Nippy or Raw: Cheese, Please, at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa, Sonoma, CA

Can California wine country say “Cheese”? You bet, any way you want it — creamy, nippy, crumbly or raw. At a recent stay at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa, my taste buds were teased with some sublime state-grown dairy delicacies.

The guide to my gustatory adventure was Chef Bruno Tison, the property’s executive chef who was previously with New York’s Plaza Hotel. Tison, whose main baby is the inn’s reknowned Sante restaurant, is also the official spokesperson of the Real California Cheese Cooperative.

“There are excellent cheeses made here, perfect for pairing with the superb locally produced wines,” said The NY International Food Show Exposition gold medallist. Tison, who was born in Northern France and trained in Belgium, carefully pointed out each product‚s tantalizing, textural

Cowgirl Creamery’s Red Hawk, a triple-cream cheese made with organic milk, had a red-orange rind and a pungent, earthy flavor. Its satiny, almost runny texture, was somewhat like an Alsace Munster.

From the same producer came Mt. Tam, a bloomy-rind, organic milk cheese, semi-soft and buttery rich. Marin French Cheese Company’s triple crème Brie took a gold medal at the World Cheese Awards in London. Made in the classic French style, it had a silky cream interior that melted in the mouth.

Our raw selection was San Joaquin Gold, made by the Fiscalini Cheese Company. “The Fiscalini family immigrated to America from Switzerland in the late 1800s. They’ve been making cheese from unpasteurized milk for almost 300 years,” explained Tison. Winner of a gold World Cheese Award for the last two years, it was the color of pale ivory and its sweet, mild interior was firm and tinged with a slight saltiness.

The Bandage Cheddar, also from Fiscalini, came in a 60-pound drum-shaped, cloth-wrapped wheel. Pale gold in color, it was nippy and nutty.

Two other cheeses of note were Winchester Cheese Company‚s sharp, raw milk gouda and Vella Cheese Company’s Dry Jack, a sweet, pebble-textured treasure wrapped in rind of cocoa and pepper.

Who needs dessert? I’ll take the cheese plate.

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