Day Tripper’s Guide: Cheese Touring Thru West Marin and Sonoma County
Meandering through the many miles of the hilly, misty roads, cows and goats happily graze in this “Irish” looking landscape North of San Francisco. The region may be close to the Wine Country, but don’t count on a wine tour in these parts because this is dairy territory; it is the cream of the crop for food experiences.
Probably the most unique place to arrange a tour is with Ramini Mozzarella. New to the cheese business and a former Silicon Valley consultant, Craig Ramini took his love for large animals, his Italian family ties, and a whole lot of patience, to become the first and only commercial producer of Mozzarella Cheese made from Water Buffalos in the United States.
So fresh is the cheese, that it has to be eaten within a few days. His enthusiasm and love for his Water Buffalos are contagious. This is a once-in-a-lifetime tour/experience because the only place to purchase their cheese is at their ranch. As the most recent Cheese Maker on the scene, production is in small batches, where only a handful of restaurants are able to purchase Ramini Mozzarella.
Achadinha Cheese Company, in the western and rural part of Petaluma, specializes in Goat Cheese. The Pacheco family sold their cows and purchased goats in 1997. It’s hard not to fall in love with their story, their family, and the goats. As is typical with farm/ranch life Jim, Donna, their 4 kids, and their 600 goats all adhere to a rigorous schedule and daily routine.
To keep their Cheeses at their freshest and highest standards, you can find Achadinha Cheese at many of the local San Francisco Bay Area Farmer’s Markets. Their Capricious Cheese carries a strong resemblance to Parmesan cheese. It can be purchased at many of the local farmer’s markets along with their other artisan cheeses.
Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company/The Fork is a long name that doesn’t even begin to describe their rich history, commitment and passion to Artisan Cheese. It’s about 3 miles up the road on Highway 1 and North of Point Reyes Station. Make sure to keep your eyes peeled so as not to miss the small, dangling wooden sign that says: “Giacomini Dairy”.
For over 40 years, Bob and Dean Giacomini had been successful Dairy Farmers and raised their 4 daughters on the farm. The daughters walked away from the farm as young adults to pursue different career paths. Starting in 2000, each sister made their way back to the Farm to launch into the Artisan World of Cheese. With the rolling green pasturelands and breathtaking views of Tomales Bay, the Giacomini family strongly stand by their values of being “artisan”, “sustainable”, and “farm to table”.
Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese offers their popular award-winning Blue Cheese (Original Blue and Bay Blue), Toma (buttery and tangy), and are most recently making Mozzarella. To book a tour, tastings, cheese making, cooking classes, or dinner, you will need to go to their website.
Be prepared to fall head over hooves for the family, the history, the cheese producers (the cows), Point Reyes, the Farmstead, the Cheese, and The Fork. Their cheeses are sold at local Farmers Market or if you go to their site, you can find the closest retail locations.
To plan a cheese tour, you’ll need to start with a map: http://cheesetrail.org. Please note that not all of the Cheese Farms on this map give tours and since many of these farms are small businesses, they most likely will charge a fee for a tour.
Unlike a wine tour, all Cheese Tours need to be scheduled in advance and there may be restrictions in terms of time/date/season/size of group.
For many of these smaller farms, their only retail presence is at their farm or at the Bay Area Farmer’s Markets. Although I have not taken the Cowgirl Creamery cheese tour, I have heard only positive comments. They recommend going to their Petaluma facility for a tour: https://www.cowgirlcreamery.com/ .
I have not taken the Marin French Cheese tour, but I have stopped by their Retail location in the western and remote part of Petaluma on many occasions. With their picnic tables overlooking a lake, this peaceful and tranquil setting is an ideal place to relish their cheeses. http://www.marinfrenchcheese.com/ComeVisit/Overview.aspx
If you’re not able to take a Cheese tour, read these blogs to get more information on the history, types of cheeses, and backgrounds of these Artisan, local Cheesemakers: http://www.northbaybiz.com/General_Articles/General_Articles/Cheesemakers_Paradise.php
For more daytripping food and fun in West Marin and Sonoma County, refer to Food Guru’s previous blog: Day Tripper’s Guide: thru West Marin and Sonoma County.
Having gone on a few Cheese Tours the last few years, there are so many Cheese Makers to visit and not enough room in the belly or time left in your day to experience what West Marin and Sonoma County have to offer. With an hour or so drive from San Francisco, it’s hard to resist planning another day trip to and through this beautiful and remote area. Head home, grab a fresh baguette, open up that special bottle of wine, and savor your creamy souvenir from the Emerald Isles northwest of San Francisco.