honey on cheese and fruit

Have you ever wondered what California Cheese Trail Tour really is? Have you thought of doing it, but we’re not sure which farms to visit or why should you? This article is your ultimate guide to touring this tour like a pro. Learn facts about California farms, cows, cheesemakers, and cheese and have a sensational tour. From learning when it was created and why to finding out about a farm that supported the first moon landing, you’ll not only be able to do this tour confidently, but you’ll also discover an inspiring love story worth living. 

When a farmer wakes up in the morning to milk cows, California cows get excited, their tails wiggle and their eyes light up. They are so lovable and they waited for pets all night long. They become anxious and worried when they are separated from their favorite farmers and get happy again when they bond every morning. California cows are playful and warm, cheese made from their milk tastes different depending on if they ate cabbage, hay, or plums that day. Lucky for us, a famous California dairy girl, sustainable farming advocate, and actress Vivian Straus connected all farms in one inspiring trail known to the public as the famous California Cheese Trail Tour.

What is a Cheese Trail Tour? 

A Cheese Trail Tour is a map, a guide, and an app Vivian created in 2010, to help everyone discover blissful California. Her brilliant move resulted in gorgeous farms booked in advance, so before heading out check out farms’ availability to book a time of your life under the California sun. 

Over the years, California farmers discovered that 98% of consumers are disconnected from the 2% of food producers. Shocked to hear this, they opened their farms and invited everyone to be their guest at farm tours, dinners, weekends at farms, playtime with their baby goats, sheep, cows, bison, and horses, or at a cheese-making class. 

In California, indeed, you will always be welcome to see where your food comes from, so fill out your pockets with joy, bliss, and cheese made with love, feed the animals with the kids, have a picnic at a farm, and have some cheese. 

Ahead of us is something so beautiful, we are talking about nine regions of cheese, so let’s taste as much as possible. Let’s go! The city is far away, your worries disappear and the feeling of freedom kicks in. 

Here are the best farms to consider when taking a look at a map of a cheese trail to choose a loop you want to tour.

Southern California Cheese Trail Loop 

Cheese and fruit plate being prepared

Believe it or not, Southern California is home to the first burrata in the country. Soft, silky, creamy curd wrapped up in mozzarella was brought up for the first time ever to the US from Italy just three decades ago thanks to Di Stefano farm. Earning burrata a spot on the SoCal Menus was no easy feat. Besides the flavor of Italy, on this loop, you can also find Southern Mexican cheese at the farms in Los Altos too

Unlike most farmers in the country, all artisanal cheeses in California are made using time-tested techniques steeped in tradition and over decades of knowledge. Each dairy company on this trail has either its own ranch, its own dairy, and a farm or uses milk from its neighbors. Most of the ranches are pasture-based meaning their cows derive their diet from the grass growing in their own pastures. 

Central California Cheese Trail

wine cheese and fruit dish

One hour away from San Francisco on a Central Coast Loop, you will melt out of happiness once you pet baby llamas on a Harley Farm and baby goats and you don’t even need a reservation. If you manage to get through baby llama cuteness be their special guest at a farm dinner later. Finally, don’t forget to take some rich goat soaps for your skin, forget about Dove and follow me to the Central Valley Loop #1.

Central Valley California Cheese Trail Loop #1 

Melted gouda in a grilled cheese sandwich on a picnic while petting farm animals from the farm zoo is what you get just two hours away from San Francisco at Oakdale Cheese farm. Then there is cheddar paradise on a Fiscalini farm.

Something unique about Fiscalini farm is they don’t heat up cow’s milk above cow’s temperature, 70% of their milk cheeses are pasteurized, they infuse their cheddars with beer and wine and they are the best neighbor to have since the farm’s electricity fuels 300 homes in the area. Their pasteurized cheese is aged for 30 days and their raw milk cheese is aged for up to 14 months. Longer aging brings more flavor complexity, but have in mind flavor depends on the bacteria in the air, the food animals eat, the period of the day cows were milked and much more, it’s a real cheese art. 

Hiding on this loop is the largest creamery in the whole world called Hilmar Cheese company, be sure to check it out. 

Central Valley California Cheese Trail Loop #2 

Hey little mouse, Greece magic is calling us from a Peluso farm! Check this loop out for Mediterranean Teleme cheese dusted with rice flour. What makes this loop even more special is that at Vintage Cheese Company besides cow’s milk, they use the healthiest milk of all animals: goat milk. On top of that, they also offer a variety of Mexican cheeses. 

North Sacramento California Cheese Trail

Cheese and Vegetable plate

Straighten your compass, we are driving north. Feta goat cheese fans, welcome to Jollity Farm. Goats have a weekend off on this farm so plan the visit accordingly to meet the top 40 stars these goats are and better be sure to learn and remember all their names. If you can’t make it during the week, be friendly and goats will allow you to pet them on the weekend. 

Why is it so hard to milk a cow? Learn the whole milking process all while staying at the Long Dream Farm during a milking class, followed by a cheese-making class all for you to finally taste what you made at the end. By the way, a couple that owns this farm left the NYC broker’s life to live in the country. 

It’s a good moment to mention that tourists who didn’t read this article will never know a fact Vivian shared about taking Highway 99 instead of Highway 5 when driving up and down from Southern California to Northern California that will get you to drive by all the farms on our tour that is equally fast. 

Sonoma California Cheese Trail Loop #1 

There are so many reasons why you should tour Sonoma and Marin county farms on this cheese trail. Besides them being proud owners of up to half of the California creameries, the best reason is they are home to century-old ones. It is interesting when you find out that Vella Cheese was the first solar operating business in Sonoma that started out as a brewery and then later transformed into a dairy during the prohibition era that still makes cheese by hand. 

Different thinkers are what we have next at Spring Hill Jersey Cheese, and you guessed it, is famous for its beautiful golden brown Jersey cows. Farmers argue that Jersey milk is better than Holstein milk because it has higher butterfat. The higher the butterfat, the more cheese is produced while having more minerals and vitamins than the cheese made using Holsteins cow’s milk.

Jersey Cheese Trail Calf

Isn’t it precious when local schools, restaurants, and families have someone like Valley Ford Cheese Company for morning cheese deliveries because that means that all locals and farm visitors will enjoy all the healthy nutrients before they disappear like in the food that travels long distances? 

Sonoma California Cheese Trail Loop #2 

Cheese trail men

British cheddar here we come! Two British boys, a cheesemaker and a winemaker teamed up to bring British cheese tradition to Sonoma under the name Wm. Cofield Cheesemakers and they didn’t disappoint, giving it a taste.

What if you are craving rustic-style hand-crafted cheese? Well, artisanal Bohemian Creamery is the most creative one on the whole trail map that uses only vegetarian rennet offering cheese made from cow’s, sheep, goat, and water buffalo milk so take your charcuterie board with you.

Volcanic island cheese recipe? They have that too, a piece of cheese from Portuguese Azores volcanic cheese island is available for tasting in Sonoma thanks to Matos Cheese Factory which makes semi-hard silky St. Jorge Portuguese Cheese with different flavors depending on how long it was aged. 

North Coast California Cheese Trail

Cheese and Fruit Plate

Chances are you’re not eating organic food, so should you start now? North Coast farmers would certainly encourage you since all they care about is your health. At the famous, Pennyroyal Farm goats and sheep will bring your health to the next level. Not only that the goat’s milk is known as the healthiest milk, but imagine how healthy milk is from a goat that eats pennyroyal mint having in mind that pennyroyal is used for making medicine. 

Want to convince your friends that cheese is healthy? Take them to the biologist who made us rethink what we have been eating our whole lives at Cypress Grove, where you are served with a soft PH-balanced cake-like cheese. Her cheese is the only one made with a mold on the outside, ash all around it and in the center, and by using different cultures to bring more flavor complexity to cheese. 

It’s shocking how many people haven’t tried a coca powder-coated cheese, and it’s even shocking when you find out that Rumiano cocoa powder black pepper coated dry jack, healthy for your blood also supported the Apolo crew in their first lunar landing. Yes, they did. Rumiano Cheese Company was founded by Italian immigrants who managed to scale the company so fast that they even started supplying American, European, and Asian markets. 

Marin County California Cheese Trail

Just how difficult it is to maintain a business over 5 generations? The Marin County loop, home to the oldest cheese companies, will be sure to have an answer. Foggy mornings, warm afternoons, and the ocean breeze of the Northern California coast sneak into the flavor of the hand-made Marin French Cheese, the country’s oldest cheese company built in 1865, that makes soft-ripened cheeses. 

Would you be brave enough as a 17-year-old that started making Switzerland-inspired cheese 100 years ago starting Lafranchi Dairy, later known as Nicasio Valley Cheese Company? You will find it just one hour north of San Francisco. Make sure to stop and pet horses you meet on your way to the Nicasio shop, they are friendly and playful. 

Nicasio valley heard of cattle

Mastering the art of cheese means knowing about a particular bacteria in the Point Reyes air and attracting it to your cheese. That is how Red Hawk Cheese is washed to attract the bacteria giving it a special flavor that can’t be found anywhere else in the world. You can find this cheese at Cowgirl Creamery, a courageous organic food leader that has many special kinds of cheese prepared for you at their shop.

The last two farms might touch your heart, so be aware of Ramini Mozzarella and Tomales Farmstead Creamery, brave first-generation cheese makers. 

It’s hard to write about this one, but you deserve to know. There was once a man with a dream who had a loving supportive wife. As a result of their love and true fairytale, we today have Mozzarella 2.0. Twice as creamier, twice as delicate. What was only available to Italians is now available to you thanks to Craig’s dream to become the only American making mozzarella using buffalo’s milk. When Craig was struggling with Ramini Mozzarella his efforts were noticed and appreciated by Italians who invited him to Italy to help him perfect the recipe. Craig perfected the recipe, but unfortunately, he is not with us anymore due to cancer. However, his wife Audrey, a courageous woman who will do anything to continue carrying Craig’s dream despite all the struggles, is an inspiring light for us all dreamers who are working alone without our partners. 

Some of the best role models are found in the most unexpected places. We can all look up to Tomales Farmstead Creamery, which started with a mission to restore land and abandoned soil to become an educational sheep and goat dairy farm with 200 goats they know by name. If you are looking to become a next-generation farmer, or you plan on leaving the city but don’t know how to start, they are recruiting and will pass down their knowledge on how to create a farm, raise animals and build a community once left behind. 

Thank you, it was beautiful touring through these regions with you. You can find them all by visiting Vivien’s Cheese Trail Map. Before we say goodbye, consider what else you need to know to have a successful tour without me. 

Best Times to Visit California Cheese Trail Farms? 

A commonly overlooked question worth answering. Farms are closed at different times of the week, month or season, so if we wanted to take cheese classes we would take them during the weekdays, but If we wanted to relax with our friends on the farm we would plan to be a guest at a delicious farm dinner for the weekend. And If we wanted to be smitten by baby goats we would plan a spring tour. Top farmer’s secret on how to make farm animals love you is a sweet cantaloupe, make sure you have some for the cows and carrots for horses. 

You don’t need fancy shoes for touring, so bring ones you don’t mind getting dirty, bring comfy layers, sunglasses, a sunhat, and a mini fridge for all the cheese you’re taking back home, your dog, your partner, friends, and a big smile. 

How to Tour the California Cheese Trail

California Cheese Trail in a GoCar

The best touring option when it comes to transportation, would be your car, but it’s difficult to drive somewhere for the first time by yourself and boring if you don’t know the area, so since you’ve made it to the very end, we are excited to say that there is something for you that solves this. Having in mind all these farms are spread out it’s good to have a private knowledgeable guide who will take you to these farms. 

So pick up the keys of a retro-motorcycle style vehicle that talks a couple of world languages at 75 miles an hour, navigates, and cracks jokes with you all while sharing farm stories. Who doesn’t want to experience the insane power of freedom driving this funky GoCar with one finger so light, effortless, and powerful like Porsche? 

Pick up the GoCar at the Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, and leave the city. With this unusual guide, tour farms on the Sonoma Cheese Trail, Marin County, and North Coast loops. Enjoy the stories about the history of farms, a cheesemaking process, and fun facts about the regions you are touring in a storytelling car even before you get to the farms. Touring farms will soon finally available in a GoCar!

Pick up the keys, relax and enjoy storytelling guidance to your favorite California farms today by clicking here: 

Why do we trust farmers on the California Cheese Trail? 

California is a leader in sustainable farming and if you know anything about the vegan and organic food movement, you would know that California farmers worked hard on lowering the higher impact on the environment than animal-based foods have compared to plant-based foods. 

Here are the fascinating results: 

  1. The carbon footprint per gallon of milk produced is the smallest in California compared to the world. 
  2. The amount of water California farms use to produce a gallon of milk decreased by 88%. 
  3. California cheeses are farmstead, meaning they are made with milk from animals raised on their farms. 
  4. Cows of California today produce 15 more pounds of milk than 10 years ago with the same amount of food thanks to California farmers who provided their cows with nutritionist visits to implement healthier diet improvements. 
  5. Farms are working on powering houses and cars in California using electricity made on their farms from cow methane. 
  6. California farms are completely transparent about farming and open to public visits. 
  7. Farmers work on developing a distribution process of goods to locals because they know that when it comes to nutrients it’s a matter of hours before they disappear. The longer the food travels the higher the chances that what you are eating has no nutrients. 

What if commercially processed food became unavailable for a certain amount of time? Could California farmers be our miracle as we lean on them? Having in mind that some of them are already leaders in supplying neighbors with electricity, we recognize their uplifting work in helping us. Meet California’s fearless heroes, learn from them, visit them and treat yourself to cheese. 

That’s a wrap. Now you can make an informative decision on which farm loops are best for you.