Obsessed with creamy Mt. Tam? Besotted with Barinaga Baserri? Or simply smitten by the spectacle of baby goats and lambs? When spring rolls around, some of Northern California's top dairy farmers and cheesemakers throw open their doors to families and small groups eager to learn more about the art of cheesemaking.
Here are five farm and dairy tours to get you started:
This small Pescadero goat farm offers tours on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and occasional special events, such as farm dinners and workshops. Events fill up quickly and costs vary; make reservations at www.harleyfarms.com.
If all you want is a wedge of that divine Mt. Tam, you'll find that at local markets. But visit the Cowgirl Creamery's cheese-making facility in Petaluma on a Wednesday morning, and you'll see the entire production process, taste cheese at different stages and join a hands-on demonstration on making curd. The original Point Reyes creamery offers a curd-making demonstration and cheese tasting on Wednesdays and Fridays. Make reservations for the Petaluma ($30) and Point Reyes ($5) tours at www.cowgirlcreamery.com.
Redwood Hill Farm
Play with baby goats and learn about life (and cheesemaking) at this Sebastopol goat farm during their special farm tours, which include live music and other free festivities May 11 and 12, and June 8 and 9. Bring a cooler and ice to keep any yogurt, kefir or farmstead cheese purchases cool on the trip home. Get details and weather updates -- this is a pleasant weather-only event -- at www.redwoodhill.com.
Barinaga Ranch Farmstead
Baby lambs! This Marshall sheep ranch, which overlooks Tomales Bay, specializes in Basque-style cheeses, and it welcomes visitors for ranch tours one Saturday a month. Visit the lambs in the barn and meadows, and learn about cheese-making. Barinaga's cheeses -- which are prized by restaurants such as Yountville's French Laundry and San Francisco's Quince -- may not be available for tasting or purchase in May and June. Tours are $20 for adults and $17 for children ages 11 to 17. Find details -- and age and number restrictions -- at www.barinagaranch.com.
Tomales Farmstead Creamery
The owners of this organic farm and brand new creamery in tiny Tomales have just begun offering tours -- and visits with their 200 goats -- at Toluma Farms and Tomales Farmstead Creamery. The farm has produced goat milk since 2007 and began offering a line of artisanal goat and sheep cheeses in March. Tours ($5-$10) of the farm and dairy are offered monthly; make reservations at www.tolumafarms.com.