This year's Sonoma Cheese Conference gets off to a rolling start on Sunday, Feb. 27, with the inaugural Celebrity Cheese Roll, a wacky game involving various types of cheese wheels and a handmade purple ramp. "It was just this off-the-wall idea that came to me out of the blue," says Sheana Davis, founder and director of the conference, now in its ninth year. "It's kind of like bowling—just with a wheel of cheese instead of a ball." Local politicians, cheesemakers and celebrity chefs—including Sonoma mayor Laurie Gallian, chef Justin Wangler of Kendall Jackson Estate and Ari Weinzweig, owner of Zingerman's Creamery—will vie for a variety of awards and, of course, the title of "Big Cheese." Contestants select from a variety of cheese wheels provided to roll down the ramp, or can opt to bring their own. The Roll takes place at 1pm during the conference's cheese, beer and winetasting at MacArthur Place in Sonoma (29 E. MacArthur St.). "We've done a number of test runs," says Davis, "and the ramp is ready to go." For tickets, visit www.sheanadavis.com or call 707.935.7960.
Cheese also reigns supreme at the upcoming fifth annual Artisan Cheese Fair at the Sheraton hotel in Petaluma (745 Baywood Drive). The weekend-long celebration of handcrafted cheeses, foods and spirits begins on Friday, March 25, and includes a whirlwind of cheese-related experiences aimed at both educating and entertaining. Visitors to the fair can taste and buy products from cheesemakers and chefs from all over the country; partake in seminars and classes ranging from "So You Want to be a Cheesemaker" to 'The Wonderful World of Mold'; enjoy a cheese-inspired seven-course feast prepared by renowned local chefs; and even tour a selection of nearby farms, dairies and cheese companies. More information and tickets at www.artisancheesefestival.com.
For a more personal cheese experience, the Cowgirl Creamery's weekly Cheese 101: Class and Tasting in Point Reyes Station is a downright bargain. Register for $5 and spend an hour watching and learning how award-winning cheeses are made. The class is offered every Friday at 11:30am and includes a tour of the creamery, an up-close curd-making demo and, best off all, a tasting of all the Cowgirl cheeses, including the mother of all decadent soft cheeses, the Mt. Tam Triple Cream. Classes fill up quickly, so reservations are a must at www.cowgirlcreamery.com.