasty day.
**Seascape by Central Coast Creamery owned by Reggie Jones. They’re based in Paso Robles. The Seascape completely blew many festivalgoers away. It’s not surprising this cheese won best in its class at the last World Cheese Competition!
**Bleating Heart Creamery owned by Seana Doherty had some lovely fresh cheeses and an asiago style ewe’s milk cheese. Plus, how can you not love their logo?
**The McLelland dairy in Petaluma had fabulous butter vibes going on in their booth. I wasn’t the only one to sense it; my cheesemonger buddy Kim bought a gorgeous crock of it to take home to SoCal.
**Achadinha Cheese Company, owned by Jim and Donna Pacheco, had one of the more impressive cheese displays of the festival. Square-ish wheels of their well-known Capricious showed of the elegant Old Worldliness of this aged goat cheese. Because they tied wrapped and tied in cloth during the formation and pressing stages, each wheel bears the imprint of a large knot across the top. The end result is a wheel that almost looks like a wrapped gift.
**Shamrock Artisan Goat Cheese, owned by Gilbert Cox, offers a pretty large array of cheeses. They were sampling primarily their fresh chèvres at the festival, infused with flavors like basil, garlic, and dill. Gilbert was very keen on showing my photos of his eight Anatolian Shepherds.
**Les Vignobles from Roseville, CA, owned by chef Jonathan Ashmore, was sampling and selling its magnificent wine- and champagne-based jellies. I tasted their champagne-ginger-peach, merlot, and champagne-rose jellies, and ended up purchasing a champagne-rose one. I am a sucker for anything rose-flavored.
**Delk Bees in Santa Cruz, CA, owned by Scott Delk, was sampling infused honeys. There were some pretty wild flavors, like coffee-infused honey (if I had this, I would drizzle it over ANYTHING), and jalapeno-infused honey. I don’t know how they do it, but it tastes pretty amazing.
**Joel Weirauch, of Weirauch Farms in Petaluma, CA, sampled his Tomme Fraîche, Rumpel (slightly longer aged tomme), Carabiner (a raw tomme), and the Peau de Pêche, his washed rind. Weirauch Farms also has a large following for their soaps, but Joel didn’t bring them to the Festival that day.
**Grace & I offered some truly exquisite pressed fruit and nut cakes. Their Maui press cakes, featuring pineapple, mango, papaya, and passion fruit, is so gorgeous, I would almost be afraid to cut it up and eat it.
One other highlight of the day was watching the cheese wrapping competition, sponsored by Culture Cheese Magazine, the Cheese Shop in Healdsburg, and Formaticum cheese paper. I felt I should sign up, but my shyness got the better of me, and I ducked out. That’s not happening again, though, trust me. Someone who’s out there reading, hold me to that next time you see me! I think I was intimidated from seeing amongst the competitors Steve Jones from the Cheese Bar in Portland, Oregon, who actually won the last Cheesemonger Invitational competition in New York last year. I did take video of all three heats of the professional wrapping portion. They had to contend with a half-wheel of Mt. Tam (video), a full Redwood Hill Farm crottin (video), and a slab of Beehive Cheese Teahive (video). Sorry they are shaky! Competitors were graded on time and neatness. The competition was pretty intense, but in the end, radiant Cowgirl Creamery cheesemonger and Cheese School of SF intern Devon Foster was crowned the winner! Ms. Foster will soon be headed for an internship at Pholia Farms in Oregon, so maybe this was a nice sendoff for her. Will Fertman of Culture MC’ed the event with great flourish.
If you would like to see more of the photos I took that day, check my post on the festival at Culture Cheese Magazine’s blog. Their blog is much better equipped at handling photos than mine!