Cheeses at the California Artisan Cheese Festival
Derrick Story

MARCH

California Artisan Cheese Festival

If you ever thought cheese was meant to come in rubbery, precut slices packaged in plastic wrap, then you owe it to yourself to experience the California Artisan Cheese Festival.  The extraordinary three-day March event showcases over 100 of the world’s premier cheese-makers and, of course, provides cheese aficionados and newbies alike the chance to learn about and sample their unforgettable cheeses.

The celebration takes place at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds and Event Center in Santa Rosa, which is in the middle of a Northern California region long affiliated with cows grazing on grassy hillsides and bustling creameries. What can you expect? The presiding cheesemakers, merchants, experts, and chefs cover cheese-making and cheese appreciation from just about every angle. And we’re talking seriously good cheese—just for starters, look for perfectly tangy blue cheese from Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company, rich and smooth Red Hawk from Cowgirl Creamery, or decadently creamy and aromatic Camembert from Marin French Cheese Company.

During the festival, you can join guided Farm and Producer Tours of local farms and cheese-making facilities to get a glimpse of the full cycle of production; attend seminars on how to best pair cheese with local wines, beers, and ciders; and learn about the advantages of consuming artisan cheeses versus non-artisan cheeses. Chefs will also be on hand to demonstrate techniques for cooking with cheese, and you can vote for your favorite cheese nibbles that are served alongside the offerings of local brewers and winemakers in light-hearted “Best Bite” competitions. A special pop-up marketplace includes kitchen items, book signings, and plenty of free, cheesy samples.

Helpful info: The festival’s site has a page dedicated to recommendations for lodging and a full event calendar.