Winter rains have left Marin’s grassy hills a brilliant emerald green, a paradise for happy herds of grazing Jersey, Guernsey and Holstein cows who produce some of the finest milk in the country. Tucked here and there in this bucolic landscape, several cheese factories use the rich, creamy milk to craft a pungent assortment of award-winning artisan cheeses. To the delight of fromage aficionados, several producers offer free tours and samples at their retail shops and tasting rooms—a perfect excuse for a tasty road trip.
Head north over the Golden Gate Bridge and it’s no secret that in about an hour you’ll be in Wine Country. But did you know, as you head up Highway 101 through the green, grassy hillsides of Marin and Sonoma County, that you’re in cheese country?
While everyone is talking about classic hard-to-fulfill New Year’s resolutions like “lose 10 pounds!” and drinking less (wah!), why not focus on something that adds to your arsenal of culinary and wine skills instead? Below are our five picks for ways to increase your bragging rights.
Cheesemongers are great at their job if they successfully convey what the original purveyor would want us to know. The Cheese School thrives with these erudite cheese connoisseurs who teach a rotation of classes to the not nearly as cheese-educated among us. If you’re interested in expanding your knowledge of cheese, seeking a unique date idea, or crave an atypical night out with friends, The Cheese School a delightful (and delicious) didactic destination makes.
Mmmmm, cheese. What more is there to say? We talked to passionate cheesemongers around the city to see what cheeses they're most excited about eating now.
Cheese Plus, 2001 Polk Street @ Pacific Ave., 415-921-2001
What they sell: cheeses, charcuterie, wine, imported Italian condiments, chocolate, seasonings, bread, sandwiches.
Favorite affordable cheese: Point Reyes' Toma ($19/lb). "It's grassy, milky, and dense," says cheesemonger Samantha Chertoff. "It's great to cook with, put on a cheeseboard, or eat in the morning."
Favorite new cheese in stock: Cabra Blanca ($38/lb). It's a pasteurized, natural-rind goat cheese from a very small Colorado farm, making it hard to get outside of the state. "It's a bright cheese with lemon tones, perfect for warm days. Pair it with cornichons (French pickles), champagne, or a nice pilsner."
If you can tear yourself away from the cheese counter at the new Mission Cheese long enough, start your weekend at the Berkeley Art Museum and Film Archive's Ferment[cheese] event this Friday, which gets really nerdy–in a good way, duh!–about milk's epic journey from its liquid form into full-fledged cheesehood.