California Cheese Crawl: 12 Delicious Food Finds

In all my trips, I don’t ever go home empty-handed—which means that I always bring home delicious stuff from shops, markets, and even restaurants for my family. However, in terms of food, my recent trip to California with Real California Milk is a little different. I wasn't bringing home bags of chips, chocolates, or preserved things. I was introduced a whole new world of incredibly fresh food, artisanal products, and high-quality coffee. Friends who have been to California have always raved about the things you can find there. I only understood what they meant after this trip.

california cheese crawl delicious food finds
california cheese crawl delicious food finds
california cheese crawl delicious food finds
In a way, it feels a bit like it’s so hard to get back—to substandard produce and food, to cheap coffee, to shitty cheese, everything! So if you ever visit California, try to look for the products and places I will be talking about below to understand my current obsession. Most artisanal shops let you taste their products first, allowing you to make wise purchasing decisions (it’s super hard, I’m telling you, unless you have unlimited budget). Even cheese shops have some samples, and some products are even labeled “cheesemonger-approved”, meaning a certified cheese taster (like a wine sommelier) loves it. Interesting, right? Here you go, my 10 favorites from California!


1 | Point Reyes Cheese

california cheese crawl delicious food finds
If you love stinky cheese, you must not go home from California and not purchase some from Point Reyes—manufacturer of the best blue cheese in the USA, the classic-style Point Reyes Original Blue. It’s so addictive! Each bite starts with a soft, creamy, and milky flavor before giving way to a strong blue mold punch. This may be the best blue cheese I’ve tried yet. Aside from this multi-awarded cheese, Point Reyes also has Toma, a buttery, creamy semi-hard cheese that is great with pasta (I made some alfredo with it, recipe will be up soon) and Bay Blue, a milder, malty blue cheese.


california cheese crawl delicious food finds


2 | Fiscalini Cheese

california cheese crawl delicious food finds
As far as artisan quality goes, Fiscalini is a brand you should look for when you’re keen on taking home some California cheeses. Their dairy farm in Modesto still employs traditional techniques to this day (they’ve been producing milk since 1914)—their equipment is customized and manually operated, all adhering to their standards of excellence. They make European-style cheeses like the Lionza (Swiss) and San Joaquin (Italian), as well as a lineup of cheddars such as Smoked Cheddar (tastes somewhat like meat), CA Craft Beer Cheddar (infused with stout—I love), Habanero Cheddar (speckled with habanero chili) and Purple Moon (wine-soaked). My favorite, however, is the aged Bandage-Wrapped Cheddar, which is dry, hard, crumbly, but melts in a soft, nutty, buttery goodness in the mouth.


california cheese crawl delicious food finds

california cheese crawl delicious food finds


3 | McEvoy Fig and Smoky Tomato jams

california cheese crawl delicious food finds
Among the rows of specialty food stalls at the iconic Ferry Building in San Francisco, one store particularly stood out for me: McEvoy Ranch. They are known for their olive oils, but one look around their product collection tells you that they’re all about organic Italian and Mediterranean flavors (which I love). As much as I wanted to buy everything (their tapenades and bruschetta dips are so yummy), what got me obsessed the most were the savory jams. The Fig Jam has a touch of balsamic vinegar and onions, making it sweet-salty and perfect with some blue cheese, on toast. The Smoky Tomato Jam has a touch of spice because of chipotle peppers—it tastes so good in a grilled cheese sandwich!


california cheese crawl delicious food finds


4 | Peets Coffee

Don’t go home without hoarding some coffee beans from San Francisco. Out of everything I tried, my favorite is Peets’ Major Dickason’s Blend, a rich and complex coffee that has deep flavors (dark roast) and a mild chocolatey taste. Apparently, it is named after a loyal customer—a retired army officer named Key Dickason. What’s good about Peets is that you can order fresh coffee: they roast the beans in small batches in the morning and deliver them to you within the day. Even the ground ones you can buy in groceries are freshly made—just check the roast date! Their Black Tie, made from their Baridi cold brew, is super good.


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Read also:

Cheese and Beer Pairing: 6 Tips to Get You Started
Cheese and ... craft beers? HELL YEAH!

Visiting 3 of California’s Best Dairy Farms
What I learned about quality and sustainability.
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5 | Valley Ford Cheese

california cheese crawl delicious food finds
Valley Ford in Sonoma Coast specializes in Italian-style cheeses, their signature cheese being the Estero Gold Reserve—a hard, dry, 18-month old parmesan-style cheese that is simply exquisite. It’s perfect on its own with some red wine or shredded on top of pasta. Their newest product, the Grazin’ Girl Gorgonzola, is a rustic, creamy blue with sharp, salty notes. If you love grilled cheese sandwiches, the Highway 1 Fontina’s nutty, mild, and creamy flavors are just perfect. In fact, during out tour, they served some Grilled Cheese Sandwich with Farmer’s ham and homemade kimchi in it—THAT’S RIGHT, KIMCHI—and it’s sooooo good!


california cheese crawl delicious food finds


6 | Louis Martini Monte Rosso

california cheese crawl delicious food finds

While I didn’t get a chance to walk through the vineyards of Napa Valley, I did experience a tour inside the stately and strikingly beautiful Louis Martini Winery. As part of the California Cheese Crawl, we went inside the manor-like premises of this 86-year-old winery. We got to sample their wines and pair them with cheese, of course. My favorite was the 2015 Monte Rosso Cabernet Sauvignon (the most expensive in their arsenal, LOL)—it’s bold, dry, and tannic, but still balanced, the kind I love. The Napa Valley Cabernet, Sauvignon Blanc, and the refreshing Cabernet-Rosé are really good, too!

254 South St. Helena Highway, St. Helena, CA 94574

california cheese crawl delicious food finds


7 | Dewz Restaurant

california cheese crawl delicious food finds
Dewz is a fine dining restaurant in Modesto serving New American cuisine. Our wonderful hosts treated us to an exquisite dinner here—we sampled a 3-course menu that showcased fresh, seasonal produce. The Spinach Salad was a starter I never wanted to end; made with frisée, lettuce, bacon, Fiscalini Bandage Wrapped Cheddar, strawberries, grilled plums, corn, almonds, beet chips, tomatoes, quinoa, and mustard vinaigrette, it’s one of the best salads ever—a perfect combo of veggies, fruits, nuts, and salty components. From the entrées, I opted for the Atlantic Salmon Fillet which has yummy miso-sweet corn puree, jamon serrano, broccolini, and a salad made of quinoa, grilled corn, and chopped basil. The dessert, a flourless chocolate cake infused with Zinfandel and cherries, was just exquisite.

1505 J Street, Modesto, CA 95354

california cheese crawl delicious food finds


8 | Gott’s Roadside

california cheese crawl delicious food finds

california cheese crawl delicious food finds
Gott’s is a restaurant chain popular for their burgers made with 100% vegetarian-fed Angus beef. Our hosts were super eager to convert us into Gott’s fans (I told them I’m a simple guy who’s happy with Five Guys, LOL), and true enough, I was looking for Gott’s at the airport before going home. Their Western Bacon Blue Ring has bacon, onions, and BBQ sauce, topped with a beer-battered onion ring and my favorite, Point Reyes blue cheese! The Green Chile Burger was just as delicious (if not more)—grilled green chili, jack cheese, lettuce, onions, salsa verde, and charred jalapeño mayo fuse and make sparks inside the mouth. Their Sweet Potato Fries are addicting, while the Wild Shrimp Tacos are light and fresh. Make sure you try some craft beers on tap, like Pliny the Elder (so good!), Lagunitas IPA, and Dogfish IPA!


california cheese crawl delicious food finds


9 | Blue Bottle Coffee

california cheese crawl delicious food finds
To be a coffee lover and to go to California without trying Blue Bottle Coffee is absolutely the stupidest thing you could ever do. Many consider them the pioneer of third wave coffee in the Golden State—the first one to ever introduce to the public what fresh, good-quality coffee tastes like. And no wonder why their shops always has queues up front—of tourists and locals alike. They are incredibly serious about everything coffee: from harvesting and roasting to blending and delivering that final cup. Their macchiato is a true jolt of energy and flavor, while their New Orleans Iced Coffee is the crowd favorite!



10 | Mazarine Coffee

california cheese crawl delicious food finds

A trip to San Francisco is, indeed, not complete without checking out its vibrant coffee scene. While looking for breakfast places around Union Square, we stumbled upon Mazarine Coffee, a Paris-inspired concept which is just a short walk away. When we arrived, however, there was a long queue reminiscent of milk tea shops in Manila—we decided to fall in line anyway to try the coffee, to go. I had the Gibraltar, a San Francisco invention, which is composed of 2 shots of espresso with a little bit of steamed milk—I loved it!


california cheese crawl delicious food finds


11 | Marin French Petite Truffle


This particular cheese was a real surprise. I usually prefer hard and dry cheeses over soft ones like brie, but when I saw this Marin French Petite Truffle on a supermarket in Petaluma, I knew I had to get it. The award-winning Triple Crème Brie is super smooth and creamy, with the black truffle bits lending it a subtle earthy aroma and flavor. It's great with a light drink like sparkling wine, and is amazing on toasts. I tried making a truffle mushroom toast with this cheese and it was simply divine!



12 | Oakdale Cumin Gouda

I love bold flavors, especially those that bring me back to places I've been to and loved, like Texas. This cumin-flavored handcrafted gouda by Oakdale is delightfully smoky, with a sharp taste of the spice. I was surprised to find that this cheese was Indonesian-inspired, because when I first tasted and smelled it, I immediately thought of tacos. LOL.



Have you been to California? What are your favorites?

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