I'd like to plan a weekend drive devoted to cheese. Can the good folks on this board point me to the (Bay Area) artisanal creameries or other cheesy destinations that welcome visitors? What I have in mind is sightseeing, visiting, stopping for lunch/picnic somewhere, generally indulging in yummy cheese and other goodies.
Thanks for your help
I'm not anything close to a cheese freak, but I recommend stopping in downtown Sonoma (Sonoma Plaza) if it's not too far out of the way. There are two cheese companies within a few blocks of each other that I think are worth checking out: (1) Vella Cheese Company and (2) Sonoma Cheese Factory.
Vella Cheese Company, in particular, is a good place to taste, ask questions, and buy their cheese at below retail prices. Their factory and tiny retail store is a few blocks away from the Plaza. I like the "smallness" of their retail store and, of course, their prices. They sliced samples for me like a "real" cheese store should. If you want to try their cheese before driving all the way out there, I'm pretty sure your local Whole Foods sells their more popular cheeses (at a higher price).
IMO, Sonoma Cheese Factory isn't so great, but I think it's worth dropping in (and tasting a few samples) if you're already in the area. Located right in the Plaza, I think it's like a big crowded tourist gift shop. Their samples were pre-cut cubes on plates with toothpicks. It's worth going once, though.
The huge Sebastiani winery is also within a few blocks of the Plaza and I recommend their tasting room if you have any interest in wine (and you're not a wine snob). They're pretty good at a variety of wines (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot) at several price levels (about $13 to $80+). When I was there last Christmas Eve (after buying a bunch of cheese at Vella), they were offering free tastes of their "Sonoma County" Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (both very good for $13). I forgot how much the tasting fee was for the rest of their wines, but I think it was average for big Sonoma/Napa wineries.
Marin French Cheese company (Petaluma between Highway 1 and 101) is probably not "artisinal" enough for most cheese connoisseurs, but it's very visitor-friendly and might be a convenient place to have a picnic. Lots of samples, kid-friendly, and a picnic area around a duck pond. Good photo of their picnic area on their home page: http://www.marinfrenchcheese.com/
If you're anywhere near the SF Ferry Building, the cheese shop there is great (as is the whole place).
if you're looking for cheese factories, I'd add cowgirl creamery in Pt reyes and marin french (rouge et noir) on the petaluma-novato road to the ones listed above
if you're looking for cheese shops, the bay area has a myriad of fine stores.
ask and i'll post a rec or two, depending upon where you are and where you want to go