2016 Big Cheese Superstars

We are working on the 2017 California Artisan Cheese Festival now. Please check back soon for details on the 2017 Big Cheese Superstars. 


Chef John Ash is a renowned author, a food and wine educator, and often referred to as the “Father of Wine Country Cuisine”. He opened his namesake restaurant in Northern California in 1980, using local, seasonal ingredients to create dishes that complemented the wines of the region. In 2014, Chef Ash was was inducted into the Guilde Internationale des Fromagers which includes most of the artisan cheese makers in America. Chef Ash has also been involved in California’s Artisan Cheese Festival since its inception. Chef Ash travels the world teaching cooking classes to both home cooks and professionals. His most recent cookbook, Culinary Birds: The Ultimate Poultry Cookbook won a prestigious James Beard award in 2014. Since 1987 Chef Ash has been the co-host of KSRO’s The Good Food Hour and has also hosted two shows on the Food Network. Chef John Ash is the featured chef at the Bubbles Brunch on Sunday, March 20th. Click here for his Bubbles Brunch menu.

RebekahBakerNugget Rebekah Baker is the Corporate Director of Specialty Cheese at Nugget Market and an American Cheese Society Certified Cheese Professional. She graduated with a B.A. in Creative Writing from Wheaton College of Illinois before beginning to pursue a career in the cheese world. Before starting with Nugget Market in 2013 she worked in Specialty Cheese at Pastoral in Chicago and Whole Foods in Northern California. In between directing the cheese programs at the 13 Nugget Market stores and raising her three boys (one 2.5 year old and 6 month old twins), she loves to run and throw dinner parties.

Robert Bath is a Master Sommelier and professor at the Culinary Institute of America where he teaches about sake, wine, and other beverages as part of the Accelerated Wine and Beverage Professional Program.  He writes for Sommelier Journal, and is a judge at the Los Angeles International Wine and Sake Competition. Robert Bath hosts part of Seminar 6 – East Meets West: Pairing Sake and California Cheese on Saturday, March 19th.


Sue Conley is the co-owner of Cowgirl Creamery.  Food and community have followed Sue Conley just about everywhere. She caught the restaurant bug early, watching her grandfather hold court at Sholl’s Colonial, the popular Washington DC cafeteria he managed throughout her childhood.  After her time at the University of Tennessee she moved to the San Francisco area in 1976.  11 years later she migrated out to Point Reyes Station where she started Cowgirl Creamery with Peggy Smith. Sue Conley co-hosts Seminar 3: Growing Flavor on Saturday, March 19th.

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Lynne Devereux: Years of working in the artisan cheese industry have made Lynne one of our top specialists in California’s artisanal cheese community. Currently, she directs marketing and Public Relations for California cheese companies. She created and directed California’s Artisan Cheese Festival from 2007-2011.  Lynne was the founding president and serves on the board of the California Artisan Cheese Guild. She teaches at the San Francisco Cheese School, and develops wine and cheese pairing programs for wineries in California. As a U.S. national spokesperson for the California Milk Advisory Board from 2000-2006, she addressed professional organizations and appeared on TV and radio shows nationwide. Lynne Devereaux hosts Seminar 1: Sensory Perception and Understanding Your Palate on Saturday, March 19th.

DuskieEstes105w Duskie Estes is the chef owner and a farmer of Zazu Kitchen + Farm and Black Pig Meat Co. in Sebastopol, Ca. Duskie & her husband, John Stewart, won the Grand Cochon at Aspen Food & Wine in 2011 to become the King & Queen of Pork. Duskie was also a fierce competitor on the Food Network’s The Next Iron Chef, seasons 3 & 5 and is currently a judge on Food Network’s Guys Grocery Games.

janet fletcher pic Janet Fletcher writes Planet Cheese, a complimentary e-mail newsletter, and the “Cheese Focus” column for Specialty Food magazine. She is the author or co-author of more than two dozen books on food and beverage, including Cheese & Beer, Cheese & Wine, and The Cheese Course. Janet is the recipient of three James Beard Awards and the IACP Bert Greene Award for her journalism and is a member of the Guilde Internationale des Fromagers. Her writing has appeared in numerous national magazines, including Culture, Saveur, Bon Appetit and Food & Wine. She lives in Napa Valley but teaches cheese-appreciation classes around the country. (www.janetfletcher.com) Janet Fletcher hosts a Mixed Milk seminar during Farm Tour A: Kids, Calves, & More and Farm Tour B: Sonoma’s Specialties on Friday, March 18th.


Kirstin Jackson is the author of “It’s Not You, It’s Brie: Unwrapping Amiercan’s Unique Culture of Cheese.” Kirstin Jackson is both a cheesemaking teacher and a wine and cheese educator.  She loves showing people how to make creamery burrata pillows as much as she adores pairing her new favorite local wheels with wine. She blames her parents who took her on trips to the California dairy country at a very young age for feeding her obsession. Kristin Jackson co-hosts Seminar 2: New CA Cheese and Wine: The Modern Movement on Saturday, March 19th.


Sandra Loofbourow has been working in the coffee industry for almost 10 years, with almost half of that time dedicated to the specialty coffee industry.  After becoming a senior barista at Blue Bottle Coffee Company, she moved on to Andytown Cofee Roasters where she is Production Manager and leads the roast program.  She is certified by CQI as a Q-grader, and has studied the science and art of coffee from seed to cup. Sandra Loofbourow hosts part of Farm Tour D: Sonoma’s Fertile Grounds on Friday, March 18th. (Photo credit: Daniel E. Porter) 

 Petroski_105w Dan Petroski is a winemaker celebrated both by the underground wine crowd and old school drinkers alike for his modern yet classical approach to California’s wine.  The head winemaker at Napa’s Larkmead and the owner and winemaker at Massican, where he makes northern Italian-inspired white wine and Chardonnay, Dan is an advocate of California wine culture and community. Dan Petroski co-hosts Seminar 2: New CA Cheese and Wine: The Modern Movement on Saturday, March 19th.
 EmilyShartin_105w Emily Shartin, ACS CCP, worked as a newspaper reporter before a love of food lured her to cooking school.  After working as a cheesemonger, buyer and education coordinator at the renowned Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge, Massachusetts, she moved to Northern California, where she now sells cheese in the wholesale office at Tomales Bay Foods.  She has previously served on the Board of Directors of the California Artisan Cheese Guild, and the 2014 recipient of the Daphne Zepos Teaching Award. Emily Shartin co-hosts Seminar 6 – East Meets West: Pairing Sake and California Cheese on Saturday, March 19th.
 JoshSilvers105w Josh Silvers is an award-winning chef and owner of Jackson’s Bar & Oven located in Santa Rosa, California.  In 1999, Chef Silvers opened his first restaurant, Syrah.  Local restaurant critics immediately recognized Silvers’ talent and enthusiasm calling him “the Chef to watch,”  ”The best Chef in Sonoma County”.  For the last 16 years, Chef Silvers continued to be featured in numerous local, National and International written publications.  He also co-authored a very successful cookbook, “Down Home: Downtown-Seasonal Recipes from Two Wine Country Restaurants.”  He has made appearances on the food network and local television stations and had his own radio show.  He has been honored to cook at the James Beard House in New York City twice.  He is considered to be one of the “Old Guards” of Wine Country Restaurateurs, and the “go-to” Chef for information about Sonoma County restaurants and cuisine.
HanneSiversten_105w Hanne Siversten was born in Norway and received her PhD from the Norwegian University of Life Sciences. She worked for a decade as a researcher in the Department of Sensory Science at the Norwegian Food Research Institute, now called Nofima. In 2001, she moved to Davis, California, where she works with two sensory professors at the University of California, Davis, as well as working as a consultant on various projects in California and Norway.
 normalized_peggy_smith_cowgirl Peggy Smith, Co-Owner of Cowgirl Creamery, knows her way around a kitchen. Born in Texas and raised in Northern Virginia, she started her culinary career serving hearty suppers to food and folk music lovers at Gallagher’s in Washington, DC.  Her move to San Francisco in 1976 coincided with the food revolution begun by Alice Waters.  Peggy worked at Chez Panisse in Berkeley for 17 years before Sue Conley asked her to consider starting a cheese company in Point Reyes; she jumped at the chance. Peggy Smith co-hosts Seminar 3: Growing Flavor on Saturday, March 19th.
 KenTominaga Chef Ken Tominaga is the Chef/Owner of Hana Japanese Restaurant in Rohnert Park, California. Chef Tominaga came to Sonoma County from Tokyo with his family. When his family sold their family business, he took the opportunity to return to Japan to attend the Akasaka Cooking School. By day he learned to cook everything from tempura to udon. By night, he frequented his favorite sushi restaurants, studying the work of the sushi masters he’d known since he was a boy, coaxing them to reveal recipes and tips, then adapting their secrets to reflect his personal style, while still representing authentic Japanese tradition. Chef Ken Tominaga co-hosts Seminar 6 – East Meets West: Pairing Sake and California Cheese on Saturday, March 19th.
 LWerlin Laura Werlin is positively passionate about cheese and has written six highly acclaimed books on the subject which include The New American Cheese, The All American Cheese and Wine Book, Great Grilled Cheese, Laura Werlin’s Cheese Essentials, Grilled Cheese, Please! and her newest, Mac & Cheese, Please! Her passion and expertise on these topics have landed her on The CBS Early Show, the Television Food Network, Martha Stewart Living Television, and numerous local television and radio segments from coast to coast. Laura Werlin hosts a seminar during Farm Tour C: Legends and Legacies on Friday, March 18th and Seminar 4: Farm to Table, Bean to Bar on Saturday, March 19th.