One of these years I’m going to make it down to the Artisan Cheese Festival myself, though this probably won’t be the year. I first learned about this cheese-lover’s dream weekend when doing research on Sonoma County food events for a magazine article. I’ve actually done a couple of articles on Sonoma County, both very much making me wish I could spend more time down there.

Tickets are now on sale for the 2009 proceedings, which happen March 20 to 23 for this third annual festival. Most of the activities are based in and around Petaluma, California. Many of the experts and cheesemakers featured are from California, but there’s good representation from Washington and Oregon as well. This year Beecher’s and Estrella are among participants, and the Oregon Cheese Guildwill be featuring a number of their cheesemakers as well.

Those of you hoping this might be a Seattle-area event, sorry. It does mean a quick hop south to California. Not such a terrible hardship, right?

What you can look forward to in the Seattle area is the Seattle Cheese Festival set for May 16 and 17 this year (its fifth), again based at the Pike Place Market. Details for this year’s program are still being worked out, check the web site for updates over the coming weeks. But I have a couple of details in preview.  Among the seminars planned is one on Washington’s Artisan Cheese Renaissance, with Tami Parr, author of Artisan Cheese of the Pacific Northwest: A Discovery Guide. And cheese experts Daphne Zepos (from Essex Street Cheese Co. in New York) and Janet Fletcher (California-based author of Cheese & Wine: A Guide to Selecting, Pairing, and Enjoying) are on tap to share their insights as well.

If you have a killer grilled cheese recipe you think could stand up against some stiff competition, now’s the time to fine-tune that recipe. Click here to find out more about the contest and where to send in that distinctive creation of yours.

Praise be to cheeses. And praise, too, for a couple of stellar destinations for cheese lovers to get their fill of tasting and learning about one of their favorite food groups.