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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.