Sonoma Valley Cheese conference returns

Cheeseheads rejoice: The annual Sonoma Valley Cheese Conference is back in town next week, and organizers say “the movers and shakers of the American artisan cheese movement” will be there.

Now in its 11th year, the Cheese Conference is a showcase for the region’s best and brightest in cheesemaking – an artisanal skill dating back thousands of years. Retailers, distributors and food writers will be in attendance as well.

Sheana Davis, Sonoma cheesemaker and owner of the Epicurean Connection, hosts the conference, which kicks off this Saturday with a Winter Artisan Cheese Fair from 1 to 4 p.m. at Cheese Plus in San Francisco.

The conference proper begins this Sunday in Sonoma at the Sonoma Valley Inn where the work of artisan cow, sheep and goat cheese producers – as well as wines, brews, guest chefs and the second annual mac and cheese cook-off – will be presented.

Here is a list of events for the 2014 Sonoma Valley Cheese Conference:

• Sunday, Feb. 23: Sonoma Winter Artisan Cheese Fair at Sonoma Valley Inn. Both the public and conference attendees are invited to an opening reception and mac and cheese cook-off from 1 to 4 p.m. to launch the 11th annual Sonoma Valley Cheese Conference. The event includes a 1:30 p.m. sake and cheese tasting and a 3 p.m. beer and cheese tasting with author Janet Fletcher. Tickets are $55 (full conference registration attendees can attend for $25). That evening, the public is invited to attend a Cheesemaker Dinner at The Epicurean Connection for $45 a person, featuring cheeses from Redwood Hill Cheese, Roelli Cheese and Valley Ford Cheese Company.

• Monday, Feb. 24 to Tuesday, Feb. 25: Annual Sonoma Valley Cheese Conference at Sonoma Valley Inn. Keynote speakers include Judy and Charlie Creighton, discussing the evolution of the American artisan cheese movement, and Glenda Humiston, USDA, providing information on future opportunities. In addition, Amy Thompson, Lucy’s Whey, will focus on retailing artisan and farmstead cheeses, while Vermont cheesemaker Peter Dixon will focus on the past and present of artisan cheese and the future for affinage in America. Cost is $150 a day, or $250 for both days.

On both days of the conference, an array of topics will be presented. Additional speakers include Al Baylacq, Good Earth Natural Foods; Jacquelyn Buchannan, Laura Chenel’s Chevre; David and Jennifer Bice, Redwood Hill Farm; David Breeden, French Laundry; Jeanne Carpenter, Wisconsin Cheese Originals; Judy Creighton, California Artisan Cheese Guild; Seana Doughty, Bleating Heart Cheese; Brad Dube, Food Matters Again; Sarah Dvorak, Mission Cheese; Gordon Edgar, Rainbow Grocery Cooperative; Janet Fletcher, food writer; Laurie Gallian, Sonoma City Council; Colette Hatch, Oliver’s Market; Jeanette Hurt, food writer; Karen Moreda, Valley Food Cheese Company; Shana Ray, Digital Marketing + Social Relations; Janet Tarlov, Canyon Markey; Amy Thompson, Lucy’s Whey; Justin Wangler, Kendall Jackson Estates; Nancy Weimer, New Leaf Community Market; Ari Weinzweig, Zingerman’s, Marilyn Wilkinson, Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board; and Anna Wolfe, Gourmet Retailer.

• Wednesday, Feb. 26 to Thursday, Feb. 27: Two-Day Affinage Session. Peter Dixon, Dairy Foods Consulting, and Rachel Fritz Schaal, Westminster Artisan Cheese, will present the special two-day session, including a tour of two local dairies. It too will be held at the Sonoma Valley Inn. Cost is $200 a person. Space is limited.

• Wednesday, Feb. 26: ZingTrain Session. Ari Weinzweig of Zingerman’s will present a dynamic, small-group session designed to get participants thinking about running their organizations in new ways. Location: Sonoma Valley Inn. Sponsored by Delfina, Mission Cheese, The Epicurean Connection, Bi Rite, Good Earth and Real Food Company. This session is sold out.

• Thursday, Feb. 27: ZingTrain Session. Ari Weinzweig of Zingerman’s again will present a small-group session designed to get participants thinking about running their organizations in new ways. Location: Sonoma Valley Inn. Cost is $750 a person. Space is limited.

To register, email Sheana Davis at sheana@vom.com or call 935-7960. Visit theepicureanconnection.com to learn more.