Want to learn how to make cheese? If you’re looking for both a fun experience and a bit of learning, head on over to The Epicurean Connection in the town of Sonoma where Sheana Davis and her husband Ben Sessions offer delicious hands-on training, perfect for the cheese curious.
Sheana, who brings 25+ years of farmstead cheese and cheesemaking experience, and Ben, with deep roots in the wine industry, love sharing their extensive knowledge and passion, offering both in-person and virtual classes, for individuals, groups or corporate events.
When I arrived, Ben greeted me with a warm smile and the offer of a beverage (I chose sparkling water, but the wine sounded enticing, too), and after a few minutes of meeting my fellow future cheesemakers, we get started.
First, to wet our appetites, we’re given a scoop of Epicurean Connection’s signature Creme de Fromage - a fresh, spreadable and versatile cheese. Then we’re given tastes of two local cheeses which I’ve always loved: St. Jorge (Joe Matos Cheese Company), and Estero Gold (Valley Ford Cheese Company). Plus, we get some of Sheana’s homemade blackberry jam to dip the cheese into. The jam recipe is secret (that didn’t stop me from asking, though … boy, it’s good!).
Today’s cheesemaking class includes a dozen other participants, including a film crew from California Bountiful TV (my inner actress voice wanted to commiserate and talk Hollywood, but I decided today was the day to play (and be!) the eager student).
Cheesemaking stations are set up in their very well-lit, organized kitchen where you can choose to work on your own or with a group. (It was a last-minute trip for me, so I arrived solo; with a little more planning, I would definitely have brought a friend!)
Everything is thoughtfully laid out in advance, from the equipment to the ingredients, all pre-measured.
The two hour class is split into two parts: Experimenting with flavors, and cheesemaking.
To begin, Ben directs us to divvy up Epicurean’s “Creme de Fromage,”into small tastes and experiment with flavoring it. At the center of the room is a station overflowing with containers of assorted sweet and savory flavorings, including dried shallots, lemon zest, granulated honey, to the savory “Everything Bagel” seasoning. Wielding our tasting spoons with gleeful zest and anticipation, I begin exploring the matches to find which I like best.
Then, we embark into making our own cheese, and Ben leads us to make Creme de Ricotta … and, get this, it only takes 20-30 minutes to transform our simple ingredients (whole milk, heavy cream, salt and vinegar) into deliciousness! We’re given a bunch of 6oz to-go containers, and begin mixing up our favorite flavorings, to combine with the cheese we’ve just made, to take home our custom-flavored cheeses. Creme de Ricotta freezes for up to three months, and is perfect for making lasagna, or simply eating on crostini or other crackers.
Before departing, we’re also given a fun gift bag, complete with a cheese ladle, cheesecloth and the recipe for the cheese we’ve just made, so we can continue our cheesemaking adventures at home.
Epicurean classes, which are simple, basic and fun, also include mozzarella-pulling, and are held Thursday-Saturday at various times (or by appointment). For more information and to sign up, visit The Epicurean Connection.
Other cheesemaking classes around California include:
- Cal Poly (San Luis Obispo)
- It’s Not You, It’s Brie (Bay Area / South Bay)
- Copeland Family Farms (Siskiyou County)
And, if you know of other cheesemaking classes in California, please email us and we’ll add them to our website for your fellow Cheese Trailers to enjoy.