Those who speed up Highway 5 between Southern California and points north, rather than taking the older route on Highway 99, miss a lot. They don’t even know they’re missing Bravo Farms, home to not just a fun and funky roadside attraction, but also to some of the best cheddar in the world!
Seriously, Bravo Farms cheese is THAT good. Their Silver Mountain Aged Cheddar was not only voted the best cheddar in the United States by the American Cheese society, but was also voted as one of the top three cheddars in the world at the World Cheese Awards in Dublin in 2008.
I discovered Bravo Farms quite by accident, needing a break in a long drive back from the Mojave Desert. Having finally escaped the traffic surrounding greater Los Angeles, we needed a breather, so we took 99 north, knowing it had more amenities along the way. We kept seeing signs advertising cheese and Bravo Farms, in the town of Traver, and decided to pull off and check it out.
Your first impression is of a funky roadside attraction, an “Old Western” collection of theme shops. Which it is, besides hosting the Bravo cheese factory. It has a store, a coffee shop, a “petting zoo” (or at least a collection of animals ranging from chickens to rabbits to goats), old west theme buildings and outdoor “rooms” decorated with antiques, signs, and junk-turned art. This amazing cluster of buildings could go into competition with the celebrated Wall Drug, besides offering some terrific and unexpected amenities.
What sort of amenities? In addition to cheese tasting and an opportunity to watch cheese actually being made in their factory as you sit on old tractor seats by the view window, you’ll find a huge store, tasty food, ice cream and milkshakes, and wine tasting! There are also funky “antiques” for sale, ranging from signs to old farm equipment to art made with recycled discards crowded throughout the grounds. Oh, and the tree house! Did I mention the tree house? Bravo Farms is a unique rest stop, with a little something for everyone,
Bravo Farms got its start back in 1979, when owner Bill Boersma and his wife Pat started to run a small dairy farm in Visalia and decided to venture into cheesemaking. Over time, their cheeses evolved and they developed their award-winning Farmhouse Cheddar. They have recently partnered with artisan cheesemaker Jonathan Van Ryn, who studied cheesemaking at California Polytechnic University, and their combined expertise has allowed them to considerably expand their offerings.
If you’re looking for a meal on the road, Bravo Farms has a sit-down cafe, plus an ice cream, coffee, and burger bar that will let you take your food outside to enjoy their unique ambiance. Their burritos are huge—bring an appetite, or a friend! Their Bravo burger is substantial, very tasty and satisfying, and you can sit outside or even up on the roof of one of the theme buildings while you eat. When you’re through with your food, you can explore the complex and meet the chickens and rabbits, or climb the tree house. While most of the visitors to the tree house are of the younger set, it’s also friendly to adventurous adults who are kids at heart, allowing you to climb up stairs and through small rooms built around a friendly tree. I felt like a hobbit (are there tree-dwelling hobbits?) exploring its multiple levels and peering out windows, even ringing a bell with a bell-rope!
When you’re through with food and exploration, you can check out the store. The cheeses are available for tasting, and I am always hard-pressed to decide which ones I want. The chipotle cheddar is amazing, with a rich and smokey hint of spice. Their sage cheddar is wonderfully herbal and I like to put it into the toaster oven to melt it onto slices of artisan bread. It goes well with olive bread, or just on just a plain baguette. But oh, their cheddar! One taste of this crumbly, tangy aged cheddar, and you’ll be hooked forever! Needless to say, I leave with a selection of cheeses. And sometimes I’ll throw in additional goodies, from hot sauces to nuts and dried fruit to Armstrong Olives, which come in an array of savory flavors. You’ll also want to check the refrigerator cases at the back of the store, on your way back to the wine bar.
Yes, I said wine bar. It’s not always open, but I’ve stopped by to taste on several occasions when they were pouring, and left with bottles of terrific local wines that qualify as true undiscovered treasures.
The one problem I have, every time I stop at Bravo Farms, is not just keeping from blowing my budget as I stagger out of the store with bags of goodies, but just getting back on the road! It’s such a fun place to stop and peruse, you find your half hour stop has turned into two hours!
Bravo Farms Cheese Factory
36005 Hiway 99
Traver, CA 93673