There are more than two dozen farms and creameries on the Sonoma Cheese map, including Petaluma’s Spring Hill Cheese, Sonoma’s historic Vella Cheese, Bodega Artisan Cheese and Santa Rosa’s Matos Cheese Factory.
You’ll see firsthand that the slogan “Happy cows from California” really does come true in Sonoma County.
Q: How many goats does it take to make a pound of goat cheese?
A: Two can easily get it done in 24 hours. Larger goats like French Alpines produce an average of nine pounds of milk per day (8.6 pounds = 1 gallon), and it takes about 10 pounds of milk to make one pound of cheese.
If such topics interest you (or simply seeing beautiful, velvety-eyed animals), then you’ll love the new Sonoma Cheese Trail map of open-to-the-public dairies available for convenient website download. The printed version was released last year by the Cheesetrail.org agency for the Sonoma County’s artisan cheese makers, and continues to be snatched up so quickly by dairy-minded explorers that it’s now posted online in all its four-color beauty.
Depending on the property, you can reserve full tours, visits with the goats, cows or sheep, cheese tastings, and even cheese-making classes. This also offers a lavish crash course in some of Sonoma County’s most spectacular scenery, from artisan creameries in quaint Valley Ford, to sprawling ranches overlooking the coast.
First, just download the Cheese Trail Map. Choose your spots, then call ahead, since some cheese makers are open to the public on a regular basis, some are open seasonally or only by appointment, and some are just plain too busy making cheese.
Make sure to check as far in advance as possible as some tours need reservations a month ahead or only have two to three tours per year.
Study some facts before you go, and impress your friends (plus the cheese makers).
Q: What are those little things hanging down from under the goats’ necks?
A: They are called wattles, and, as with the beards, some does (females goats) have them, while others don’t.
Here are just a few interesting picks for your cheese adventure:
Achadinha Cheese Company, Petaluma, 707-763-1025, achadinha.com.
Jim and Donna Pacheco’s 900 goats graze year-round on verdant pastures at the Pacheco Family Dairy, with grass supplemented with alfalfa and brewers’ grain from local breweries. Donna handcrafts all cheeses and makes her own smoked summer goat sausage.
Bodega Artisan Cheese, Bodega, 707-876-3483, bodegaartisancheese.com.
In the heritage farmstead tradition, these country cheeses are produced in small batches from one-to-two day old milk, then immediately made into cheese. This seals in the fresh, mild flavor, even in the aged cheeses. Owner Patty Karlin also offers cheese-making classes.
Matos Cheese Factory, 3669 Llano Road, Santa Rosa, 707-584-5283
Joe and Mary Matos grew up in the Portuguese Azores on the lush volcanic island of Sao Jorge, noted for its delicious cheeses. They relocated to Santa Rosa in the 1970s, carrying the recipe for their native cheese with them.
McClelland Dairy, Petaluma, 707-664-0452, mcclellandsdairy.com
This third-generation family dairy was founded by Irish immigrant Robert McClelland, and is now operated by his son George, George’s wife Dora, and their daughter Jana. They specialize in European-style organic artisan butter, and visitors are able to watch a cow being milked and pet a calf in the nursery.
Pug’s Leap, Petaluma, 707-238-2126, pugsleap.com
After running their goat dairy, White Whale Farm, for several years, Anna and Dan Conner took over Pug’s Leap in 2010, continuing the high-quality cheese-making tradition.
Weirauch Farm & Creamery, Petaluma, 707-347-9401, weirauchfarm.com
Joel and Carleen Weirauch raise dairy sheep for seasonal production of raw aged cheese. They’ve made creative re-use of portable trailers for milking and cheesemaking in an Animal Welfare Approved method.