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Aug 5, 2013 07:13 AM

Anyone Do a Cheese Trail Tour?

Considering spending a half day on a cheese tasting tour in Sonoma/Napa rather than so many wine tastings that the palate gets numb. Looking for suggestions that we can drive on our own, and for dairy preferences. Thanks!

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    We did the above tour just last year. Before we embarked, we marked the ones that met the following criteria: made there, retail store and free samples, which narrowed the list considerably.

    If you like brie, make sure that the Marin French Cheese Company is on your list; prices are fabulous and there may be unadvertised specials. (At the register, you might be informed that some of your purchases are BOGOF.)

    At the other end of the spectrum is the Matos Cheese Factory, set literally in the middle of cow pastures. After you walk in the door and hit the bell, take a peak in the back: rounds of cheese, hand stacked and rotated on floor-to-ceiling wooden shelves. No climate control that I could see. No frills service, no frills marketing and one and only one kind of cheese. You can literally taste the cow in the cheese.

    10 Replies
    1. re: MKatrinaToo

      I'm off to do that next weekend, and will report back. Also, check out Freestone Artisan Cheese (in Freestone, home of the fabulous Wild Flour Breads). Also, note that it's getting to be Gravenstein season in Sonoma county. The fair is next weekend:

      1. re: MKatrinaToo

        We've never made time for a full 'tour' but can highly recommend the Cowgirls:

        They offer a small class about cheese at their great Point Reyes store, & a tour of their factory in Petaluma.

        I know that this is south of where you'll be but we also really enjoyed the tour at Harley Farms Goat Dairy:

        When's the last time you got to hold a 10-day old goatlet?

        Hi Ho Curds, aWheeeeeeeeeeey!

        1. re: MKatrinaToo

          At Matos you left out the part where the cheese maid gives you a large piece to taste while you are making up your mind how much you want. It's half the price of what it costs at the local cheese shop almost paying for the gas to get there.;-)
          At Marin French you can try their Schloss and at Nicasio their raw milk. Both are not usually carried in my local stores.

          1. re: wolfe

            Ha, Ha, that's because the first time we went it was a nice big sample. The last couple of times, it was what we regard as a sliver.

            We have gotten Matos cheese three times now (I ain't saying how many pounds we buy); the last time we went it was $7.00/lb.

            It was interesting, because each time we got the cheese, there were subtle differences in texture and flavor; after ripening more in the fridge, again, different texture and flavor.

            It's probably our favorite, all purpose cheese.

            And you are right; there is a lovely raw milk cheese at Nicasio I can't remember.

            1. re: MKatrinaToo

              After the recent discussions of Cheeseboard post-aging cheese, we are well on the way to a Raspberry Pi based cheese ripening fridge, with our own humidity control algos as well as temp. We have also considered asking a friend who lives a mile away if we can borrow his bomb shelter. Seems like a little extra aging is a very good thing.

              1. re: MKatrinaToo

                Here's the price from 1 on line company.
                Matos Saint George
                Item # 10981
                Price: $24.00 per lb

            2. re: MKatrinaToo

              Marin French Cheese Company makes my favorite triple creme brie. They've won awards in France, its amazing, their other cheeses are awesome as well. Don't miss it!

              1. re: MKatrinaToo

                Marin French Cheese's "traditional Brie" aka "Camembert" is a decent cheese, especially if you age it yourself, but it has little in common with either of its namesakes. I don't believe they've won any awards in France, where they could not legally sell those cheeses.

                Did they stop making Schloss?

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  A yelper commented in a 7/13/13 post "Our favorite is by far the Schloss..."

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    Schloss is certainly my favorite cheese from Marin French Cheese Company. In their store, you can often find underweight products at a significant discount.

                2. My personal favorite is Bohemian, especially because it's not as widely distributed as Cowgirl / Andante, and because they do a lot of the riper and "stankier" styles. I believe Bohemian is carried by Cheeseboard and somewhere in SF but not down the peninsula where I live. ( I think I like achidna too, I think I saw them at Menlo Park farmer's market - I ran into a wrapper in the cheese bin just yesterday )

                  I tasted a bunch of Bohemian at --- I think --- La Bodega cheese shop, which is behind / associated with Sonoma Wine Shop, and the cheese shop is in the alley behind the Wine Shop right off of Sonoma Square. They had - and if Yelp is to believe still has - a "10 cheese taster" where they will sample out 10 cheeses for a modest price and you can eat them on a plate, seated at a table, instead of just getting little slices at the counter. Tell them the kind of cheese you like and you'll get a great spread - one of my highlights of a Sonoma trip a few years ago.

                  1. In June, I stopped by Spring Hill's creamery shop in town.

                    I noticed the farmstead peppercorn dry jack made with goat cheese (shown below) and did a double take as I wasn't aware that this dairy had a goat herd. I asked about it and found out that this is a new cheese and yes, the first goat cheese made here. I wanted to taste it, but the person on duty did not have authorization to cut into the wheel on display. She tried to get in touch with a supervisor but I didn't have time to wait.

                    If anyone has tried this cheese, please tell us about it.