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Best Cheese Shops In The North Bay

You've heard about the California wine country and perhaps even taken a wine tour in Napa Valley or Sonoma County. But did you know that cheese lovers refer to the North Bay as "the Normandy of California"? It is possible to spend a pleasant weekend exploring the best cheeses this area has to offer. Here are a few places to sample the good stuff; nothing cheesy about 'em.
Cowgirl Creamery

Cowgirl Creamery
Tomales Bay Foods

80 4th St.
Point Reyes Station, CA 94956
(415) 663-9335

Cowgirl Creamery is located in the tiny town of Point Reyes Station, one of the most picturesque destinations in the North Bay, adjacent to the spectacular Point Reyes National Seashore. At Cowgirl, visitors will find a wide variety of artisan cheeses, as well as an informed staff to educate their palates. Try the popular Mt. Tam, an aged triple cream cheese named after the famous Marin geographical landmark, Mt. Tamalpais. For a wintry seasonal choice, sample Devil's Gulch, which features the inclusion of sweet and hot ground peppers.

Marin French Cheese

Marin French Cheese
7500 Red Hill Road
Petaluma, CA 94952
(800) 292-6001

Marin French Cheese describes itself as "the history and future of American Artisanal Cheese production." Visitors can tour the cheese-making facilities (located on 700 acres of beautiful rural land), then purchase their favorites in the retail shop. The company has been making cheese in Petaluma since 1865, making it the oldest cheese manufacturer in the United States. Its original product is the handmade breakfast cheese, which first came to market when President Lincoln was in office. Marin French Cheese proudly boasts that its American-made brie has been awarded first place medals in competition with French manufacturers.

Vella Cheese

Vella Cheese Company
315 2nd St. E.
Sonoma, CA 95476
(707) 938-3232

Vella Cheese Company is a family operation founded by patriarch Gaetano "Tom" Vella in 1931, now in its fourth generation. The company has received numerous awards in competitions all over the world, including a "history of excellence award" from the California Artisanal Cheese Guild. For something unusual, try the High Moisture Monterey Jack, which is as creamy as a fine brie but far more affordable. For those who prefer something drier, there is the Dry Monterey Jack which last year won a Gold Medal at the Los Angeles County Fair.

Related: Best Cookbooks From San Francisco Chefs

Sharp and Nutty

The Cheese Shop
423 Center St.
Healdsburg, CA 95448
(707) 433-4998

Proprietor Doralice Handel works with a large number of local artisanal cheese makers so that her costumers can sample a wide variety of cheeses from multiple sources. The Cheese Shop often puts together gift packages highlighting local artisans. For example, one might try the Bohemian Selection which includes three choices from the Bohemian Creamery in Sebastapol, known for its goat and sheep cheeses. The Cheese Shop also offers classes, wine and cheese pairings and occasional lectures with local cheese specialists.

San Rafael Farmer's Market

Sunday Marin Farmers Market
3501 Civic Center Drive
San Rafael, CA 94903
(415) 472-6100

Sunday Marin Farmers Market in San Rafael is the third largest farmers market in the state of California and operates year round. Here shoppers can find literally dozens of farmers and cheese makers from throughout the North Bay. Stall keepers are happy to chat about their wares and free samples abound. Local foodies rarely miss the chance to visit with their favorite cheese makers and farmers to taste whatever is new on the market.

Related: Best Sushi Restaurants In North Bay

Charles Kruger is well known in the Bay area as "The Storming Bohemian" ever since he entered the Bay Area cultural scene in the summer of 2009, attending 90 cultural events in 90 days and blogging about it. This project was successful enough to warrant a mention in The New York Times. His work can be found at

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