About Eric Gabster

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Cheese Trail: Mapping a Tasty Adventure in Northern California

October 7, 2013 by  


Most people are familiar with California’s grape-growing heritage and many spend time in a region to savor the fermented joys of harvest.  However grapes are but one of the world-class agricultural products in California, and many folks might be surprised to discover the tantalizing pleasure in road trips to uncover others as well.

Ripening Bits of Wonder Along the Cheese Trail


California cheese makers have grown from small family to large production, and blessed with bountiful resources and demand for high-quality products, the art of cheese making in small batches has returned. In the last few years many serious cheese making efforts have established themselves throughout the state.  But unlike knowing a grape-growing region and finding the fermentation cellar nestled among acres and acres of vineyard… many cheese makers have been harder to find.

Until now.

Thanks to a scion of California’s first organic dairy, the state now has a “Cheese Trail” that’s mapped-out and growing in detail.  Vivien Straus is daughter to the founders of Straus Family Dairy in Marin County.  She knew people liked to discover local products thanks to her time helping grow Straus Family Creamery and as a tour guide for the cheese artisans at Cowgirl Creamery in Petaluma, California.  No one can speak with greater authenticity about the principle milk source for Cowgirl cheeses: it’s the Straus dairy.

From the Central Coast

Seeing growth of interest in cheese crafting, Straus plotted locations and details of the cheese makers in her region of Sonoma and Marin counties. Beginning with 50,000 copies of a paper map she wondered how her good intensions might be received.  When the first printing was snapped up in a few months she had her answer.  Two additional printings — at 50,000 each — are running low, and a fourth is due shortly.

Straus’s hunch proved exactly on target: people like cheese, and they’ll travel to find its source.  It wasn’t long before Straus began hearing from cheese makers in other regions who wanted her to produce a similar map for their area.  Within months, Straus’s idea to help cheese makers in her backyard became a statewide effort.

Marcia Barinaga on Factory Grounds

“The California Cheese Trail Map is what every cheese lover is looking for – the inside scoop about unique, handcrafted, artisan cheeses, the people who make them, and where they’re located,” comments Straus.

In order to keep up with additional regions, new cheese makers seeking inclusion, and on-going updates to existing information, an online version of the Cheese Trail Map was posted.

In addition to the website, Straus added a smart phone App recently so that people traveling anywhere in California can find cheese makers near them or plan a trip to visit.  The App gives cheese lovers a resource for finding all kinds of California cheese makers, as well as getting details on which farms are open to the public, tips for planning a tour, and receiving news about upcoming cheese-making classes and cheese-related events. The App also informs cheese lovers about free cheese tastings and provides information about which farmers’ markets and retailers carry various cheeses.

While the current printed version of the Cheese Trail Map focuses on cheese craft in the northern part of California’s Bay Area, new versions expect to expand into Central California, with other regions slated to follow.

The App is available for iPhones and on Android systems.   And like a mouse finding cheese… it’s free.

Vivien Straus is a small-farm advocate and creator of the Cheese Trail Map and new App.  She has a long history advocating artisan foods, including many years as VP of Marketing at Straus Family Creamery, and leading cheese tours for the award-winning Cowgirl Creamery.

You’ll find the Cheese Trail Map and new App at Cheese Trail  and can add your cheese nibbling notes at the Cheese Trail’s Facebook Page.


How New Zealand Kids Tell Their Story of Christmas…

December 25, 2012 by  


Joseph Campbell reminded the late 20th Century about the stories that formed the archetypes our culture, and virtually all other cultures as well.  We think our stories are unique, our history special — if not divinely inspired.

Campbell gently and with extensive detail explained that most of those archetypes are shared by virtually all cultures in their own form.  Carl Jung articulated the concept as a shared unconscious.

We all understand the cosmos through similar archetypes and the stories that string them together.  Unfortunately too many of us allow fear and hatred to well up when another person’s story arc does not match our own.  Silly humans.

What can be refreshing if we step back to observe, is the way those slightly differing archetypes are basically all the same.

That — at the end of the day — we are all one people on this earth struggling to give meaning to Life with the same cerebral tools and histories as everybody else … just by way of our unique understandings of the world.   And in fact — this difference is an incredible, unifying force –though it’s easier to look at variations than what’s actually at the heart of our stories.

A festival of light at the darkest time of the year, divine intervention in human form, prophets inspired by the transcendent … these are stories shared by virtually all cultures in all ages of human history.  Only in culturally variant ways.   That which is so easily lost in the details is the core message of all these stories — evolution of Being, shortcoming of human foibles, redemption from failure through self-sacrifice, and an aspiration for the transcendence of true peace and harmony.

In this light it’s a joy to welcome all the stories of human celebration — because they are at heart our same iconic tales.

It was a gift this Season to find a kid’s story project by members of St. Paul’s, the oldest church in Auckland, New Zealand.  These are the best of several productions — charming efforts to retell the Christmas story; about Love incarnate in the form of a defenseless child … all through the purity and awkwardness of children.

Whatever your archetypal understandings these are stories of hope, lovingly told for all of us.  They are unique and particularly dear. Have a look at the videos below:

Jack Frost’s Winter Visit to Missoula Montana

December 12, 2012 by  


The only thing you can be sure about the weather in Missoula, Montana is that it will be different in twenty minutes.  Usually.

In the confluence of five valleys, the town’s air and precipitation defy accurate forecast — except in the most general of terms.

So when peaks surrounding the valley are crowned in white,  air is crisp, and holiday cheer abounds, you’d expect the feeling to be Christmas.   But, not quite this year.

Snow tires tore into Missoula’s dry asphalt a week into December.

It took a short drive to the hills to kick through snow.  Difficult to greet this Season in town without snowflakes dusting your wool cap, and a scarf’s tug bracing the chill.

And then it happened.  As if on cue during the monthly Art Walk on December’s First Friday, amidst the revelers downtown.

Great blustery swirls of heavy, wet flakes filled the beacons of streetlight.  Roadways transformed during the short visit to an art gallery — as if elves finally had their fill of seasonal dark brews and went back to work.  Crunchy white sidewalks appeared by magic, and strollers became daubed in white by an unseen hand.  Art direction to order, and in haste — though Jimmy Stewart did not run down Higgins Avenue (above) shouting “Merry Christmas!”

















In an hour — a routine event on a brisk evening suddenly bloomed into celebration of Christmas and art and music.

Smiles widened,  laughter deepened, and the pace hastened between venues.  As snow stacked onto decorations, softening the illumination of festive color,  it finally felt like Christmas in town.  The last bow onto Missoula’s Holiday.

















Next morning, naked branches sang with snowy delight that Jack Frost came to visit, and finally the valley floor could match the brilliance of surrounding hills in 2012′s return of Old Man Winter.