There is such a living thing as a Dairy Goddess. And here she is in all her floaty finery — otherwise known as Barbara Martin, third generation dairy farmer with her husband, from Lemoore, CA and first time exhibitor with her family's farmstead cheese at the 9th Annual California Artisan Cheese Festival in Sonoma County, this spring.
Barbara's handcrafted Dairy Goddess Farmstead Cheese scooped the top of the pops at Friday night's festival opening special attraction, an all new Cheesemonger's Duel, thanks to a scrumptiously stealth pairing on a handmade sweet and savory cookie with candied orange slice atop by cheesemonger Phyllis from Oliver's Market.
"This being my first time at the festival, I was blown away," said Barbara.
Farm and Creamery Tours around southern Sonoma and west Marin county kicked off the weekend's schedule of events, followed by Friday evening's cutting edge gathering under the big tent at festival HQ — Sheraton Marina, Petaluma.
Each year the crowd appears to grow younger and younger as the farmstead and real food movement continues to grow and appeal to a broader audience. I was happy to wander the party people watching, note-talking and cheese tasting (multi-tasker that I am), absorbing a palpable spirit of creativity and collaboration.
Saturday's seminars, pairings and cooking demos was a hive of activity as busy queen cheese bees and aficionados busied about from one compelling cheese-related activity to another.
It was a delight to be invited to sign copies of Fog Valley Crush alongside big cheese authors Napa based food writer Janet Fletcher, SF based James Beard Award winning writer Laura Werlin and radio presenter and food writer Marcy Smothers.
I didn't make it to Saturday evening's Chefs Vs Chefs The Big Bite gala, but heard it was every bit as big a delicious hit as in previous years.
Sunday's marketplace was an eye-opener, I have attended the Cheese Festival many times over the past few years but for one reason or another, never made it all the way through to Sunday's big grand finale of all things artisan cheese, beer, wine and cider worthy.
Trading spaces for a minute with Marcy Smothers!
Being a Brit, I really did enjoy a bite of Beehive Cheese Company's TeaHive. I take milk in my tea. It all makes perfect sense.
Marnie and Timo keeping me out of trouble, or, come to think of it, was it me keeping this trio out of trouble? Always good to run into fellow hometown writer (Great Petaluma Chili Cookoff and Taste of Petaluma's) Houston Porter, too (pictured right).
What is cheese without the proverbial cracker? I was able to chat briefly with hot topic co-owner of The Rustic Bakery, Carol LeValley (pictured below) at her booth next to Copperfield's Books booth at the Sunday Marketplace.
Carol and her husband/business partner Josh Harris put their plans to further develop their popular cracker company on the back burner for nine years due to the success of their three bustling Marin County cafés.
Today, Rustic is around 12 weeks away from opening an impressive wholesale operation in 20,000 square feet of Petaluma industrial space that formerly housed Barbara's Bakery cereal operation.
The couple launched Rustic in 2005 with a $40,000 investment in a previously owned café and a vision to tap into the artisan cheese craze with a line of toasted flatbreads.
A private label flatbread for Cowgirl Creamery followed suit in 2006. As of mid-2015, Rustic Bakery and the Cowgirl’s will have near-neighboring Petaluma production facilities.
"We are a Marin County business," said Carol, "but there simply wasn't anywhere to expand into that could compare with Petaluma's artisan food industry space over the border in Sonoma County".
She expressed her excitement in the development of a production facility that frees storefront cafe spaces from the actual baking. "We will be offering tours and a tasting room in the Petaluma facility," she said. Cowgirl Creamery cheeses will be on the tasting menu, of course.
Last but not least, the lovely Victoria Webb, Petaluma's popular camera-woman about town. She humored me with this candid shot!