If You Go
621 Western Ave., Petaluma
(707) 762-3446 www.springhillcheese.com
80 Fourth St., Point Reyes Station, (415) 663-9335
419 First St., Petaluma*,
*The Petaluma location is open for tours from April to September only. www.cowgirlcreamery.com
THE EPICUREAN CONNECTION 122 W. Napa St., Sonoma
(707) 935-7960 www.theepicureanconnection.com
VELLA CHEESE COMPANY
315 E. Second St., Sonoma
(707) 938-3232 www.vellacheese.com
NICASIO VALLEY CHEESE COMPANY
5300 Nicasio Valley Road, Nicasio (415) 662-6200 www.nicasiocheese.com
MARIN CONVENTION & VISITORS BUREAU
1 Mitchell Blvd., Suite B, San Rafael
SONOMA COUNTY TOURISM
3637 Westwind Blvd., Santa Rosa
(707) 522-5800 www.sonomacounty.com
At Vella Cheese Company, we peek through a screen door into the back of the building, where cheese production is in process, but our focus is on tasting the dry Jack cheese for which the company is famous. In a short 20 minutes, we’ve blazed through nearly the entire catalog of cheese — from high-moisture Jack cheese to cheddar, Italian and finally, the dry Jack varieties.
The staff behind the counter happily obliges, wanting to give us a taste of the mellow, nutty flavors that have helped Vella earn a spot in the Slow Food Foundation for Diversity’s Ark of Taste that recognizes Dry Monterey Jack as a unique food in danger of extinction. It’s the best choice for the cooler, and we buy some to enjoy later.
To round out our dairy day, we make our final stop in Nicasio at the Nicasio Valley Cheese Company. Inside the small store is a window into the cheesemaker’s operation and tables set with the company’s eight varieties of farmstead cheese that use organic milk from its own cows. Although the samples are arranged so that customers can guide themselves from tangy Foggy Morning through Swiss-Italian-style Nicasio Reserve, Lynette Lafranchi explains the differences in the cheeses as we move from plate to plate. She’s especially encouraged when she learns that we’ve found the spot through the Sonoma Marin Cheese Trail map.
“This gorgeous, pastoral cheesemaking portal is beckoning cheese lovers as Napa Valley draws folks to their amazing and versatile grapes,” says Lafranchi, getting more toothpicks for us to stab squares of cheese and pop them into our mouths. I pick the soft-ripening Loma Alta, with its nutty undertones, for a spot in the cooler. Mom is surprised there’s still room.
Considering the amount of cheese we consume along our journey, one might think it would have taken us a while to make our way through the cheese we take home, but we run out in less than a week. We immediately pick a day to hit the trail again.
JILL K. ROBINSON is a freelance journalist based in the tiny California beach town of El Granada. Cheese is her favorite food group.