Califonia Bountiful

Milking the trend

Visit a part of California with an 'udderly' impressive distinction

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Besides having breathtakingly beautiful scenery, the North Bay region of Sonoma and Marin counties can claim another distinction: artisan cheese capital of California. In fact, the area is home to the largest concentration of artisan cheese makers in the state, with more than half of California's 43 artisan cheese companies located there.

The foggy, grassy North Bay boasts some 22,000 acres of land dedicated to making a variety of dairy products, and to celebrate that, the Marin Economic Forum has introduced the Sonoma-Marin Cheese Trail Map, the state's first guide to visiting artisan cheese makers.

"Our main goal was to connect consumers to the farm and for farmers to be able to say, 'Look at what I go through, look at what this is about, look what I made,'" said Vivien Straus of the Marin Economic Forum. "We just want people to get a chance to see the farms and to see where their food really comes from."

But what is artisan? According to the American Cheese Society, the word implies that "a cheese is produced primarily by hand, in small batches, with particular attention paid to the tradition of the cheese maker's art, and thus using as little mechanization as possible in the production of the cheese. Artisan, or artisanal, cheeses may be made from all types of milk and may include various flavorings."

Whether you like cheeses made from goat, sheep, cow or even buffalo milk, the map will point you in the right direction. It also shows which cheese makers are open to visitors and provides some interesting cheese facts, too. (For example, it takes 5 pounds of sheep milk, 7 pounds of goat milk or 10 pounds of cow's milk to make 1 pound of cheese.)

Artisan cheese making is experiencing a renaissance as both longtime dairy families and new cheese entrepreneurs are getting into the business and finding success. The hope is that the colorful and informative map will raise the profile of local cheese makers, an important component of the two counties' agricultural economy. 

The map includes the three dairies the California Bountiful team visited: Nicasio Valley Cheese Co., McClelland Dairy and Weirauch Farm and Creamery. There are 24 other dairies on the map, all with their own stories to tell, farmers to meet and products to enjoy. And thanks to the location, the animals and the farmers, mapping out the trail to finding great food is easier than ever.

Download a copy of the Sonoma-Marin Cheese Trail map and a new California Cheese Trail map. 

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