For decades, wine lovers from around the globe have come to California to sample the Syrahs, Cabernet Sauvignons, Pinot Noirs, and other varietals. The craft beer boom began in the Golden State and continues to be a massive draw in San Diego, Sacramento, Sonoma County, and along the North Coast. Olive oil tourism is on the rise, too, as visitors flock to tasting rooms to sample the golden liquid.
And the next great culinary travel trend in California? Cheese tourism.
Vivien Straus, founder of the California Cheese Trail, spoke with California Now Podcast host Soterios Johnson about her passion for visiting the farms and creameries in the Golden State. There are tastings of course, but for Straus it goes far beyond that.
"The great thing about some of these places is you can actually see how cheese is made," Straus said. "They will actually give you a class. Cowgirl Creamery has a class in Point Reyes. It's during the week, usually, and they actually show you how curd-making is done, so you get the whole gist of it. Also, I love meeting the people. You meet the people who make the cheese, and then you have this emotional connection to the cheese maker and the cheese, and you want to support them."
Here are just 5 of the many California creameries that create special experiences for visitors—Straus advocated for all of them on California Now and you can hear more about what makes them special by downloading the podcast.
This creamery, located in Tomales in Marin County, makes cheese from water buffalo. "It's very odd," Straus noted. "I believe there are only two water buffalo herds in California, and probably less than a handful in the United States. If you go there, you not only get to taste the mozzarella, you hear the story, and then the cheese maker, Audrey, will take you out with a brush, and you get to brush the water buffalo. And this is one of my favorite things to do, because if you brush them, their tails will curl, and then they will actually collapse on the ground in ecstasy. It's the most bizarre thing you have ever seen."
"Point Reyes Farmstead made the first blue cheese in California," Straus said. "They have Friday farm tours where they greet you with some ice cream and then they take you into their barn and they give you this whole array of cheese on a platter, and you learn about cows, you see what they eat. They have a methane digester onsite, which is a way of capturing the methane from the cows and from the waste, and turning it into electricity, and powering their farm. That's another one I love."
Straus noted that there are a lot of great places to taste cheese along Highway 99 in the Central Valley. "The very biggest cheese maker in the world, as far as I know, is Hilmar Cheese, and you can go in there and you see these huge blocks of cheese being made, and they have a self-guided tour that talks about [the process]. It is so well done. They have restaurants there. You can purchase cheese there, and it's just kind of fascinating to see something that is so big, and yet so accessible."
"Long Dream Farm is an interesting story," Straus said of the Placer County operation. "It's a couple with their children, and they decided they were going to give up New York City and go live in the country, and buy some land, and prove that you could make a living being a farmer. They are making cheese and butter, and they go to the farmers market every week, and they have a myriad of animals on that farm. They have every type of animal and their dog will come out and greet you. That's a cool thing to do."
"Los Angeles has a lot of creameries, and you would never know it," she noted. "They're usually in industrial [areas]. And there is one cheese maker, Gioia Cheese, which was the first to introduce Burrata into the United States. You can purchase directly from their creamery. Burrata is that incredible mozzarella with the cream inside of it, that's wrapped inside and—oh my gosh—it's so rich and cool and delicious. You can actually buy it right from them."