WRITTEN BY Alejandra Saragoza
Alejandra is the managing editor of California.com. She's a California native based in the Bay Area and enjoys writing about all things food and travel related. Her work can also be seen in Diablo, T…See full bio
Updated on March 11: Unfortunately, the 2020 California Artisan Cheese Festival was cancelled due to growing concerns about the coronavirus. Please check back next year!
Calling all cheese lovers! Treat your taste buds to a dreamy assortment of tantalizing California-made cheeses at the big daddy of cheese fests: The California Artisan Cheese Festival. Taking place from March 27 to 29, the country’s premier cheese festival brings together cheesemakers, top chefs, farmers, cheesemongers, authors, brewers, and winemakers from across the Golden State.
The three-day extravaganza features several events at venues in and around the city of Santa Rosa, including the Sonoma Event Center; historic Flamingo Resort & Spa; and several local restaurants, creameries, and tasting rooms. From the beloved farm tours and cheese-tasting events to the hands-on seminars and cooking demonstrations, there’s plenty of cheesy-good celebrations to enjoy. Tickets for all of the weekend festivities recently went on sale, and if you want to experience this fabulous fromage-filled fest—which is bound to sell out—you better nab yours now.
The 2020 California Artisan Cheese Festival kicks off with the ever-popular Farm and Producer Tours, where you can explore various local farms and creameries, including the acclaimed Point Reyes Farmstead Co., Cowgirl Creamery, and McEvoy Ranch. During the guided walking excursions, you’ll meet the makers and see how cheeses and other products are made, and of course, sample the delicious goodies along the way. This year’s fest provides six tours on Friday and two on Saturday, so there are plenty of opportunities to get a behind-the-scenes look.
Saturday also features an array of interactive seminars and pairing demos that bring festival-goers face-to-face with the experts who work with and create some of the country’s best cheeses. You can expand your knowledge on all things cheese and even gain a new skill: Learn about California’s rich dairy history; see how to make an Instagram-worthy cheese board; try your hand at crafting fresh mozzarella, tangy chèvre, and creamy burrata; or learn how to pair cheeses with certain drinks and foods. To continue the fun, end the day at the Cheese, Bites, and Booze soiree. This bash boasts a collection of small dishes highlighting California’s artisanal cheeses, which pair perfectly with the regionally produced beverages being poured.
The festivities culminate in a Sunday grand finale at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds, where the Artisan Cheese Tasting & Marketplace brings together more than 100 cheesemakers and artisanal purveyors, creating a feast for the senses. Fill your plate (and glass) and pair the handcrafted cheeses with such delicious accompaniments as local honey, sweet jams and preserves, charcuterie, delicate crackers, tangy pickles, and decadent chocolates. Before you go, grab a few delicacies to bring home with you.
But the cheesy goodness doesn’t stop there. In the week leading up to the 14th annual California Artisan Cheese Festival, cheese aficionados can find special cheese-focused dishes and menus at a few of their favorite local restaurants, tasting rooms, and businesses around the state for the second annual California Artisan Cheese Week. Businesses will show support for their favorite cheesemakers and give guests the opportunity to enjoy their standbys and discover new artisan cheeses in creative dishes, impressive cheese plates, special discounts, unique pairings, and more.
So, what are you waiting for? Buy your California Artisan Cheese Festival tickets before they’re gone, and get ready to break out the stretchy pants and Lactaid pills. (Bonus: Proceeds of each ticket benefit the California Artisan Cheese Guild—which strives to increase cheese appreciation, educate consumers about artisan cheese, and support the California cheesemaking community—so you can feel good about all the cheese you’re going to consume.)
And if the event leaves you feeling inspired to continue your cheese-filled explorations, check out the Northern California Cheese Trail and bring your provisions to the best picnic spots in the state.