Wine and Cheese, Please
Hear from the experts on the best wine and cheese pairings in Wine Country.
Goats at Redwood Hill Farm.
Photography by Lauren Andersen
Wine and cheese are a classic duo. But like many couples, their relationship can be fraught with challenges. Tart goat cheese does not complement astringent Sauvignon Blancs, and rich triple-cream cheese has no place with bold Cabernets.
Luckily, Wine Country plays host to some of the best wine and cheese experts in the world. Visiting a handful of remote cheese farms in Sonoma and Marin Counties—all members of the California Cheese Trail—I have sampled my way from fresh Feta to aged Pecorino, discovering the key to making—and enjoying—great cheese is not unlike that for making great wine.
Just as grapes from different vineyards and varietals are blended together to produce fine wine, the milk from different varieties of goats and cows is often mixed to create superior cheese, explain Jim and Donna Pacheco, owners of the popular Achadinha Cheese Co. in Petaluma.
“We raise six different breeds of dairy goats,” says Jim, a third-generation Sonoma County rancher who moved into cheese-making after some gentle nudging from his wife. “Nubians produce a richer, creamier milk, but Saanens yield more quantity, with milk that has a lighter, nuttier flavor.” Achadinha also raises Jersey cows, blending cow and goat milk in its cheese.
But what makes a certain cheese work with a particular wine?
“It’s about personal preference,” says Donna, a one-time city dweller who, judging by the way she pets a newborn Alpine goat, has taken to country living like
a goat to pasture.
There’s a perfect pairing out there for everyone. But before you set off on your personal cheese quest, here are some suggestions by Wine Country’s very own cheese and wine experts. (And make sure to print out a copy of the Cheese Trail of Sonoma and Marin map, an illustrated guide that will help you find your, err, whey to the cheese facilities.) cheesetrail.org.
Redwood Hill Farm, Sebastopol
Redwood Hill Farm produces cheese exclusively from goat’s milk at its creamery, and this creamy, artisanal cheese is some of the best out there. Goat’s milk cheddar, Feta, yogurt, a drinkable kefir, and a soft-serve frozen yogurt are all delicious, and have earned Redwood Hill several accolades since founder Jennifer Bice began making cheese on her small family farm. 2064 Gravenstein Hwy. N., (707) 823-8250, redwoodhillfarm.org.
Achadinha Cheese Co., Petaluma
Achadinha’s unique cheeses are available in restaurants and at more than 100 farmers markets across the state. Look for its award-winning hard goat cheese, Capricious. Also noteworthy are the cow-goat blend, Broncha; the creamy Fromage Blanc; the kefir; and a Greek-style Feta. With a herd of goats and a flink of cows, the farm is as much fun to visit as the modern cheese facility. Check the website for cheese-making classes. 750 Chileno Valley Rd., (707) 763-1025, achadinhacheese.com.
Bohemian Creamery, Sebastopol
Owner and cheesemaker Lisa Gottreich has a big personality, and you’ll see it in the names she gives her cheese. Try the succulent Bo Peep, a moist sheep’s milk cheese, or the Cowabunga, a fresh cow’s milk cheese filled with goat milk “caramel.” The soft Holy Moly goat cheese and the aged Asiago-style Bovoncino are also wildly popular. Bohemian Creamery uses sheep, goat, and water buffalo milk in their cheeses; several varieties are famous for their wild blue rye molds. 7380 Occidental Rd., bohemiancreamery.com.
Marin French Cheese, Petaluma
Don’t let the name fool you. Perhaps the longest continuously operating cheese factory in the United States, Marin French Cheese produces cow’s milk cheese—
including full rounds of Brie and Camembert triple-creams—that is California artisanal at its best. In 2011, the company was purchased by the French Rians family, and in 2013, its name was changed from Rouge et Noir to Marin French. Unlike other cheesemakers, Marin French is not a farmstead producer, meaning you won’t find dairy animals here. 7510 Point Reyes–Petaluma Rd., (707) 762-6001, marinfrenchcheese.com.
We asked a handful of savvy Sommeliers and chefs to give us their favorite local cheese and wine pairings. Here’s what they came up with.
Ken Frank, executive chef, La Toque, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Napa’s Westin Verasa
Mt. Tam from Cowgirl Creamery paired with the 2013 Schramsberg Crémant Demi-Sec.
“We layer the cheese with fresh black winter truffles. It pairs wonderfully with an off-dry sparkling wine like Schramsberg Crémant Demi-Sec that has just the right touch of sweetness to bring out the pungent flavors in the cheese.”
Andrew Wild, executive chef of special operations, The Culinary Institute of America
Skyhill Napa Valley Farms’ goat cheese paired with the 2014 Chateau Montelena Napa Valley Chardonnay.
“Skyhill has a nice tang, with some citrusy notes. When you spread it on a toasted piece of crostini, it pairs really well with the delicious butteriness of the Montelena Chardonnay.”
Nic Jones, executive chef, Goose and Gander, St. Helena
Point Reyes Toma by Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co. paired with the 2016 Heitz Cellar Napa Valley Grignolino Rosé.
“Serve on brioche, with grilled peach, peach puree, and basil. The zippy acidity of the rosé cuts through the buttery brioche, and the char on the peach adds depth to the pairing.”
Amanda McCrossin, sommelier, Press, St. Helena
Bohemian Creamery’s Agua Bufazola, a Gorgonzola dolce–style buffalo milk cheese, paired with the 2010 Ad Vivum Cellars Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.
“The robust black fruit of Ad Vivum is sturdy enough to handle the punch of this flavorful Italian-style blue cheese.”
Travis Westrope, winery chef, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, Napa
Nicasio Valley Cheese Company’s Nicasio Square paired with the 2014 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Fay Cabernet Sauvignon.
“The delicious berry and fig notes of the superb Fay Cabernet softens the ‘funk’ of this wonderful washed rind cheese produced by a third-generation California family farm.”
Chris Sawyer, sommelier, Gravenstein Grill, Sebastopol
Bellwether Farms Carmody paired with the 2015 Dutton-Goldfield Dutton Ranch Chardonnay.
“This creamy Jersey cow milk cheese made just a few miles south of the restaurant matches the delicate aromas and silky texture of this pristine Russian River Chardonnay.”
Sondra Bernstein, proprietor, The Girl and the Fig, Sonoma
Bohemian Creamery’s BoDacious, a bloomy goat’s milk cheese, paired with the 2016 Kick Ranch Vineyard Rosé.
“I am extremely ecstatic with a plate of the ripest, plumpest figs, a smear of BoDacious, and a bottle of chilled Kick Ranch rosé.”
Justin Wangler, winery chef, Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate and Gardens, Fulton
The Vintner’s Reserve Sauvignon Blanc paired with Chevoo artisanal goat cheese with sea salt and rosemary.
“The wine’s seductive honeysuckle and ripe pear notes create an aromatic pairing with the fresh Chevoo goat cheese in an olive oil infusion of sea salt and rosemary. This is special-occasion flavor at everyday prices.”
Perry Hoffman, chef, Shed, Healdsburg
Bellwether Farms Sheep Milk Basket Ricotta paired with 2014 L. Preston Red table wine.
“Spoon this luscious, soft cheese onto toasted crusty bread, and sprinkle it with Shed’s house-made caper tarragon powder. The flavors melt together with the aromas of this robust wine.”
Joe Zobel, chef, Peter Lowell’s, Sebastopol
Bohemian Creamery’s Poco Loco paired with the 2013 Gardener Carneros Riesling.
“We serve this wonderfully gooey water buffalo milk cheese with our house-made Blenheim apricot jam and smoked pistachios. The hint of sweetness in the Riesling balances beautifully with this pungent cheese.”
Cheese Shops in Napa and Sonoma
Atelier, Yountville, jcbcollection.com/atelier-fine-foods.
Cal Mart, Calistoga, calmartnv.com.
Dean and DeLuca, St. Helena, deandeluca.com.
Oakville Grocery, Oakville (also in Healdsburg), oakvillegrocery.com.
Oxbow Cheese and Wine Merchant, Napa, oxbowpublicmarket.com.
V. Sattui Winery, St. Helena, vsattui.com.
Big John’s Market, Healdsburg, bigjohnsmarket.com.
Freestone Artisan Cheese, Freestone, freestoneartisan.com.
Oliver’s Markets, Cotati, Santa Rosa, and Windsor, oliversmarket.com.
Shed, Healdsburg, healdsburgshed.com.
Cheese Plate Tips
As the former longtime cheese columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, Janet Fletcher talks about cheesemaking with the same intensity that most winemakers use to discuss a rare vintage. She has authored three books on the topic and publishes Planet Cheese, a weekly blog dedicated to all things cheese. Look for Fletcher’s cheese appreciation class at Shed in Healdsburg on December 2.
Here are Fletcher’s tips for putting together the perfect cheese plate.
- “Aim for a variety of cheese—from fresh to aged, soft to firm, mild to strong—with a diversity of appearance: some rounds, some wedges, some soft. Also include color variations.”
- “Dress up your cheese platter with condiments. Use local honey and jams, olives, and dried fruits. Toast nuts before serving for maximum flavor. A predinner cheese plate should lean savory. An after-dinner plate should include more sweet elements.”
- “Provide a different implement for each cheese—a spoon, a knife, a paddle. Each cheese should have its own tool so flavors are not transferred.”
- “Serve cheese at room temperature. This is the most important tip of all. Cheese should be warm so its texture can soften and its aroma can bloom.”