Fiscalini Cheese

An American original with Swiss roots.

The year is 1886, when Mateo Fiscalini emigrates from Switzerland with his family. First finding work on the railroad, he eventually settles all the way west in Cambria, California.

In 1912, Mateo’s son, John Baptiste Fiscalini, a graduate from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, purchases 160 acres of land in Modesto. Two years later he starts a dairy farm with ten cows.

By 1995, two generations later, the Fiscalini farm has a large herd of Holstein cows. And in 2001, John Fiscalini, the grandson of John Baptiste, who has dreamt of making cheese, is introduced to Mariano Gonzalez, master cheddar-maker from Paraguay. Mariano develops a bandage-wrapped cheddar, sweeping up many awards, and giving British cheeses a run for their money.

Today, Fiscalini Cheese produces award-winning cheeses with the knowledge and spirit of four generations of family behind them. And, best of all, you can visit them.

Stop by their farm and creamery (yes, the cows are right there!) to pick up cheese in their front office. If you feel like making it a bigger cheese journey, Fiscalini can be just one of your stops on the Central Valley Cheese Loop #1.

This month you can find Fiscalini’s San Joaquin Gold on promotion at Whole Foods Market in Northern California. San Joaquin Gold is an Italian-style, semi-hard cheese made from raw cow’s milk. It is named after the beautiful San Joaquin valley where it is made.

Laura Chenel Started it All

Photo courtesy of Laura Chenel

Laura Chenel and Alice Waters of Chez Panisse created salad history.

Laura Chenel, a real person, began making cheese in the 1970s in Sonoma County. After one goat turned to many, and she had to figure out how to use the milk, she began making cheese. After stumbling a bit, she headed to France, to learn from other cheesemaking families.

Once back in U.S., Laura began selling her now, stellar cheese. Alice Waters, the owner of Chez Panisse, tried it, and fell in love. She began ordering 50 pounds a week, while creating a now-familiar recipe. Alice breaded and baked slices of the Laura’s chèvre (Chevre, by the way, is the French word for cheese, and is used to refer to fresh, spreadable goat cheese), then laid the disks on a bed of mesclun greens. Voila! Goat cheese salad was born.

Photo Courtesy of Laura Chenel

Many other goat cheesemakers followed in her footsteps, making goat cheese a national staple.

In 2006, Laura sold her company to Rians, a French company owned by the Triballat family, who later also purchased Marin French Cheese Company.

Chevre is not only a great topping for salads, you can put it on pizza or pasta. You can also use it as a substitute in recipes calling for sour cream or ricotta. It has a wonderful bite for those who love tang in their foods. This chèvre comes plain or flavored with various herbs.

Photo Courtesy of Laura Chenel

Though Laura Chenel is not open to the public, you can pick up cheese at the Marin French and picnic by the lake, or one of many other retail shops.

This month Whole Foods is promoting Laura Chenel’s Chabis during “Build your own California Cheese Platter” and suggests pairing it with Candied Lemon & Hazelnut Bittersweet Chocolate Bar by Charles Chocolates.

The Cottage Cheese is Back!

Cowgirl’s Cottage Cheese is unlike any you’ve had before.

Most people know Cowgirl Creamery for its flagship cheese, the decadent bloomy-rinded triple cream Mt Tam. But Cowgirl actually began – more than 20 years ago – with fresh cheese, which offered not only a quick-to-market turnaround but an ideal way to showcase the high quality organic cow’s milk being produced by the Straus Family Dairy on Tomales Bay in West Marin.

Fromage blanc and crème fraiche were among the first cheeses to be turned out of Cowgirl’s small creamery in Point Reyes Station, along with their clabbered cottage cheese, a unique creation that was nothing like the gummy, small curd cheese that you’d find in many supermarkets. Over the years, Cowgirl’s cottage cheese developed a loyal following. But unfortunately, its production became too much for the small creamery to handle, and in 2012 the company decided to stop making it.

Last year the cottage cheese faithful rejoiced when Cowgirl, with the opening of a new, larger creamery in Petaluma, was able to begin producing this fresh cheese again. The two-day process starts with skimmed milk, which is cultured and left to set and develop flavor overnight. The coagulated milk is then cut into large, pillowy curds, which are dressed in a mixture of cultured milk, or “clabber,” and crème fraiche.

Cowgirl cottage cheese is available at shops throughout the Bay Area, and is starting to make its way to retailers across the country. It can also be found in the specialty case at Northern California Whole Foods stores under the name “Curds & Cream.”