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Sonoma County creameries offer best form of therapy: cheese and chocolate

In honor of our focus on mental health this month (all vegetarians who don’t eat cheese and individuals who are lactose intolerant - unless it’s only milk that you can’t handle, rather than cheese or yogurt your body can tolerate, please plug your ears, close your eyes and hum the Hmm hmmm song), I declare that cheese is good for your mental health! “This writer is off her rocker!” you say, but - am I?! My claim may seem to be the impossible dream of a cheese-aholic, but with careful consideration I’ve learned that there are some scientific studies that have shown how cheese can be a true feel-good, healthy fare.

Due to certain fats in good cheese, that is to say, non-processed cheese, the brain releases dopamine, a hormone that gives us those feel-good feelings. The difference between drinking plain milk as opposed to cheese, is that fermented foods, such as cheese and yogurt contain probiotic bacteria which can keep cholesterol levels healthy and support a smooth-running gut. Cheese is also a good source of glutathione, an antioxidant which assists in maintaining the health of your brain and helps your body fight free radicals. The important thing to remember is that almost all cheese should be enjoyed in moderation, due to the high fat content. This can be difficult, as all of us cheese lovers have so many great ways to enjoy this delicious provender.

On Mar. 24 through 26, the annual California Artisan Cheese festival was another great proof that cheese is a happy winner, as people came from near and far to celebrate this iconic festival. On Saturday, we drove to Sugarloaf Wine Company in the Valley of the Moon to attend a seminar on cheese and chocolate pairing, entertainingly presented by Jeff and Susan Mall, owners of Volo Chocolates. They were introduced in a previous issue of the Gazette, and it was fun to see them in action, guiding all the participants in the best method of interchanging tastes of a variety of their chocolates and local artisan cheeses. It was delightful to find that by taking a nibble of Cowgirl Creamery Mt. Tam cheese and then a nibble of VOLO’s 62% dark milk chocolate with olive oil roasted almonds, savoring the flavors, then repeating the process, the taste of rich and creamy chocolate cheese cake lingering on one’s tongue.

On Sunday, we attended the Festival’s Marketplace, held in the large pavilion at the fairgrounds in Santa Rosa. This is an event that should not be missed, as it includes the best of the best of artisan cheese producers, vintners, chocolatiers and the artisans of all that complements cheese. It is also a great learning experience, as one can meet advocates of sustainable and healthy land use, such as the Sonoma County Ag + Open Space.

We also met students from California State University in Fresno who are studying the art and chemistry of cheese. Their infectious enthusiasm made me want to go back to school and their cheese was delicious! Their professors who were there to support them, Miguel Pedroza, PhD, Assistant Professor of Enology and Carmen Licon, PhD, Assistant Professor of the Department of Food Science and Nutrition, shared with pride about all the work the students were doing. It was thrilling to learn about a Wine and Cheese Cruise through France that will run from May 30 to June 6, 2024 to help raise funds to support the students in their continuing education in science and nutrition. The itinerary looks fabulous and if you have ever had a dream of taking a river cruise, eating and drinking your way through Arles, Avignon, Viviers, Tournon, Bienne, Trevoux and Lyon in France, this will be the perfect European learning adventure and you will also be doing good, knowing that you have invested in the deserving students at Fresno State as they reach for their dreams.

The next Artisan Cheese Festival is about 11 months in the future, but until then, treat yourself to some mental health breaks and enjoy some of the glorious cheeses we have in abundance in Sonoma County. If you aren’t lactose intolerant, your brain and gut will calmly thank you.

Where to enjoy the perfect cheese sandwich or dessert:

  • Wild Goat Bistro’s Adult grilled cheese sandwich with gruyere, bacon – and more, is definitely not your mom’s grilled cheese.
  • All the sandwiches that include cheese at Willow Wood Market cafe are fresh and dream worthy! Order their egg salad sandwich with pancetta bacon, fontina and pesto. It will turn your ho-hum thoughts about the average egg salad sandwich on its head.
  • Carrot cake with cream cheese frosting from Della Fattoria and Wild Goat Bistro are the perfect desserts to end any meal – and who says one has to always eat dessert last?!?

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