I am on the furtive California Cheese Trail. I came here for stories of food. But what I got was a lot more. I got stories of passion.
Even to West Coasters as myself, the California Cheese Trail remains obscured, and I would argue that we should keep it that way. The trail spans Sonoma and Marin Counties in California, north of San Francisco. This area is already made famous by its fantastic wine, but to also lay claim to some great, boutique cheese? Remind me why I don't live here again. The trail map could be downloaded here, and there is also an app available for both Apple and Android devices. While some of the cheesemakers are open to the public, some are only available for tours/tastings by appointment only.
Right around March, there is also a festival for serious cheese nerds. There are guided tours, workshops, tastings, and classes. The 2014 annual event was last weekend, but you can pin this page for the 2015 schedule.
We were on the trail to meet two cheesemakers that day: Don and Bonnie of Two Rock Valley Goat Cheese and Craig Ramini of Ramini Mozzarella. We were just whale-watching that morning at Bodega Head and would be wine tasting the next day, so an afternoon was all we had. But carpe diem, we did! We allowed two hours per cheesemaker and that was plenty for each place to leave an impression.
GO FOR GOAT
Bonnie meets us at the barn door. "I've been expecting you." She has a kind face and a nonna quality about her. I thaw out instantly. We entered the barn where she keeps the kids and some mothering ones, and instantly, the chorus of bleeping goats welcome her. And us. I didn't realize goats had that much personality! They were like puppies clamoring to be petted!
She started the goat farm with just two goats as pets for grandkids. Years later, it ballooned to over one hundred fifty. They are already an organic cow milk dairy (supplying Organic Valley) so it was not too much of a transition to start milking the goats.
And what to do with all that goat’s milk? Well, make cheese, of course.
This is it. We've found gold.
Two Rock Valley Goat Cheese is located at 7955 Valley Ford Road, Petaluma, CA. Check them out on Facebook here. Some of their cheeses are available at Whole Foods. Don DeBernardi is also a mainstay at the local farmer's markets.