Explore the Tasty Glory of the California Cheese Trail
Cheese may be cheesy but it’s no joke. The dairy artisans of California spend years crafting the perfect process for their cheeses. Cruise the “North of Ordinary” region of Northern California through rolling farmlands in search of sharp cheddars, creamy chèvres, and cave-aged bleus. Connect with cheesemakers and farmers that take pride in their product. The California Cheese Trail is a deliciously idyllic adventure.
RUMIANO CHEESE COMPANY IN CRESCENT CITY, CALIFORNIA
Begin your adventure up north in Del Norte County at the oldest family-owned cheese company in California. Rumiano Cheese Company’s story begins at the turn of the 20th century when brothers Richard, Fred and John emigrated to the U.S. from northern Italy. In 1919, they purchased farmland in Del Norte County and began making some of the area’s best cheese. Three years later, they hand-dug an aging cellar that put them on the map. The Rumiano brothers were the first to offer aged Dry Jack, which has become their flagship product.
The family sources milk from Humboldt and Del Norte county dairies, receiving approximately 300,000 pounds per day! We hear the samples are generous at their storefront in Crescent City.
Note: Due to current COVID-19 restrictions, samples are not available at this time. But you can check out the cheese-making process through their viewing window.
CYPRESS GROVE ARCATA, CALIFORNIA
Continue your trek south into Humboldt County for some creamy goat cheese. Cypress Grove began simply as a single mother in search of quality milk for her kiddos. A neighbor’s two goats eventually turned into an internationally awarded, large-scale operation. Cypress Grove is now an innovative leader in their market. Visitors are welcome to the dairy to say ‘hello,’ but formal tours and retail sales are not available. You can snag your own at local retailers throughout California. Look for the Humboldt Fog soft-ripened goat cheese, which took home first prize at the World Cheese Awards in 2014 and 2018. Their website also has some excellent pairing recommendations.
SPRING HILL FARMSTEAD CHEESE IN ARCATA, CALIFORNIA
To find a passionate artisan, cruise over to Spring Hill Farmstead Cheese in Bayside. Karin Eide left the world of accounting in 2016 and rounded up a small but adorable herd of La Mancha dairy goats. She makes fresh and aged goat cheese in many seasonal varieties including raw milk Mexican cheddar, feta, Blanca and more. Spring Hill Farmstead Cheese offers farm tours and cheesemaking classes on occasion. Check them out on social media for details. Find Spring Hill’s delectable cheeses at the year-round Arcata Plaza Saturday Farmers Market.
SHAMROCK ARTISAN GOAT CHEESE IN WILLITS, CALIFORNIA
The picturesque vineyards of Mendocino County call for a cheesy picnic. Shamrock Artisan Goat Cheese produces several flavors of chevre including plain, garlic, and basil, as well as Tomme and Greek-style feta. Cheesemakers Gilbert and Ana Cox have been honing their craft for almost four decades. Dairy goats roam on 80 acres on their Summer Breeze Ranch in Willits. You can plan a visit by appointment or snag some of their cheese at one of Mendocino’s many market retailers.
PENNROYAL FARM IN BOONVILLE, CALIFORNIA
Continue your journey south for the ultimate farmstead tasting experience. Pennyroyal Farm is a sixty-six-acre family farm and vineyard in Boonville. The milk is artfully crafted into fresh and aged cheeses from the nearby goat and sheep pastures. You’ll sink your teeth into tangy bleu cheese, Tomme and creamy Laychee. Wine and cheese tastings are available from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. For a reasonable fee, you can tour the creamery, milking parlor, solar-powered barn, meet the animals, learn about the craft firsthand, and cap things off with a wine and cheese tasting.
PAZZO MARCO CREAMERY IN GUALALA, CALIFORNIA
Well off the beaten path in Mendocino County near Gualala, you’ll discover Pazzo Marco Creamery nestled amid towering redwoods. Owners Paul and Marco create small batch artisan gelato and cheeses using local organic milk and meticulous processes developed from years studying in Italy. Their cheese variety is impressive, from sharp Manchego to the heavenly-soft Bloomy Rind. If you want local fanfare, the gelato is a celebration of California with ingredients like Suisun Valley peaches and apricots, Lake County Bartlett pears, and Bergamot oranges from their own orchard. Tours are available by appointment. Cruise by the seasonal Gualala Farmers Market or the local purveyor Surf Market to grab these local favorites anytime.
BODEGA AND YERBA SANTA GOAT CHEESE IN LAKE COUNTY, CALIFORNIA
The California Cheese Trail continues east to Lake County. Bodega and Yerba Santa Goat Cheese in Lakeport has a rich family history. Jaime Salmon, the ‘big cheese,’ spent 30 years on his craft in his native Peru. He also took time to teach his eldest son, Javier, on their family ranch. Javier picked up this precious knowledge for California in the 80s and began making cheese with his youngest brother, Daniel. What began as separate labels by the brothers eventually merged in 2005. Javier is known for his Peruvian-style cheeses, and Daniel makes French- and Spanish-style cheese. Their 80-acre 80-goat dairy farm in Lakeport is closed to the public but their delicious cheese varieties can be found any time at Lake County fairgrounds’ Certified Farmers Market on Saturdays.
Motor down the California Cheese Trail (and follow this map) to share a board with a friend or just stock up to impress folks back home. If you can’t get enough local foodstuffs, check out the Northern California Farm Stand Trail for a 300-mile long list of stands that offer locally-grown veggies, berries, meats, and flowers so you can truly savor the “North of Ordinary” in California.