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Sonoma and Marin Counties offer a number of acclaimed artisan cheesemakers.

In Sonoma and Marin Counties (click for Cheese Trails map), our many artisan cheesemakers raise sheep and goats, as well as cows, for their milk.

Welcome back to Drink Wine With Dinner®, my friends – and Happy National Cheese Day!

In this little slice of paradise I call home, our mild Mediterranean climate makes it possible to grow just about anything.

You’ve seen some of our amazing local produce – fruits, veggies and herbs – in my Farmers Market (and backyard gardening!) posts.

When it comes to wine, the Sonoma County line is just a dozen miles north of my front door, and Napa is not too much farther east.

 

They may look like loaves of bread – but these are are wheels of "Capricious," an award-winning goat cheese  that's hand-rubbed with olive oil and aged for up to a year, from Achadinha Cheese Company in Petaluma.

They may look like loaves of bread – but these are are wheels of “Capricious,” an award-winning goat cheese that’s rubbed with olive oil and aged for up to a year, from Achadinha Cheese Company in Petaluma.

Along with all the flora that flourish here, we’ve got all kinds of two-and four-legged fauna to provide us with eggs, milk and meat. Which brings me to today’s topic…

I’ve been enjoying our local cheeses since I first moved from New York to the Bay Area in my early twenties.

 

Bellwether Farms also makes some unique, delicious cheeses. Try the Crescenza and Pepato.

Bellwether Farms in Sonoma County also makes some unique, delicious cheeses. Try the Crescenza (cow) and the peppercorn-studded Pepato (sheep).

Through the years, I’ve followed the explosion of small, mostly family-owned dairies, tasting their cheeses at specialty shops, farmers markets and wine-and-food events.

Often inspired by European traditions and techniques, these dairies produce an incredible range of world-class artisan cheeses from the milk of sheep and goats, as well as cows.

 

Alice Waters put Laura Chenel's goat cheese in her signature Chez Panisse salad – and it's still on the menu, almost 40 years later!

Alice Waters created her signature Chez Panisse salad with Laura Chenel’s goat cheese – and it’s still a top menu favorite, more than 40 years later!

Back in 1979, Laura Chenel introduced America’s first commercial goat cheese.

It quickly became a mainstay of the fledgling “California Cuisine” movement when Berkeley restaurateur Alice Waters first featured it on her Chez Panisse menu.

And although Laura sold the company in 2006, her legacy of American goat cheese remains.

Given that today is also National Cognac Day, I thought I’d also whip up an easy cheese spread for you that features them both. Since it’s June, that basic glass-of-port-by-the-fireplace scenario – the usual partner for cheese and nuts – probably won’t top your list. Instead, try a buttery Chardonnay to match the toasty, nutty flavors, or go with a light red to add some cherry-berry goodies to the mix.

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RECIPE – EASY CHEESE-AND-COGNAC SPREAD

Ingredients:
1/2 lb. medium or sharp cheddar, grated
2 oz. (1/2 stick) butter, grated
1/4 cup cognac
1/2 cup nuts (almonds, walnuts, pistachios, macadamias, your choice), coarsely chopped. For deeper flavor, toast the nuts first.

Optional garnish:
Chives or green onions, thinly sliced
More chopped nuts

Directions:
In a bowl, mash grated cheddar, butter and cognac together with a large fork until well mixed. Fold in nuts. Transfer to a covered container, and store in the fridge for at least 2 days to allow the spread to “ripen” and blend flavors.

Hope you’ve enjoyed today’s “virtual day trip” to visit some of the Bay Area’s best cheesemakers. I’ll look forward to continuing our travels together!

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I’ll be back soon, my friends, with more “Drink Wine With Dinner®” recipes, pairings, and Wine Country happenings to share with you.

Until then,
Cheers and happy tasting –
Rosina

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Cheers,
Rosina