A MOO-VABLE FEAST: Grilled cheese from The Epicurean Connection
James Fanucchi

Next on the tour is Cowgirl Creamery. Founded by Sue Conley and Peggy Smith in 1997 in tiny Point Reyes Station, Cowgirl now has a second facility in Petaluma. While the tour includes the company’s history and connection to local dairies, we also get a hands-on demonstration of making curd. Clearly, this could be my chance to sneak a handful. I know Mom would never tell, but there doesn’t seem to be a good moment for curd smuggling.

We’re soon awarded the opportunity to taste Cowgirl cheese, from a silky-smooth Fromage Blanc to a robust, 4-week-old Red Hawk with a distinct red-orange rind obtained from wild bacteria. In between those options, Pierce Point is washed in muscato wine and rolled in coastal herbs and ­organic, dried wildflowers; Devil’s Gulch is made with spicy-sweet pepper flakes; and Mt. Tam — the company’s most popular variety — has hints of white mushrooms.

Now You Know: The average American consumes 31 pounds of cheese per year.

Aside from the tasting, the best moment comes when we each receive a bag of Cowgirl Creamery samples to take home. This is exactly why I have a cooler in the car’s trunk.

Two tours down, we break up the day with lunch in Sonoma at The Epicurean Connection, a place that, with its shop space in front and café in the back, feels as if it’s been airlifted into downtown Sonoma straight from New Orleans. Scanning the menu, which ranges from tartine sandwiches to crepes, I spy another New Orleans connection: a grilled cheese sandwich with cheddar, tasso ham, Creole mustard and red-pepper tapenade. Mom wants one too — neither of us plans to share.

As we enjoy our melted-cheese lunch, locals and visitors wander in and chat with owner Sheana Davis. Animated and eager to share culinary advice with anyone who’s interested, she gives me a list of nearby wineries that put together amazing cheese plates. Her café has them as well, but she’s happy to point people elsewhere in the interest of supporting the artisan-and-farmstead-cheese community.