Karen Bianchi-Moreda wanted to create a cheese like the one she remembered eating as a child at her grandparents' table.
The result, an Italian-style cheese made from her Jersey cows and aged for 16 months, won best of show last year at a cheese competition at the California State Fair.
"I nailed it about in the sixth batch," said Bianchi-Moreda, a Valley Ford resident who has been making her Estero Gold Reserve for four years. When she first started experimenting, some old-timers listened to her methods and said her approach "wasn't going to work — and it did."
Bianchi-Moreda, who owns Valley Ford Cheese Co., was a panel member for a session of cheesemakers and their creations Saturday at the California Artisan Cheese Festival in Petaluma. The two dozen audience members tried five cheeses paired with beer from Lagunitas Brewing Co.
The three-day cheese festival draws about 2,000 people to taste and talk about cheese. It concludes Sunday at the Sheraton Sonoma County hotel in Petaluma.
Saturday's panels gave the public a peek into the lives of cheesemakers.
Joel Weirauch, another cheesemaker for the morning panel, said shoppers at farmers markets still are taken aback when they learn he makes cheese from sheep's milk.
Their question, he said, is "You can milk sheep?"
Weirauch and his wife, Carleen, have operated Weirauch Farm & Creamery near Petaluma for two years. They milk about 50 sheep and also buy cow's milk for the five months each year when the sheep stop producing.
He got the idea for such a dairy after visiting Europe and coming across cheese made from the wooly critters.