Be it brie, chèvre, blue, crescenza or Dry Jack, one thing’s certain: California’s Artisan Cheese Festival will celebrate all things cheese for the seventh year in a row March 22-24, 2013, at the Sheraton Sonoma County in Petaluma. The United States’ premier cheese and wine event, the Festival brings together artisan cheesemakers, brewers, wineries and guests for three days of cheese tasting and appreciation. A lively weekend lineup features top artisan cheese experts, authors, chefs and winemakers conducting seminars, pairings, tastings, farm tours, cheese-making classes and cheese-focused demonstrations. Guests have the opportunity to experience limited-production, rare artisan cheeses and learn about the art of making cheese, while supporting local and sustainable farmers and cheesemakers from California. Tickets are now on sale and available through www.artisancheesefestival.com. Additional details and events will be added in the coming weeks, so check back often for more information.
“The Festival is a much-anticipated, cheese-lover’s paradise and allows guests to see every step of the farm-to-table process of cheesemaking, while highlighting the extraordinary local talent we have in this field,” said Festival Director Judy Groverman Walker. “From farm tours where people can see the animals and meet the actual cheesemakers to tastings, hands-on classes and culinary demos, there truly is something for everyone.”
New elements this year include a “Meet the Cheesemakers” reception and additional cheesemaking classes.
The schedule includes the following events:
Friday, March 22:
Farm Tours & Lunch
Back by popular demand are several intimate farm tours where guests are guided on walking tours of various area farms to meet the cheesemakers, see how the cheeses are made and, of course, taste the fruits of their labor. The tours allow guests to observe every step of the cheesemaking process and interact with cows, sheep, water buffalos and goats in their natural environment. Each tour includes transportation to/from the Sheraton Sonoma County, cheese tastings and lunch. A three-course, sit-down lunch is included in the tours to Nicasio Valley Cheese Company and Keller Estate Winery with guest chef Mayet Cristobal, executive chef for Bon Appétit at the Getty Center in Los Angeles and the Getty Villa in Malibu; and Cowgirl Creamery and Point Reyes Farmstead with guest chef Lizzie Binder, currently a contestant on Bravo’s Top Chef: Seattle. Cheese is available for purchase on the farm tours.
(Tickets $75/$135, 9 a.m. – 3 p.m.)
Meet the Cheesemakers Reception
Guests meet the cheesemakers in person at this evening reception and cheese tasting. More than 20 participating cheesemakers will offer samples of their products, along with artisan wineries and breweries at this informal walk-around reception to kick off the weekend. There is also a “Fantasy Cheese Table” featuring a spectacular cheese display for guests to sample as much as they like.
(Tickets $35, Sheraton Sonoma County, 5 – 7 p.m.)
Saturday, March 23
Seminars, Cooking and Pairing Demonstrations
The 2013 event presents a variety of seminars from which to choose, giving guests the opportunity to learn from industry experts as they discover new cheeses, learn how to make cheese, cook with different cheeses, experience diverse wine and beer pairings with cheese, and more. Confirmed instructors include Janet Fletcher of the San Francisco Chronicle; author and educator Mary Karlin; author and cheese expert Laura Werlin; Janne Rasmussen of Cypress Grove Chevre; chef Jennifer Luttrell of Pt. Reyes Farmstead; author Lenny Rice-Moonsammy of Bellwether Farms; chef Jacquelyn Buchanan of Laura Chenel Chevre; food writer Garrett McCord; author and food writer Stephanie Stiavetti; food blogger Kristen Jackson; author Gianaclis Caldwell of Pholia Farm; Bob Peak of The Beverage People; and Lassa Skinner of Culture magazine. The seminars include a catered lunch by Petaluma Market. During the lunch break and after the afternoon seminars authors will be available for book signings.
(Tickets $65-95, Sheraton Sonoma County, Seminars 9:30 -11:30 a.m. and 1:30 – 3:30 p.m., with lunch provided at 12 – 1 p.m.)
Grand Cheese Tasting and Best in Cheese Competition
In the ultimate culinary challenge, guests taste their way around this event, sampling dishes from 25 of the Bay Area’s best chefs and caterers, each of whom incorporate their favorite cheese into a dish for attendees. Guests cast their vote for their favorite, “cheesiest” dish and the winner is announced on-site during this lighthearted and festive competition. Artisan wineries and breweries will be on hand to provide beverages to pair with each dish. (Tickets $75, Sheraton Sonoma County, 6 – 9 p.m.)
Sunday, March 24
Sparkling Wine Brunch and Cooking Demonstration
Join local chef Mark Stark of Stark Reality Restaurants for Sunday brunch celebrating cheese at every course and a live cooking demonstration. Tickets include brunch, sparkling wine and coveted early entry into the Artisan Cheese Tasting & Marketplace at 11 a.m. before it opens to the public at 12 p.m.
(Tickets $115, Sheraton Sonoma County, 9:30 – 11 a.m.)
Artisan Cheese Tasting & Marketplace
The grand finale of the Festival, the Marketplace brings together more than 75 artisan cheesemakers, winemakers, brewers and chefs to sample and sell their products directly to attendees in this feast for the senses. Guests can discover the next wave of local, hand-crafted cheeses, boutique wines and artisan-brewed beers as well as interesting cheese products, books and recipes. Each ticket includes entry to the Marketplace, an insulated cheese tote bag and a signature wine glass.
(Tickets $45 for adults; $20 for children 12 and under, Sheraton Sonoma County, 12 – 4 p.m.)
Complimentary Cooking Demonstrations
In between tasting and buying cheeses at the Marketplace, guests are invited to watch several cooking demonstrations conducted by local chefs and cheese experts. (Admission is free; Sheraton Sonoma County; demonstrations are at 1 – 2 p.m.; 2:15 – 3:15 p.m.; and 3:30 – 4:30 p.m.)
Those interested can also follow updates by “liking” the Artisan Cheese Festival on Facebook and following the event on Twitter. All events are priced separately and the Sheraton Sonoma County – Petaluma is offering special discounted rates on rooms for festival-goers.
Generous sponsors of the Artisan Cheese Festival include All-American Printing, Bank of Marin, Basin Street Properties, Beehive Cheese Company, Bellwether Farms, Bleating Heart, Clover Stornetta Farms, Cowgirl Creamery, Culture magazine, Cypress Grove Chevre, Donald & Maureen Green Foundation, Exchange Bank, Garden Variety Cheese, John Boos, Lagunitas Brewing Company, Laura Chenel Chevre, Marin French Cheese Company, Mike Hudson Distributing, Nicasio Valley Cheese Company, Keller Estate Winery, Petaluma Market, Petaluma Post, Pisenti & Brinker, Pt. Reyes Farmstead, Pure Luxury Transportation, Redwood Hill Farm, Relish Culinary Adventures, Sheraton Sonoma County, Toluma Farms and Whole Foods Markets.
California’s Artisan Cheese Festival strives to increase cheese appreciation, educate consumers about artisan cheeses, support the cheesemaking community and its sustainability and celebrate the creations of California’s many farmers and cheesemakers. The festival began in March 2007 as the first-ever, weekend-long celebration and exploration of handcrafted cheeses, foods, wines and beers from California and beyond. In keeping with its dedication to the community, the Artisan Cheese Festival will donate 10% of all ticket proceeds to Sonoma Land Trust, Marin Agricultural Land Trust, Petaluma Future Farmers of America, California Artisan Cheese Guild and Redwood Empire Food Bank. To date the Artisan Cheese Festival has contributed more than $45,000 to these non-profit organizations that work to support the artisan cheesemaking community and its infrastructure in California. For more information, visit www.artisancheesefestival.com.