Northern California is a hotbed of artisan food producers--wine, cheese, and local gourmet products are made in every town and city. I grew up here, and you get spoiled with the abundance of local food. But one of my favorite spots to visit is Cowgirl Creamery in Pt. Reyes. I've been eating Cowgirl Creamery cheese for years; I adore their rich, mushroomy Mt. Tam cheese, their triple-cream Red Hawk, and the buttery Wagon Wheel, all made with organic milk from local cows. (They make seven cheeses total.) Cheesemakers and owners Sue Conley and Peggy Smith started their venture in 1997, and what was once a locals-only secret made in a converted barn is now shipped nationwide. These are handcrafted cheeses bursting with flavor, far from the mass-produced industrial cheese that fills the grocery store shelves.

It's magical to drive up the coast to the beautiful little town of Pt. Reyes (about an hour north of San Francisco) and visit the creamery. They have a second facility in the nearby town of Petaluma, where they give 1-hour tours held every Wednesday at 11:30am. You'll get a behind-the-scenes look at the creamery--and you get a sampler of cheeses to take home. (Tours $30 per person; call to reserve a space.) They also have retail shops in the San Francisco Ferry Building Farmer's Market and Washington, D.C. And they recently opened up a "milk bar" called Sidekick in the Ferry Building; choose from several types of local milk and an array of flavorings. Or just order some cheese from them directly; you'll taste Northern California in every bite!

Photo courtesy Ferry Building Marketplace