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If creamy mascarpone, tangy cheddar, gooey Gorgonzola, tantalizing mozzarella, and intriguing burrata are your favorite foods, then you need to sample California cheeses. With happy cows and plenty of farmland, the Golden State is known for its high-caliber dairy industry and all the tasty treats that come with it. From making the best ice cream to producing quality milk, we seem to have it all figured out—especially when it comes to creating the one thing we just wouldn’t want to live without: cheese.
Considering California has an extensive cheese trail, it should come as no surprise that the state has a long cheesemaking history. Monterey Jack cheese, for instance, was invented in the Bay Area in the 1800s, and dozens of other cheeses followed as families and their livestock journeyed to California during the Gold Rush. Even with such a long tradition of cheesemaking, the state’s vast array of cheese flavor profiles will always shock our taste buds. From herbaceous Humboldt Fog goat cheese to roasted-garlic Jack, it’s easy to find the best cheese for any mood in California.
With so many cheese producers in California, choosing a favorite is nearly impossible. Between crafting your ideal cheese board, mixing it up with decadent macaroni and cheese, and tossing the best pizzas, there’s a different type of cheese for every culinary calling, so why just choose one? Here are a few of our top California cheesemakers with cheeses that are worth trying—and are so good you just might be inspired to take a road trip along the California Cheese Trail.
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Based in: Point Reyes Station
Cowgirl Creamery is a true Bay Area classic and one of our all-time favorite California cheese companies. After attending college in Tennessee and moving out to California to launch successful careers near San Francisco, owners Sue Conley and Peggy Smith decided to open their own cheese company using milk from the nearby Straus Family Creamery in Petaluma.
Two-plus decades later, Cowgirl Creamery continues to produce quality cheeses that dreams are made of. With options ranging from fromage blanc to crème fraîche, you’re sure to find a cheese or two that tickles your fancy. Plus, many of the cheeses are named after Bay Area landmarks such as Mt. Tam, Chimney Rock, and Inverness—it doesn’t get much more Californian than that.
Based in: Petaluma
With a deep respect for animals and the land, Petaluma Creamery crafts delicious cheese using entirely organic, non-GMO, and hormone-free milk from its 400 pasture-raised Jersey cows. Established 100-plus years ago and located along the cheese trail in Sonoma, this is one of the top California cheesemakers, so you’re sure to find only the best products here.
Choose between cheese curds, asiago, Colby-Jack, aged white cheddar, and several other drool-worthy types of cheeses from the company’s Petaluma Creamery, Petaluma Gold, and Spring Hill Jersey Cheese brands. Make the trip to Petaluma to pick up the freshest items—such as Sonoma County cheese, butter, ice cream, eggs, and milk—as well as a sandwich to bring on a picnic.
The Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company is committed to sustainable agriculture and to carrying on the long family heritage of dairy ranching. Take a road trip down the Pacific Coast Highway to breathe in the crisp coastal air, look out onto Tomales Bay, and of course, stock up on all the makings of a fantastic California cheese board.
Go with the Crowd Pleaser box to try Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company’s Bay Blue, Toma, and aged gouda cheeses—plus date spread, cacao nib and almond flatbread bites, seasonal dried fruits, salami, and more—or take it slow with a bit of the Original Blue, which will surely knock your socks off.
Based in: Valley Ford
Valley Ford Cheese & Creamery produces artisanal, handcrafted, Italian-style cheeses that are out of this world. Raised on certified-organic land, the Jersey cows reign over the pasture year-round. The cows are never treated with antibiotics or growth hormones, so the flavors in the cheeses are pure, and you can rest assured that the animals are treated humanely.
Pick up some Grazin’ Girl Gorgonzola and Highway 1 Fontina, but don’t forget to grab the Estero Gold cheese that will have you reminiscing about the idyllic coastal escape of Timber Cove.
Based in: Arcata
Cypress Grove was an unexpected treasure when it opened in the early 1980s, and since then, it has had an everlasting impact on California’s cheese scene. Looking to give her children healthy milk, founder Mary Keehn acquired a few goats and decided to make cheese from the leftover milk—that’s when the famed Humboldt Fog was born.
This legendary cheese literally came to Keehn in a dream and paved the pathway for soft-ripened goat cheese in the United States. Aside from its flagship Humboldt Fog, Cypress Grove also offers more than a dozen other cheese varieties made from high-quality ingredients. With aged, soft-ripened, and fresh goat cheeses to choose from, there’s a luxurious option for every occasion.
Based in: Willows
Rumiano Cheese is the oldest family-owned cheese company in California. It gained fame for becoming the largest cheese company in the state by the mid-1930s, but it’s the dry Monterey Jack cheese that keeps fans coming back after all these years.
Hand-rolled and coated with pepper, cocoa, and mineral oil before being aged for up to a year, the award-winning dry Monterey Jack cheese is truly something special. After securing your block of Jack, choose between sliced, shredded, or organic cheese options along with butter and ghee to make any dish you cook that much better.
With so much California cheese to choose from, you’ll never tire of sampling something new. If you love cheese as much as we do, share your favorite Golden State cheese brand in the comments below.
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