The California Cheese Trail in Sonoma County
Experience the delights of western Wine Country's distinctive, hand-crafted cheeses by following the California Cheese Trail, which in Sonoma County winds through about a hundred miles of canyons, pastures, and oak-covered hills, linking close to 30 farms and creameries.
Depending on the property, you can reserve full tours, cheese tastings, and cheese-making classes, then visit with the farm's goats, cows, sheep, or even water buffalo. From historic creameries to newer additions putting an international spin on California cheese, here are some of the top stops on the California Cheese Trail:
Achadinha Cheese Company, Petaluma
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.
Bohemian Creamery, Sebastopol
Bohemian Creamery lies just a mile outside downtown Sebastopol on a hilltop overlooking the Laguna de Santa Rosa and the Mayacamas Mountains. It is here that the spring clover enriches the goats’ milk, the wild blue rye molds powder natural rind cheeses and the salty marine layer infuses in aging rooms.
Vella Cheese Company, Sonoma
Founded in 1931, Vella is among the oldest of Sonoma County's cheese makers. Using hand-crafted methods, Vella is known for its dry jack cheeses made entirely from the milk of grass-fed cows, and aged for anywhere from seven months to two years.
Joe Matos Cheese & Farmstead Co., Santa Rosa
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 Sonoma County in the 1970s, carrying the recipe for their native cheese with them.
William Cofield Cheesemakers, Sebastopol
Petaluma Creamery, Petaluma
Each of the company's three cheese brands — Spring Hill Jersey Cheese, Petaluma Creamery Cheese, and Petaluma Gold Cheese — highlights different flavors. The creamery also makes one-of-a-kind, long-churned butter and award-winning ice cream from its high quality, in-house cream. The menu at their creamery store includes coffee drinks, breakfast, sandwiches, barbecue, salads and sides, and ice cream. You can also taste cheeses, and buy cheeses, butters, ice cream, and gift baskets.
Tips for Exploring the California Cheese Trail
- See the Cheese Trail Map, and print a copy here.
- Since the dairies are spread out, and oftentimes in remote areas, the best way to explore is to start with a good plan.
- Choose your spots, then call ahead; 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.
Still want more?
An annual Artisan Cheese Festival is held in Sonoma County each March; visit the festival website for details on the next event.
Quick Facts About California Cheese
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.
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.
Q: What's the difference between mozzarella cheeses?
A: Mozzarella di bufala is the official name the Italian government uses to recognize its production strictly within the Campania region of Naples. So American-made cheese of that style must be called 'mozzarella made from buffalo milk.' Both are different from the more mainstream mozzarella found in America that's made from regular cow's milk, called fior di latte.