How to do the Cheese Trail

This post by Editor-In-Chief, Jennifer Ray

According to the map, “22,000 acres of land in Marin and Sonoma County are dedicated to making cheeses and fermented milk products.” The 27 artisan creameries are scattered across towns including Sonoma, Petaluma, Nicasio and Tomales. So, how does one (or three) attack the Sonoma Marin Cheese Trail Map? I can answer that because I now an expert. I just returned from my four-day trip with my parents!

Seven of the 27 creameries on the map are always open for sales and samples. Theses are all great! The Sonoma Cheese Factory is not included on the map, but it is open to the public too! (We discovered that one by accident.) There are some places that are never open for sales or tours. Others are available by appointment only. We could have made a few more appointments, but nine creameries was enough for this trip!

Here’s how we attacked the map:

Day One: Vella Cheese Company, Epicurean Connection and Sonoma Cheese Factory

Sonoma is a really cool place! These three shops are all in Sonoma. First we visited Vella and tasted their Dry Jack. So good! They are the only people in the world that make a Mezzo Secco cheese, also delicious! Only place in the world?? Of course we had to buy a half-wheel of it!

Then, we went to the Epicurean Connection where we enjoyed some wine and tried all three of their cheese plates. The lady there told us that the Sonoma town plaza is one of two public places in California where you can drink wine out in the open. Awesome, right? Then, we wandered around downtown Sonoma for a bit and found the Sonoma Cheese Factory (off the map!) This store is a little more touristy, but they still have some great local cheeses available to try. And fudge samples! Later, we checked out the farmer’s market in the plaza (Tuesday 5:30-7:30p.m.)

Day Two: Achadinha Cheese Company, Springhill Cheese FactoryMarin French Cheese Company, Nicasio Valley Cheese Company and Cowgirl Creamery

I made a 10:00 a.m. tour appointment at the Achadinha goat dairy and creamery in Petaluma. It was only a 30 minute drive from our hotel in downtown Sonoma. The tour was very casual. Luckily they were stirring cheese when we got there. We were able to watch that from the viewing window. We also got to see the aging room and watch them slice the cheese into wedges. We tried their sample plate, purchased some cheese and then visited the milking parlor and the 600 goats or “the girls,” as they call them.

After the tour, we headed to the Springhill Cheese Factory (also known as Petaluma Creamery). This is a cute store with lots to sample. We enjoyed driving through the town of Petaluma and seeing signs congratulating their little league team, who made it to the Little League World Series this year!

Next we wandered over to Marin French (not too far) to try all of their famous bries. Incredible cheeses! This place also has a fantastic picnic area. We knew this and were prepared to picnic!

After lunch, we went to Nicasio Valley to meet the Swiss Italian family that runs Nicasio Valley Cheese Company. They are from the village of Valle Maggia, Switzerland. They traveled there to learn how to make Swiss Italian cheeses and a Swiss Italian cheese expert actually came to California to help them get started. Their village isn’t far from Canton Ticino (where my mom’s family is from). We had fun visiting with them!

Finally, we headed over to Cowgirl Creamery in Point Reyes. They have a variety of cheeses to sample and purchase. They also have a viewing room and give tours, but the tours were booked full. That was fine because it gave us time to explore! We even hiked to the Point Reyes Lighthouse!

Day Three: Matos Cheese Factory

We took some time to visit Costeaux French Bakery in Healdsburg because my mom’s cousin worked there for for a long time. It’s a beautiful, large bakery with endless goodies. Then, we headed to the Sebastopol area to visit Matos Cheese Factory. Matos was definitely our favorite!

We drove down the long driveway of this tiny dairy and were led into a tiny room by a Portuguese lady in a green apron. She quickly sliced us some BIG slices of cheese and handed them to us. I made the mistake of asking, “What is this?” I was looking for a variety name. She said, “It’s cheese!” Then she said, “It’s portuguese cheese.” She could tell my mom especially loved the cheese. “Are you portuguese?” she asked my mom. My mom said, “No, I’m Swiss.” The lady responded, “That makes sense. The swiss and the portuguese love cheese.”

Maria Matos told us about her cheese and the island of Saint Jorge.  She said, “Our cheese is made from our milk and nobody else’s.” Maria and her husband, Joe have 40 cows. She showed us the little factory where they make their cheese “just like in the old country.” They ship cheese too! Just tell them how much you want and they will mail it to you with a bill. They keep things simple at Matos Cheese Factory, the way it should be.

We spent the rest of the day exploring bays and beaches!

Day Four: Enough cheese, let’s go to Napa! And then get our cheese home safe.

And that’s how the Ray family did the cheese trail. There’s no wrong way to taste cheese and meet amazing people. I recommend all cheese lovers take this journey some day!

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