The cheese course, long a tradition in Europe, is rapidly growing in popularity in this country. A recent survey of trend-setting restaurants in San Francisco and the Napa/Sonoma wine region revealed that two out of three fine restaurants currently feature some form of cheese course on the menu. The survey was conducted by the California Milk Advisory Board (CMAB) as part of a special program to educate small artisan and farmstead cheesemakers about marketplace opportunities. "Frankly, the results surprised us," said Nancy Fletcher, CMAB Director of Communications. "It represents a big shift. When we conducted a similar restaurant survey five years ago, less than 10 percent offered a cheese course. I think we're seeing a major change in how Americans view cheese, and like most food trends, it's first appearing in high-end restaurants. What is especially gratifying is that fine American regional cheeses, such as California farmstead cheeses, are appearing in cheese courses." Laura Werlin, author of the new book, "The New American Cheese," the first book to focus exclusively on American cheeses, echoes these sentiments. "The appearance of the cheese course in so many restaurants here and across the country is based on a growing feeling among chefs and restaurateurs that cheese is an integral part of the fine dining experience," Werlin said. "And it's no coincidence that this trend occurs as we are seeing a renaissance of fine cheesemaking in this country." The CMAB survey involved examining the menus of 57 leading restaurants in the two regions and then following up with in-depth discussions with a number of restaurants prominently featuring cheese courses. Following are highlights from the survey.