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California Cheese Crawl 2019: Highlights from the California Cheese Trail + Vlog

Three days on the road and a ton of California cheese. On the surface, that’s what this California Cheese Crawl looks to be about. Honestly, when I was told I was going to this trip, I was very excited about the prospect of visiting the California countryside. All those times I’ve been to California, I’ve never had the pleasure to do that because I had no idea how to go about it, so to say I feel lucky to be a part of this is an understatement.

All the farms we visited, and the bonus winery as well, exceeded my expectations. Even though the cheese companies were having you appreciate the single same thing, which was cheese, they all had very different approaches, each effective in their own ways. Even the winery we visited taught us to appreciate cheese with very good wine. I tried to condense the experience of the trip into a vlog.

It’s hard to fit in so many words into one video so I kept my babbling to a minimum there, but now I will grab the opportunity to write a bit more about how I feel about the whole experience. Going on this trip was a real eye-opener. Getting to eat good cheese was pretty much a given, but it was so nice to meet some of the people working behind the brands too.

Beyond cheese, they taught me that arming yourself with passion and hard work can allow you to create wonderful things. They also taught me that in the process of living your passions, you cannot forget about your surroundings. With all the investments they’ve made to the technology that will allow them to maintain sustainability, I don’t think we can doubt at this point that they have a commitment to it.

It makes buying California cheese just a bit more special. It’s kind of hard to source a lot of these California cheese brands locally, but after coming back from this trip, I try to look for that Real California Milk seal as much as I can.

You can learn more about cheese and sustainable practices from the individual blog posts I’ve written, as listed below.

1. Fiscalini Cheese Company, Modesto

Aside from being the makers of my favorite cheese in the world (so far at least), the Fiscalini Bandage-Wrapped Cheddar, I am also a fan of this asrtisanal California cheese company in general. They are a self-sustaining, environmentally-conscious company. They take care of their own cows and grow their own feeds that enable themselves to do so. They use their own milk from their own dairy to create their own cheese. And finally, they convert their own wastes to use as their own electricity to power their cheese plant. It’s an entire cycle that happens right inside their farm!

We got to see inside their cheese-making facility, which was SO COOL. I honestly wanted to lock up the smell of the smoked cheese room into a bottle and take it home. And damn it guys, their cheese is so freaking good, as evidenced by the numerous awards they’ve already won!

Click the link below to know more:

California Cheese Crawl 2019: Fiscalini Cheese Company, Modesto

2. Hilmar Cheese Company, Hilmar

Hilmar is a cheese manufacturer that makes cheese for other brands. They don’t sell their cheeses under their own brand in the market. The only place where you’ll find the Hilmar logo slapped on any cheese is if you buy it from their visitor center. Plenty of other brands and other cheeses are available in the gift shop of their visitor center too.

Unlike Fiscalini, Hilmar’s large scale production requires them to get milk from local sources. They focus on partnering with local family-owned dairy farms that treat their cows well. This is a great way to support local business considering they churn out TWO MILLION POUNDS of cheese PER DAY, making them the biggest cheese manufacturer in the world. Insane.

What’s great about Hilmar is their focus on collecting their water waste and treating it for reuse in landscaping, and even for the irrigation of various crops. These crops are sold to their partner dairy farms as feed for cows, and it is in this way that Hilmar has some control over what the cows eat.

Click the link below to know more:

California Cheese Crawl 2019: Hilmar Cheese Company, Hilmar

3. Valley Ford Cheese & Creamery, Sonoma County

Another family-owned cheese farm that focuses on making small-batch artisanal California cheese. I absolutely love the vibe here at the Valley Ford Cheese & Creamery. We had a little cheese-tasting session, and it co-featured two other companies. Nicasio Valley Cheese was new to me, but Point Reyes I’ve tried before and loved. I think they make the best blue cheese, and the American Cheese Society agrees. It was just awarded best blue cheese in the US!

My favorite cheese from the lineup of Valley Ford Cheese & Creamery is the “Estero Gold” Reserve. This cheese has won them awards, along with their newer gorgonzola. We got to appreciate their cheeses even more as it was incorporated into the dishes of our lunch.

Click the link below to know more:

California Cheese Crawl 2019: Valley Ford Cheese & Creamery, Sonoma County

4. Louis M Martini Winery, Napa Valley

A bonus stop on our cheese trail is this historic Napa Valley Winery. It makes sense though. For the longest time, people have been pairing wine and cheese with good conversations. We started our visit with a glass of rose, and moved on to a young Napa Valley cabernet while being told the history of Louis M Martini.

The man has quite a story. Coming to the States alone when he was just 12, straight from Italy without knowing any English, he somehow found his father in San Francisco. His wine-making began as experiments in their backyard and I wish I could say he ended up miraculously making amazing wine from the start, but this isn’t a fairytale. He made terrible wine at the beginning and had to go back to Italy to study.

He returned to the States armed with his new knowledge but ran into the Prohibition era, but he didn’t let any of that faze him. He just kept doing what he loved, and now he is credited as a pioneering figure as far as the Napa Valley wine industry is concerned. The current people running the show are certainly doing right by him with their excellent wines, most notably the 2015 Monte Rosso. It gets even better when you eat it with some California cheese.

Click the link below to know more:

California Cheese Crawl 2019: Louis M Martini Winery, Napa Valley

5. San Francisco Ferry Building Marketplace

There isn’t much to say about this San Francisco icon, aside from the fact that the stuff in it gets me excited. I think it’s always nice to get a taste of local artisanal goods whenever you visit different parts of the world. I found some amazing jams here, which will be featuring in a future video of mine. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy reading about the marketplace itself from my blog post!

Click the link below to know more:

California Cheese Crawl 2019: Cowgirl Creamery & other finds at the San Francisco Ferry Building

If you’re heading to the Bay Area soon and are thinking of going on a cheese trail too, I found a website that does Cheese tours around California. I have tried the cheeses from many of the California cheese farms listed there so I am sure it will be a fun and delicious experience! Also, if you’re wondering about the restaurants we visited on the vlog, I will be writing about them in a separate blog post.

Full disclosure: This trip was part of the California Cheese Crawl organized by the California Milk Advisory Board. All opinions stated above are my own.

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