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!

Win Free VIP Tickets to the SF Craft Spirits Carnival!

carnival

What’s the best kind of carnival? A CRAFT SPIRITS CARNIVAL, that’s what!

People, we’ve got a huge treat for you — two pairs of VIP tickets to the San Francisco Craft Spirits Carnival this Sunday, August 16, 2015. (Tickets are good for both the wine and spirits portion of the show, but only on Sunday.)

The event takes place all weekend at Fort Mason. All told, this is $600 worth of tickets that we’re giving out!

All you have to do to register to win is like our Facebook page and leave a response for us (any response) on this post. We’ll pick two winners at random — each winner will get two tickets — and have the carnies themselves contact you for delivery. Winners will be selected on Tuesday, August 11, 2015. Please only enter if you can legitimately attend.

Please please please check out the SF Craft Spirits Carnival website, and visit this page to buy tickets for Saturday or Sunday. You can go to just the spirits side of things, or do both spirits and wine. Wish I was going to be there! Have fun, you guys!

The fine print: Contests and giveaways are open only to readers age 21 and up with a U.S. mailing address. One prize per person per giveaway. We reserve the right to cancel any giveaway at our sole discretion. We are not responsible for lost, misdirected, or late entries. Not open to employees/contributors or immediate family members of Drinkhacker or Null Media employees/contributors, its affiliates, or advertising/promotion agencies and their respective parents, subsidiaries, affiliates, directors, officers, employees, and agents. This offer is void wherever prohibited or restricted by national, state, or any governmental laws. We are not responsible for late, lost, or damaged prize packages. We do not use your mailing address for any other purpose than sending prizes; addresses are not kept on file. One entry per contestant — your entry is good for the length of each giveaway. Duplicate entries will disqualify the entrant.

Upcoming: West of West Wine Festival

One of the most exciting regions in California wine is the rugged Sonoma coast, an area that overlooks the ocean and is blasted with frigid breezes… and where some of the best syrah, pinot noir, and chardonnay can be found growing. Major wine world names like DuMol, Peay, Flowers, and Evening Land call this region home — and they’ve got their own wine festival, too.

West of West is a traveling show that visits Chicago and New York, but also makes time for a stop right here in the Bay Area. The Sebastapol show arrives on the weekend of July 31-August 2, 2015, and tickets are now on sale for a weekend of seminars, fine dining, and — of course — wine tasting.

“All Access” weekend passes run $595, but tickets to the grand tastings (one each on Saturday and Sunday) can be purchased for as little as $100. If you’re a fan of these wines, don’t miss it!

westsonomacoast.com

Tastes from the California Artisan Cheese Festival 2015

020

Cheese and wine (and beer) go hand in hand (in hand), so putting these together on a balmy March evening in Petaluma, California, made perfect sense to me. Recently I attended the California Artisan Cheese Festival‘s “Chef vs. Chef – The Best Bite” competition, where about 20 restaurants vied to woo the public each offering a dish created using a regional cheese. Just about everything cheesy was here, from simple cheese-on-cracker presentations to a homey presentation of beef cheek barbacoa with Cowgirl Creamery Wagon Wheel arepas. Cheesecake bites nestled in beside lobster poutine and salmon-goat cheese flatbreads.

What however to make of the elaborate ricotta, strawberry, and chocolate dessert… topped with crispy little fish? I can still taste this one, weeks later…

021My favorite nibble of the night had to go to John Ash & Co., which produced a delightful item: Willapa Hills mac ‘n’ cheese and Hobbs’ bacon stuffed inside a homemade pretzel roll with Willapa Hills Lilly Pad cheese sauce. Decadent? You better believe it. But inventive and delicious, too.

My top sips were from Bucher Winery (two great pinot noirs), Paul Mathew Vineyards (another pinot), and Sonoma Portworks in the wine world. As well, two beers stood out: Lagunitas Hop Stoopid and Baeltane Brewing’s Saison.

Fun times all around! I look forward to checking it out again in 2016.

Reporting from the 2015 Taste of Yountville

018

Like wining and dining? There’s another way to do it aside from booking a table at a restaurant and driving from one winery to another. Event’s like the Taste of Yountville, part of the Yountville Live! extravaganza, give you the chance to nibble and tipple in the confines of a few city blocks.

Recently I ventured into the heart of the wine country and a culinary mecca — Yountville is home to the famous French Laundry — for a walk-around tasting of local wines and locally prepared foods.

Among the highlights of the afternoon included a fantastic pate from Bistro Jeanty, which paired wonderfully with a Clos du Val Chardonnay. I also had a soft spot for Bouchon’s truffled fries, which were paired up with a silky Cab from Newton Vineyards. Other top-notch wines included Trefethen’s Pinot Noir, drinking beautifully, and a Cabernet and unoaked Chardonnay from Alpha Omega — both knockouts.

It’s always fun to visit Yountville, but I’ve never really done so much of it on foot. If you go — this annual event occurs every March — bring your appetite … and a hat!

2015 Whisky Extravaganza Dates Announced — Get 10% Off

We’ve had a great time at The Whisky Extravaganza over the years — though we haven’t been recently since it hasn’t landed in San Francisco for a few years.

Nonetheless we’re still fans and recommend you become one as well. This year’s events are scheduled, starting later this month in Houston, Texas. Want to go there, or to any of the other eight cities the event is going to hit? Use promo code EXTD2015 and you’ll get 10 percent off the price of a ticket.

Find out more and buy your tickets at thewhiskyextravaganza.com!

inviteMailSideFinal_noMarkup