If great cheese comes from happy cows, as the advertisements say, then the bovines in California's San Joaquin Valley must be positively giddy. The region is home to two dozen makers of cow's milk cheese, more than in any other part of the state. Many welcome visitors for tours and tastings. Here's a sampling. Information: www.realcaliforniacheese.com.
BRAVO FARMS Visalia. One of the first producers of San Joaquin farmstead cheese (made from the farm's own milk), Bravo is noted for its cheddars and two new cheeses: Edam-style Tulare Cannonball and cheddar-flavored Silver Mountain (559) 734-1282.
FAGUNDES OLD-WORLD CHEESE Hanford. A 6-year-old farmstead producer renowned for its traditional Portuguese cheeses and for Hanford Jack San Joaquin with roasted garlic, red bell pepper, and cilantro. (559) 582-2000, www.oldworldcheese.com.
FISCALINI CHEESE COMPANY Modesto. Award-winning farmstead cheese from raw milk. Offerings include traditional cloth-wrapped cheddars, aged nine to 30 months, and fontina-like San Joaquin Gold. (209) 545-5495, www.fiscalinicheese.com.
HILMAR CHEESE COMPANY Hilmar. The world's largest cheese-making facility, making cheddar, Colby, Jack, flavored cheeses, and more. There's a visitor center with a café and store. (209) 656-1196, www.hilmarcheese.com.
THREE SISTERS FARMSTEAD CHEESE Lindsay. Marisa Hilarides Simoes, 25, is setting new standards. Her Serena resembles Parmigiano-Reggiano; her smooth and tangy Sorella (renamed Serenita) won a 2005 blue ribbon from the American Cheese Society. (559) 562-2132, www.threesisterscheese.com.
Illustration by Joseph Gast
This article was first published in November 2005. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.