Are You Heading to Sonoma For Wine Tasting? Say Cheese Instead!

Say Sonoma and wine is likely the first thing that comes to mind. But Sonoma is home to a thriving cheese industry as well. I had the pleasure to visit some of the dairy farms on a recent trip to Sonom which I wrote about for Wander with Wonder and share here.

Are You Heading to Sonoma For Wine Tasting? Say Cheese Instead!

When you say you are going to Sonoma, it is assumed that you are heading there to taste wine. But drive to the western part of wine country, and instead of driving by rows of vines and vineyards, you will see rolling hills dotted with cows, sheep, and goats. Sonoma is home to over 22,000 acres of land dedicated to making cheese and dairy products. And that means you can spend a weekend tasting Sonoma cheese while traveling along the California Cheese Trail.

Sonoma and Marin counties in Northern California are known for their thriving dairy industry and cheese production and are part of the California Cheese Trail. This western part of wine country offers a hundred miles of canyons, pastures, and rolling hills, linking more than two dozen farms and creameries. The region’s Mediterranean-like climate, fertile soil, and abundant high-quality grasses provide ideal conditions for dairy farming, resulting in delicious artisanal cheeses.

Are You Heading to Sonoma For Wine Tasting? Say Cheese Instead!

Petaluma, located within Sonoma County, sits between San Francisco and wine country and is home to several renowned cheesemakers. Like many of the wineries in Sonoma, many cheese producers are family-owned, and two are available for visits.

Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company on the California Cheese Trail

Are You Heading to Sonoma For Wine Tasting? Say Cheese Instead!

One of those is Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company in Point Reyes Station. The Giacomini family has been in Point Reyes for three generations. Waldo Giacomini moved the family to Petaluma in 1938, and in 1959, his son Bob purchased the dairy to sell milk to the local creamery. Bob and his wife, Dean, raised their four daughters (Karen, Diana, Lynn, and Jill) on the property.

For the first forty years, they produced milk from up to 500 milking animals. They sold the milk until Bob had a dream to make cheese. In the late 1990s, all four daughters returned to the farm, and in 2000 they began producing cheese. And in 2020, Jill and two of her sisters took over the farmstead. The first cheese they produced was Original Blue, a classic blue cheese. They have added Toma, Gouda, Cheddar, Quinta, and more.

Taking the Sustainable Approach

Point Reyes Farmstead had always taken a sustainable approach before it was trendy. Twelve families live on the farm, with 440 Holstein cows on 720 acres. The herd is closed, meaning it is genetically closed, and 300-400 cows are being raised from birth. Byproducts, including spent grains from brewers and husks, combined and mixed with ryegrass grown on the property, are fed to the cows. And all byproducts from the cows contribute back to the farm. They trap the CO2 from the manure and water and make methane gas, providing electricity for 55% of the farm’s needs.

Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company welcomes guests with a Marketplace and The Fork, their culinary and educational venue offering cheese tastings and farm tours.

California Cheese Trail Takes You to Achadinha Cheese Company

Are You Heading to Sonoma For Wine Tasting? Say Cheese Instead!

Jim and Donna Pacheco, along with their four children William, Daniel, Elizabeth, and David, run the family-operated Achadinha (Osh-a-deen-a) Cheese Company.

The family tradition began three generations ago. Jim’s grandfathers—one from Achadinha, Portugal, and one from Vallejo, California—milked cows. Jim’s parents ended up in Petaluma by 1969, and when Donna married Jim, she also acquired the family farm. In 2002, Achadinha Cheese Company entered the American Cheese Conference and won Best in Show.

Are You Heading to Sonoma For Wine Tasting? Say Cheese Instead!

The Pachecos have 230 acres with 125 dairy cows and have also had goats. And they make all their cheeses. As a small dairy farm, the whole family is involved. As Donna explained, “It is a lifestyle, not a job.” The business is their home, and everything they do is about creating a lifestyle for the next generation. Everyone works together to keep the farm working, and their children are encouraged to have their own business within the family business. For example, one owns dairy cows, while another hauls livestock, owns cows, and runs the ranch.

Achadinha Cheese Company offers tours on Saturdays or by appointment. It is also possible to take a cheesemaking class. 50 farmers’ markets sell their cheese each week.

On the California Cheese Trail

So, next time you are heading to Sonoma, instead of visiting a winery, stop by one of these dairies and say cheese!

Read the original story in Wander with Wonder.