The drive along coastal Highway-1 in California is a well-traveled route, famed for its expanse of scenic ocean views. While most people are familiar with the iconic trail, what they don’t know is that one of the state’s hidden treasures, The California Cheese Trail, parallels this drive in the lush valleys that lay to the east.
San Francisco-based food and travel photographer Angela DeCenzo recently had the opportunity to explore this little-known destination when she was approached by National Geographic Traveller to photograph some of the farms on the trail.
The feature was about the Sonoma and Marin County stretch of the Cheese Trail, which includes over 30 artisan cheesemakers and family farms.
The route itself, which begins down in San Diego and stretches all the way to Crescent City in Northern California, comprises nearly 80 unique locations. Angela spent one week traveling through the part of the trail nearest to the San Francisco Bay Area to capture the local dairy farmers who dedicate their lives to the cheese-making process.
I love getting lost in an interesting assignment, taking my time to explore the area, finding beautiful shots, and learning about the subjects.
This particular assignment required a schedule that mirrored the subjects’ demanding routines so Angela spent a lot of time with the farmers. She found herself waking up before dawn to spend a full day scouting, shooting, and traveling among farms, not retiring until well after dark.
I learned so much from meeting people who get up with the sun, work outside with animals, and are in sync with the weather and the seasons.
While the farms weren’t too far from Angela’s home in San Francisco, these rustic destinations lacked cell phone signal and wifi, making it difficult for her to coordinate one shoot location to the next. However, this allowed Angela to focus on connecting with people whose days are filled with labor-intensive outdoor work.
They spend their time experiencing real life instead of staring at a screen all day — I’m envious!
While most Americans have a limited idea of the types of cheeses that are out there, Angela is no longer one of them. The assignment led her to sample some unique varieties of cheese at each farm. Among them, the sweet cheese at Bohemian Creamery made with bee pollen and the complex cheese that Achadinha Cheese Company created by feeding their cows fermented mash grain from local breweries.
This assignment was a reminder of how much hard work goes into growing and making our food. I have endless respect for these workers.
Through this project, Angela witnessed the stages of each farm’s dairy operation. From seeing the birth of calves, watching cattle range across fields, to milking, mixing, and molding each wheel. She came away with a greater appreciation of the entirety of this process.
The farmers and cheesemakers I met on this project were all super generous and they all sent me home with lots of cheese.
While California is known as a bustling tech center, innovation doesn’t solely belong to its cities. Not far away from the world of app developers, a different kind of cutting-edge work happens where you least expect it. For Angela, taking the time to immerse herself in the world of cheese artisans was a welcome retreat away from the pace of city life. The assignment allowed her the opportunity to connect with the land and she was rewarded with some memorable moments.
One evening a bald eagle flew up from the cliff alongside the ocean and flew with me for a beat as I was driving on Hwy-1 at sunset. It was a pretty magical moment!