Highlights from the California Artisan Cheese Festival 2016

Recently I had the good fortune to attend one of the most entertaining events in this business: Petaluma’s annual “California Cheesin'” event, part of the annual California Artisan Cheese Festival, now in its 10th year.

This highlight offers regional (northern California) restaurants plus purveyors of wine, beer, and cider — and let’s you go to town on dozens of cheese-inspired small bites. Some two dozen restaurants and cheesemakers were on hand this evening along with another 20 or so beverage companies. The idea: Taste through everything and pronounce a winner amongst the restaurants at the end of the night, following the visitors’ votes. (Beverage companies don’t get prizes, sadly.)

My favorite bites came from Carneros Bistro, whose Red Hawk arancini are perennial festival winners; The Girl and The Fig’s ricotta sorbet mini-cones; and Rustic at Francis Ford Coppola Winery’s asparagus and morel risotto. But the restaurant that got my vote was from a food truck outfit called Croques & Toques, whose truffled cheese croquette as a delightfully sharp and savory dish. (Though one other voter wondered whether it was cheating to use truffles!)

On the wine and beer side, a number of standouts: Estate 1856’s Petit Verdot was fragrant and lively; Goldschmidt Vineyards Fidelity Zinfandel was racy with green olive overtones; and the soft Pinot Noir from Fogline Vineyards was an easy sipper. Favorite wine, however, had to go to Pennyroyal Farm and its lightly earthy Pinot Noir — I’ve passed this place many times en route to Mendocino and never even knew they produced wine at all.

Best beer: Lagunitas Equinox, a pale oat ale, offering the best of two distinctly different worlds of brewing.

As always, it was a fantastic event on a beautiful evening in Petaluma. I look forward to checking it out again in 2017!


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