The Grand Tasting of the California Artisan Cheese Festival last weekend  offered some  delicious cheese concoctions, with nearly 30 Bay Area chefs and winemakers teaming up for a smorgasbord of bodacious bites and sips.

  Some of the best dishes showcased the cheeses of Sonoma and Marin counties, many of them fairly new on the market. Stand-outs included the Crab Mac ’n’ Cheese featuring the Point Reyes Farmstead Toma from Nick’s Cove in Marshall, Valley Ford Cheese Co.’s Estero Gold Spicy Pimiento Cheese on a Toasted Wafer from Rocker Oysterfeller’s in Valley Ford,  Laura Chenel Chevre Empanadas with Spicy Pepper  Jam Sauce from Jimtown Store in Healdsburg and the Dulce de Leche Caramel Redwood Hill Chevre Cheesecake from Patisserie Angelica in Sebastopol.

   Two of the dishes also stood out for their sheer simplicity:   Marin French Brie on a Costeaux Walnut Baguette with Medjool Date Drizzled with Marshall Honey from the Brasserie-Hyatt Vineyard Creek Hotel, and the Housemade Ricotta Cheese Crostini with Fava Beans from Quince in San Francisco. 

  However, the  Best in Cheese Competition award – decided by  the voting guests –  went to Peter Smith of The Lodge at Sonoma, for his  decadent panini made from  Central Coast Creamery Big Rock Blue Mousse  with Red Wine Poached Bartlett Pear and Prosciutto Crackling, and a shooter of Winter Cauliflower, Fiscalini Cheddar and Beer Soup.  The beer came from Half Moon Bay Brewing Co., which was pouring a couple of microbrews right next to Smith’s popular booth.

  Here’s a recipe for Quince’s house-made ricotta cheese, which is a good place to start if you dream of curds and whey.

Ricotta

1 gallon whole milk

½ gallon cream

25 grams salt

25 grams sugar

25 milliliters lemon juice

14 grams citric acid

Line one four-inch deep perforated pan with cheesecloth and place inside a 6-inch deep pan. Take care to secure the edges of the cheesecloth to the pan.

Combine the milk and cream in a large, shallow pot and bring to a boil; once truly boiling, turn off heat.

Whisk in all the other ingredients and let the mixture sit for about 20 minutes, or until it curdles.

Pour the contents into the pan and allow them to drain and cool overnight. The next day, remove the finished ricotta from the pan and store in a sealed container.