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Artisan Cheese fest moves to Santa Rosa

Although the California Artisan Cheese Festival has moved from Petaluma to its new home at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa, the event still highlights Petaluma-area artisan cheese makers, such as Achadinha, Cowgirl, Point Reyes Farmstead, Marin French & Laura Chenel’s, Tomales Farmstead, Two Rock Valley Goat, Bellweather, Bohemian, Nicasio Valley, and Valley Ford cheese companies.

In its 12th year, the event runs from Friday, March 23 to Sunday, March 25, and includes everything from farm tours to seminars to a cheese and cocktails event and a bubbles and brunch.

Although most of the farm tours sell out early, there are still a few tickets for two tours, both of which I have attended, as a guest and later as a docent. One starts at Cowgirl Creamery in Point Reyes Station, before lunching at the incredible Straus Home Ranch, where guests will meet the incredible Vivian Straus, founder of the California Cheese Trail, which is the most comprehensive self-guided cheese tour map of California, as well as attending a cheese tasting seminar from Liz Thorpe, author of The Cheese Chronicles and the recently released book, The Book of Cheese.

This tour wraps up with a stop at Sonoma Portworks for a port and cheese pairing. The other available tour starts at Marin French, also visiting Straus Home Ranch for lunch, and ends at Adobe Road’s downtown tasting room. Even for a local, these tours are always informative and guaranteed delicious.

Additionally, there are Saturday seminars including “Fast Food 1.0: The Cheese & Charcuterie Plate,” “Beer & Cheese Pairing: Sour vs. Hoppy,” “The Art of Melting Cheese,” and “Proof Positive: Artisan Cheese & Craft Cocktails.” On Friday and Saturday evenings there are cheese tasting events and Sunday offers up a cheese and bubbly brunch.

For those simply looking to eat a lot of cheese, Sunday’s Artisan Cheese Tasting and Marketplace is a must visit. Guests will not only get their fill of great cheeses, but also local wines, beers and ciders. Bring your pocketbook because you won’t find a better cheese marketplace. Visit artisancheesefestival.com for more info on all the great tours, seminars, and tasting opportunities at this year’s event.

Bourbon dinner

One of the most anticipated food events each year, the Petaluma Historic Library and Museum will hold their Bourbon pairing dinner on Thursday, March 29. Amber Balshaw, of Preferred Sonoma Caterers, in partnership with Willibees, has come up with yet another incredible menu.

Each of the five courses is expertly complimented by five unique whiskeys, in celebration of the Petaluma Museum Association’s 40 years of community service, which began in 1978. Tickets are $60 for members and $70 for non-members, but with museum memberships available for as little as $35 for individuals and $70 for families, I encourage everyone to splurge a bit, and join the museum. Right off the bat, it will get you at least a $10 savings per ticket for the Bourbon dinner. Better yet, the $125 membership benefits your whole family with reciprocity entry to over 600 museums around the country, including the Bay Area’s Asian Art, de Young, Legion of Honor, Walt Disney Family, CA Historical Society, Charles M. Schulz, and Sonoma County Museums.

Dinner will start with miso glazed sea scallop and wilted pea sprouts, paired with Sonoma County Distilling’s Sonoma Rye, followed by braised lamb shoulder pocket with Sonoma County Distilling’s Cherry Wood Rye. Next up is Manchego risotto, salt roasted carrots and Sonoma County Distilling’s West Of Kentucky Bourbon #2. Pork Osso Bucco and cauliflower white cheddar gratin will be paired with Stillwater Distilling’s Moylan’s Rye Whisky, before the final course of 64 percent dark chocolate bread pudding, with Crème Anglais, and Stillwater Distilling’s Moylan’s Bourbon.

Special event pricing

Special pricing ends this weekend for two upcoming events. The first is the Sunrise Rotary Spring Oysterfest, which will again be sponsored and hosted at the Bodega Oyster Company. Along with a great selection of fresh raw and grilled oysters, guests will be treated to an incredibly tasty linguine with red clam sauce, garlic bread, Caesar salad, and brews from HenHouse, along with local wine and live music. The past two years, this event has sold out, so it is very kind of Sunrise Rotary to keep the early bird ticket price of $60 open through March 11. Tickets are available at Eventbrite.

Petaluma Drinks’ prices will also increase after March 11. Petaluma Drinks is an annual weekend tasting event, held June 2 and 3, where guests can visit all of our great brewery, cidery, winery, and distillery tasting rooms. Along with product discounts, ticket holders will also get a voucher for any food item at the Block, our local food truck park. Twenty percent of the ticket price is donated to local charities, with 10 percent going to COTS and 10 percent going to the Petaluma Animal Shelter. Early bird tickets are available for $55 at petalumadrinks.com.

Restaurant news

Pho Sonoma has already opened in the space very recently vacated by Jenny Low’s, in Theatre Square, right next door to Crocodile Restaurant. Early reports by members of the Petaluma Foodies group on Facebook are promising.

Equally quick to conversation, Gator tells me that barring something unforeseen, he could be throwing the doors open to his Gator’s Rustic Burger & His Creole Friends as early as this weekend. One block north of Pho Sonoma, Gator’s takes SlamBurger’s former location, next to Sugo Trattoria.

As of Feb. 26, a sign hangs in the window of Rosso, announcing their temporary closure, due to the owner’s medical emergency. Let’s hope they reopen soon, because nobody makes burrata quite like Rosso.

People’s Choice Awards

You have until March 11 to participate in the nomination round of the Petaluma People’s Choice Awards. This is the first round and gives everyone a chance to fill in the blank for their favorite restaurants, across many categories, as well as their favorite non-food related businesses and professionals. If you are particularly fond of a restaurant, I suggest you get your vote in before March 11, because that’s the only way they’ll have a chance at making the voting round, which runs from March 22 to April 15.

I also suggest that you go with your gut, and not just the normal top choices we see in the voting rounds each year. Personally, when I see the category for best chef, I thought about where I had the most incredible meals this year, and immediately, chefs Michael Dotson at Crocodile and Julie Warner at Twisted 2 came to mind. Vote for your favorites, even if you think they may be obscure.

LALA’s classes

LALA’s “Jam Making 101” classes have been selling out quickly, so call ahead to schedule a date and time that works for you and a partner. Classes are $35 per person and with just two students per class, you will definitely get hands-on experience, as well as two jars of jam to take home.

Other upcoming classes include “Mommy and Me Printmaking” and “Washi Egg Making” classes. “Mommy and Me” is on March 18, from 1 to 3 p.m., where Ellyn Pelikan will instruct on making monotypes using a gelatin printing plate, paints, and stencils on paper and cloth. It is not as complicated as it sounds and students will go home with a frameable creation. “Washi Egg Making” will be held on March 24, from 10 a.m. to noon. In this class, Ellyn will teach students how to create long lasting faux eggs using beautiful paper.

LaLa will hold a succulent wreath making class in April, a card making night in May, and in June a “Decorate your own walking stick” class, complete with a docent-led hike, for testing purposes. Visit lalasjams.com for more info.

(Contact Houston Porter at houston@avant-larde.com.)