Eat and Drink Local in Sonoma: Ramini Mozzarella + Balletto Vineyards

The first thing one needs to know about eating and drinking local products in Sonoma is this: there is a cheese trail.

Part of the California Cheese Trail, “it is a non-profit initiative, created and run by Vivien Straus. Fiscal sponsorship is provided by the Marin Economic Forum, where Straus has served as the Agricultural representative on the Board of Directors since 2010,” according to their website.

I love the idea of tourism and agriculture in partnership for the benefit of people that seek to learn. And also eat. And also travel. In a state such as California where wine is also a dominant component of the tourism and ag industries it only seems prudent that we consider a wine and cheese excursion as a top priority in 2018.

Sonoma County provided the following fun Q & A – a conversation starter that gets us thinking about the faces (and hoofs) behind some of Sonoma’s best cheese.

Q: How many goats does it take to make a pound of goat cheese?
A: Two can easily get it done in 24 hours. Larger goats like French Alpines produce an average of nine pounds of milk per day (8.6 pounds = 1 gallon), and it takes about 10 pounds of milk to make one pound of cheese.

Q: What are those little things hanging down from under the goats’ necks?
A: They are called wattles – as with the beards, some do (female goats) have them, while others don’t.

Q: What’s the difference between mozzarella cheeses? Mozzarella di bufala is the official name the Italian government uses to recognize its production strictly within the Campania region of Naples. So American made cheese of that style must be called “mozzarella made from buffalo milk.” Both are different from the more mainstream mozzarella found in America that’s made from regular cow’s milk, called fior di latte.

When I read that last answer about buffalo milk, my curiosity perked up. Are their buffalo in Sonoma County? Could I find a truly local mozzarella made from buffalo milk to pair with Sonoma wine?

It turns out the answer is an absolute yes.

Ramini Mozzarella

Ramini Mozzarella is located in Tomales, CA. Owners Craig and Audrey Ramini founded their business in 2009 with a “dream of raising Italian water buffalo and becoming the only Americans currently making authentic, artisan buffalo mozzarella.”

The Raminis started with a herd of five animals. “We love animals and wanted to spend our days with these amazing, exotic creatures,” said Audrey Ramini.

Sonoma agriculture

Water buffalo Courtesy: Ramini Mozzarella (Facebook)

The first to produce authentic mozzarella from buffalo milk in the US, they share a surprising motivation to pioneer this product. “We’d learned they could be as loving as dogs,” shared Audrey.

The Raminis enjoyed success together for several years, until personal tragedy struck when Craig was diagnosed with lymphoma in 2014 as subsequently passed away after a fight with the disease.

As one can imagine, Audrey was deeply hesitant to continue the cheese business without her husband. She shut her doors.

But customers insisted – they wanted her product and wanted to support her. Audrey re-opened and has been surrounded by a growing herd!


Courtesy: Ramini Mozzarella (Facebook)

“The herd has grown to 45 and I expect 10 babies in early 2016,” said Audrey on her site.

“In the past year I processed 25,000 lbs of milk, making 60-80 lbs of cheese twice a week and personally delivering to the eight local restaurants that love it. I also sell direct to the public from the creamery for those willing to make the trip to Tomales.”

Readers – put it on your list – book a tour and tasting here. Ramini’s website indicates the following restaurant use her products: Seven Hills and Pizzeria Delfina in San Francisco, Rosso Pizzeria in Petaluma, Bar Bocce in Sausalito, Pizzalina in San Anselmo, Farmshop in Larkspur, Zazu and Vignette Pizzeria in Sebastopol.

”Water Buffalo are sensitive loving animals that respond to human touch and affection with equal affection. This relationship is very special,” Audrey writes on her website.


Courtesy: Ramini Mozzarella (Facebook)

“In exchange for giving them love they have a release of oxytocin and give up their milk. We train our animals to come in and give milk using the reward system so each animal has made the decision that they want to be milked.”

“Our babies are hand raised and socialized to love human contact and interaction,” said Audrey.

Pairing Sonoma Wine & Buffalo Mozzarella

“Buffalo milk always gives a paste which is creamy and translucent in color (the milk doesn’t have carotene) and above all it’s sweet like the cheese is, determined by the concentration of fat,” said Audrey.

”Buffalo milk is particularly, by its composition, known for its pearly white color and for the sweetness of its taste.”

Consider a simple handmade pasta with a touch of black pepper and basil, dressed with a smattering of Ramini Mozzarella. Pair with Balletto Vineyards Russian River Valley Pinot Noir.

A salad of radicchio and bitter greens with an herb vinaigrette and garlic croutons would be a beautiful bed for a dollop of Ramini Mozzarella. Pair with Balletto Vineyards Russian River Valley Chardonnay.

Balletto Vineyards, Sonoma Wine, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir

The Balletto family originally farmed vegetables on their Sonoma land. Like Ramini, the business started out as a small operation as was run by a married couple, John and Terri Balletto. Seeing deep challenges with the vegetable business, primary the lack of water in their state, they we compelled to shift gears by planting grapes on their farmland west of Sebastopol.

The couple “converted all of their vegetable farming land to estate vineyards over a three-year period—planting primarily Pinot Noir and Chardonnay—and started selling fruit to well-known wine producers in Sonoma County,” states the website for Balletto Vineyards.

Wine Pairing Weekend

The Wine Pairing Weekend group presents #SonomaStrong. Each of us will recommend an organization in the Sonoma area that provides resources during the wildfire recovery. I highlight Sonoma Humane Society, an organization that provided shelter and supplies to pets displaced during the fires. I choose this because I am an animal lover and also as a reflection of the love and sensitivity of animals, as displayed by Ramini’s water buffalo.

Join the Wine Pairing Weekend Writers on Twitter at 10 am CST on Saturday, January 13th. Look for the #WinePW hashtag as well as #SonomaStrong.

#WinePW, Sonoma, California Wine, Wine Country, Fire Relief, California wildfires

#SonomaStrong with #WinePW hosted by Jill at L’Occasion. Credit: Jill Barth

Our posts feature Sonoma wines, paired with some of our favorite dishes. We uncover stories, history, current events, travel ideas, and opportunities to reveal Sonoma and let readers know how they can help, simply by purchasing wine or visiting wine country. Reliable conduits for donations will also be shared, as many of our writers are part of the local community in Sonoma.

Camilla from Culinary Adventures with Camilla dazzles with > Za’atar-Crusted Rib-Eyes with 2014 Geyser Peak Walking Tree Cab.

Gwen from Wine Predator asks readers to > Be #SonomaStrong: Drink Wine! Here’s Why and 5 to Try #WinePW

Lori from Dracaena Wines gets into the spirit with >  #WinePW Shows We Are #SonomaStrong

Jeff from FoodWineClick! celebrates with >  #SonomaStrong with Two Shepherds and Roast Chicken à la Alice Waters

Cindy from GrapeExperiences asks readers to > Taste Sonoma – Wines from Kunde Family Winery (and recipes for pairing)

Wendy from A Day in the Life on the Farm is > Celebrating Sonoma

Nicole from Somm’s Table shows us > Cooking to the Wine: Covenant Neshama Sonoma County with Smoky Beef Goulash

David from Cooking Chat makes a pairing of > Shrimp Pesto Pasta & #SonomaStrong Wine

Ellen from Family Around the Table tempts with a pairing for > Rosemary Roasted Cornish Hens

Nancy from Pull That Cork shares her >  #SonomaStrong Pairing: Jordan Chardonnay and Jalapeño Popper Dip #winePW

Jane from Always Ravenous has prepared >Mexican Shrimp Cocktail Paired with Geyser Peak Sauvignon Blanc #SonomaStrong #WinePW

Lauren from The Swirling Dervish shares inspiration with > #WinePW Celebrates #SonomaStrong: Roasted Halibut with Grapefruit-Fennel Salsa and Geyser Peak Sauvignon Blanc

Here on L’Occasion we are getting into > Eat & Drink Local in Sonoma


Please note: Balletto Vineyards provided the wine as media samples, but all thoughts are my own.

31 thoughts on “Eat and Drink Local in Sonoma: Ramini Mozzarella + Balletto Vineyards

  1. You’ve captured the true spirit of Sonoma in this post, Jill. Caring for the earth, caring for the animals, putting one’s heart and soul into a life’s work. Not mention there’s a cheese trail! Thanks for cluing us in on the details.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I had no idea there were water buffalo and mozzarella being made in Sonoma! Nice to hear that Audrey is continuing and growing the herd. I love how you’ve highlighted these two Sonoma gems: Ramini and Balletto. The radicchio salad idea sounds delicious!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve enjoyed the Balletto wines before, very nice. I wish I had known about the water buffalo farm before my trip last fall, definitely up my alley! Oh well, there’s always the next trip. Thanks for sharing, Jill!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. What a wonderful trip to Sonoma! It is lovely to hear about cheese makers who truly love their herds and are looking out for the welfare of their animals and caring for them so deeply. And how perfect that at this moment in time, they are in Sonoma, where people have come together to care for each other. I can’t wait to join on Saturday morning. We had a great trip to Balletto ourselves back in August with a wonderful hike around their property and baseball diamond!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I have tried to make an appointment to visit Ramini a few times – and failed miserably. I’ll try harder! Thanks for hosting this event, Jill. I loved reading all the posts and learning more about the area.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This is a such a bittersweet story, however, the cheeses sound amazing! I’ve been meaning to check out the cheese trail, so thank you for the added, delicious, inspiration.

    Liked by 1 person

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