When was the last time you searched out organic cheese and what is it? And which cheesemakers in California make organic cheese?
Organic certification of cheese comes down to the animals, the ingredients and the method of processing; all overseen by the USDA National Organic Program.
Animals must be raised without the use of antibiotics or hormones. All feed must be certified organic (organic pastures, and no pesticides or genetically engineered feeds). Animals must be allowed access to outdoors, including shade and sunlight, clean and dry bedding, and space for exercise (amount of access and pasture required is outlined and determined by region).
If an animal is sick and antibiotics are the only solution to save the animal, organic regulations require that you save the animal, but then remove it from your organic herd. If this happens, farmers then sell their milk as conventional, or more likely, sell the animal itself.
The ingredients must all be certified organic as well. That includes both the milk and the enzymes (which create the curds). Chymosin, the ingredient produced naturally in the lining of a ruminant’s stomach and solidifies the milk and creates curds, is available as a genetically engineered ingredient. This genetically engineered enzyme is the most commonly used enzyme in cheesemaking. As it is genetically engineered, it is not allowed in organic cheese. If you care about that, and you’re not sure if your cheese contains a genetically engineered ingredient, contact the company to inquire. Or, simply purchase organic cheese.
In processing, only cleaning agents that do not leave a residue are allowed to touch equipment or ingredients.
Organic cheese sales grew 15% a year between 2012 and 2015 and are now estimated to be around $570 million annually.
Want organic cheese? Look for the USDA Organic label. Questions about organic cheese? Just ask!
I remember coming to Marin French Cheese Company as a child and drooling over their Breakfast Cheese, a tiny round of a young cheese. It’s like they wrapped it, not quite finished (which can often be a very tasty time in a cheese’s life – depending on the cheese), and let us in on a tasty secret. At less than $4.00, it’s delicious and a great intro into the oldest continually operating creamery in the country. Over 150 years old!
Then pick up some rustic bread, a salami or jam, some drinks (or they even pre-make sandwiches for you), and have your picnic on the lake just beside their shop and creamery.
It’s a lovely lake surrounded by weeping willows. Perfect for the family, or dare I say it…romance.
Inside their shop, you can also sample and buy their cheese as well as rounds from their partner company, Laura Chenel’s.
Marin French is on the way to both Nicasio Valley Cheese Company (another creamery and cheese shop nearby) and Point Reyes. If you’re going for a hike or wanting to shop in Point Reyes, this is a good first stop along the way.
Next Blog: What about that Mold?
You just ate a bit of the cheese you brought home from the store. But what do you do with the rest?
First thing to know is, your cheese is ALIVE! Not like a scary monster, but essentially it does need to breathe. That’s why wrapping that leftover piece in plastic cling wrap is not such a great idea. You don’t want to suffocate it.
The best thing to do is wrap it in Formaticum paper, wax or parchment paper (wax paper is cheapest, so that’s what I use). Then you can actually put some plastic wrap over it OR put it in a plastic tub with a lid. That way it is wrapped to keep it moist but also has air to breathe. This method works for both hard and soft cheeses. Then pop it in the vegetable drawer (the veggies provide a little moisture).
If your cheese starts to seem a bit dry, wrap it in a damp cloth (a clean one!) and place in a plastic tub. And if it’s too moist, then it just needs a bit more air.
Keep stinky or blue cheeses wrapped and stored separately.
And, of course, if you have a fresh cheese like cottage cheese or cream cheese, leave it in the tub you bought it in, and re-seal it.
If it’s a fresh mozzarella, change the water in it every couple of days.
The main thing to remember is to buy only as much cheese as you can eat in a week. Once cheese is cut into, like a wedge or a slice, it’s exposed to other bacteria in your fridge or air, and begins to degrade. So buy less, and eat more!
Next Blog: What to do about Cheese Mold
“Can I – or should I – eat the rind of my cheese?”
Great question. And absolutely you can. Of course, it totally depends on preference.
It’s always easiest – and tastiest – to try the white fuzzy rind of a “bloomy rind” cheese like Brie or Camembert. That’s natural. And believe it or not, that white matted exterior is actually the flower of the mold that helped create your cheese. I happen to love it. But, if you don’t like it, scoop out the interior and leave the rind behind.
The brownish orange of a stinky “washed-rind” is also edible. Go for it.
When it gets to the hard cheeses, it gets a bit more difficult. They can be tough to chew and very hard. A cheese like parmesan, which has aged for a longtime, can be impossible to eat. But keep those rinds. Don’t throw them away. Toss them in a soup (or freeze them in a ziplock bag for future broths).
Some rinds are just plain tasteless. They may taste like cardboard, or be dusty. Feel free to dislike and discard.
But no rind will make you sick.
There is only one rind that you should avoid. It’s the wax rind of the Gouda and Edam, often glossy and colored red, used to protect the cheese. That’s wax, people! Do not eat it!
Next blog: How to Store Cheese.
Walter Nicolau of Nicolau Farms started with one goat. That turned into 200. As a descendant of Portuguese immigrants from the Azores who came to America and had a cow dairy, Walter had farming in his belly. He simply reinvented himself and the farm. His one Alpine goat, that turned into a flock, a trip, a tribe, a herd (all names for a group of goats), then inspired the making of some stupendously unique cheeses.
I taste a lot of cheese, but at least twice a year I discover one that blows my mind. Walter’s Bianchina does that for me. It’s a blend of cow and goat milk, creamy and addictive. Look for it.
Walter, along with his wife Elizabeth, and children, farms on 30 acres, grows hay and makes about a dozen different cheeses. Besides Bianchina, he makes the award-winning Capra Stanislaus, an aged and nutty goat cheese. I’m never one to use descriptives for cheese. I don’t really get all that. But I’m using the term “nutty” because that’s how Walter calls it. 🙂
But whether you know what “nutty” means when it comes to cheese or if you’re just plain “nutty” yourself, know that if you book ahead, Walter will explain it all to you, show you around the farm and creamery, talk cheese stories, let you taste and also purchase cheese to take home. His farm is just outside the town of Modesto, in the Central Valley, down a remote road. He prefers groups of six or more. After all, he’s got to save time to create more nuttiness.
For the first time EVER, a map shows you every open cheesemaker in California. Address, hours and tour instructions included.
Traveling Highway 99 in the Central Valley? You’ve been passing some pretty great cheese.
Gold Country? There are small, sweet farms waiting to show you around.
Pick up fresh mozzarella and ricotta direct from a Los Angeles creamery.
Travel the north coast and get a grilled cheese by the crashing waves.
Pet a goat on the Central Coast.
The San Francisco Bay Area. Well, you knew it was all there, but maybe you didn’t know the specifics. Now you do!
The farms and cheese and cheesemakers are all waiting for you.