Funky, Fresh and Holey: 5 Best Bets at The Artisan Cheese Festival

California's Artisan Cheese Fest celebrates 10th year with new cheese events.

A cheese plate assembled by cheese monger Omar Mueller featuring (clockwise from lower left) Marcona Almonds, Pennyroyal Farm Bollie’s Mollies, Amexia D’Elvas Convento de Serra natural preserved plums, Cowgirl Creamery Mt. Tam triple-cream, Bleating Heart Cheese Fat Bottom Girl, Valley Ford Cheese Estero Gold Reserve, Point Reyes Cheese Company Gouda, aged two years, raw local walnuts, Rogue Creamery Rogue River blue cheese, and Regalis Tennessee black truffle honeycomb, at Freestone Artisan Cheese, in Freestone, California on Tuesday, November 29, 2016. (Alvin Jornada / The Press Democrat)

When the California Artisan Cheese Festival began in 2007, Northern California’s cheese scene had a few stand-out makers, but was a fairly insular community just finding it’s audience. Ten years later, names like Cowgirl Creamery, Point Reyes Farmstead, Bellwether Farms, Cypress Grove and Tomales Farmstead Creamery are familiar brands in both grocery stores and restaurants.

Inspired and mentored by these artisan cheesemakers are new goat, sheep and cow milk cheese producers that have cropped up in the last decade, including Haverton Hill, Bleating Heart, Chevoo and many others. The North Coast is clearly cheese country.

This year’s event, March 24-26 at the Petaluma Sheraton, continues the cheese love with a weekend of cheese education, tours and lactose appreciation featuring the Ultimate Best Bite competition, cheesemaker dinners and the always-popular Artisan Cheese Tasting Marketplace. Much of the event is a la carte, allowing cheese fans to either nibble, or go whole hog for the weekend.

Want to go? Here are some best bets…

A variety of Chevoo fresh goat cheese & olive oil infusion in Smoked Sea Salt & Rosemary and Aleppo-Urfa Chili & Lemon(Erik Castro)
A variety of Chevoo fresh goat cheese & olive oil infusion in Smoked Sea Salt & Rosemary and Aleppo-Urfa Chili & Lemon. (Erik Castro)

Friday, Ultimate Best Bites Competition

The Ultimate Best Bite kicks off the three-day weekend with 24 chefs, 24 cheesemongers, and 24 cheesemakers competing to create the ultimate cheese creation. Top artisan cheeses get a creative twist from local chefs and cheesemongers cooked into cheesy dishes from sweet to savory. Expect a serious smackdown. Guests will taste bites of the dishes, along with beer, wine and cider. Tickets are $75 per person. 

Saturday, Cheese & Cocktails
Nine local distilleries pouring tastes of spirits and sample cocktails with 20 artisan cheesemakers sampling their cheeses. $40 per person.

Saturday, Educational Classes and Pairing Demos
Cheesemakers and experts discuss how to make cheese, the specifics of California cheese, cheese and beer pairings and much more. Classes are $75 per person.

Saturday, Cheesemaker Dinners in Sonoma
Multi-course cheese-centric dinners with the Cheesemakers in attendance. Wine, beer, or cider paired with each course! Dinners are at Park 121 at Cornerstone and at Suite D (event space operated by the girl & the fig). $150 per person.

Sunday, Bubbles & Brunch and the Artisan Cheese Tasting & Marketplace
Kick off the morning with a four-course cheese-centric brunch paired with sparkling and a cooking demo. The marketplace takes up 20,000 square feet under tents with cooking demos, tops chefs, and samples from more than 90 of California’s best artisan cheesemakers, food vendors, breweries and wineries. Brunch is $115 and includes VIP access to the Marketplace one hour before opening to the public. Marketplace tickets are $45 for adults and $20 for children twelve and under.

Find out more and get tickets online at