Modesto Goats & Nuttiness – Nicolau Farms

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. 

Click here to find where else you can purchase his cheese. And while you’re in Modesto, think about visiting Fiscalini Cheese as well.  I’ll talk about them next time.

The California Cheese Map is Out!

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!

Download the map online, order a free copy to be sent to you, or if you’re a tourism office or business, pick up boxes of maps to hand out. 

The farms and cheese and cheesemakers are all waiting for you.

 

More to Monterey Than Jack

Schoch Family Farmstead Cow Herd

Guest Blog by Jenny Holt, Freelance Writer

More to Monterey Than Jack

When I was a child, my mom always told me not to eat any cheese before going to bed. She insisted that it would give me nightmares. But now that I am an adult and have eaten a lot of cheese, often with a glass of red wine, I can tell you the worst thing you will experience is a little indigestion. 

The friars of Monterey made their cheese back when the area was part of the Spanish Empire and then Mexico. But go a little ways north to between Watsonville and Salinas and you can brew a nice set of nightmares. There are a ton of haunted places and hikes across California as well as a full make-your-own cheese trail on CheeseTrail.org.

Follow the Cheese
First, the important bit – the cheese. The Watsonville-Salinas area has two great cheesemakers. First, you have the Schoch Family Farmstead on El Camino Real near Salinas. First farmed in 1944, the Schoch Brothers’ descendants still run the farm and is only 1 of 2 dairy farmers in Monterey County. They produce some excellent Monterey Jack, Mt. Toro Tomme, East of Edam, Junipero and Gabilan artisan cheeses which you can pick up at local stores and farmers market.

Just north of Wastsonville you have Garden Variety Cheese based at the Monkeyflower Ranch over on San Miguel Canyon Road, which specializes in dairy sheep cheese. Their products include fresh cheeses, aged cheeses, and yogurts such as Sweet Alyssum spreadable cheese, ricotta, Moonflower, and Black-Eyed Susan. They have a once a year open house with farm tour and BBQ.

And then Follow the Spooks
Start in Monterey, as it’s California’s original capital, and home to a fascinating combination of wrecked ships, exploring Spaniards, frontiersmen and strange goings-on. To maximize your chances of a scare, check out Gary Munsinger’s Ghost Trolly Tour on Wednesday and Saturday nights, or head over to sites such as Restaurant 1833, home to a fake doctor from England who had a stunningly high mortality rate including a Mexican Governor, before he committed suicide and his wife died upstairs. You can also find ghosts in the Monterey Hotel, Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo, Robert Louis Stevenson House and many other places about town.

However, if you want to stay closer to the Watsonville area, the Old Stage Road east of Salinas is said to be haunted and could be a good hiking spot. Further north there are haunted places such as the Veteran’s Memorial Building, which is said to be haunted by a little boy, and the Dusty Treasures Antiques and Collectibles housed in an 1899 mansion with a fine array of haunted antique objects, ghostly voices, footsteps, and slamming doors. Want to stay somewhere haunted for the night? Why not try the Bayview Hotel Bed and Breakfast in Aptos, which is said to be haunted by its former owners who died in a car crash.

Long Dream Farm – City Folk Change the Model

Not all farmers have always been farmers. Some of them have been “quants” (financial quantitative analysts) or corporate and immigrant attorneys. Well, that’s at least what Andrew and Krista did in their previous lives.

Six years ago they took their four children and decided to chuck life in New York City for a farm filled with heritage cows, emus, pigs, chickens, and dogs.  long-dream-cows
This farm, Long Dream Farm, is the only licensed dairy and farmstead creamery in Placer County, and can be called “back to the simple life, 2010s-style.”  Except that it’s a lot of work. The farm is near the town of Auburn in Gold Country.
long-dream-dutch-belted-with-calfAndrew and Krista have a vision. They’d like to prove that farming small-scale, keeping the cows with their calves and milking once a day, is sustainable.  They rotate their cows between 30 pastures every 2-7 days on about 370 acres over two farms.  

They’re idealists and I love that.

With the 1.5-3 gallons of milk they get daily from their milking cows (the rest go to their calves), they make ricotta, fromage blanc, panela, butter, yogurt, and ice cream.  Small batches. Charmingly small, handcrafted batches. They bring their goods to the weekly Auburn Farmers Market on Saturdays and a few of the local stores and restaurants.

long-dream-fromage-blancIf you’d like to see their farm in action, you can actually stay on site in a cabin and get up early to watch the cows being milked. Or email ahead for a tour.  It’s a lovely place with a really sweet family. And it’s hilarious to have the dogs follow you; one likes to carry his dog dish in his mouth.

long-dream-highland

Ramini – Where the Buffalo Roam

Audrey Hay RaminiBeing profitable making cheese, let alone breaking even, is no easy task. Especially when you’re small.

Audrey Hitchcock of Ramini Mozzarella has had even more to contend with.

Following her degree in Architecture she designed houses in the Bay Area for nearly two decades.  But she’s a farming and cheesemaking newbie.  Her husband Craig Ramini, who started and ran Ramini Mozzarella, passed away suddenly after a battle with cancer less than two years ago. Until then, her full time design career helped support Craig’s dream to make fresh buffalo mozzarella with water buffalo milk.  Buffalo Milk Mozzarella is a rare and difficult product to make for many reasons and RaminiMozzarella is one of two or three U.S. creameries making buffalo mozzarella.Water Buffalo Ramini

Left with dealing with her grief and a herd of buffalo that she’d fallen in love with – each named after a rock star – she put her design business on hold and devoted herself to the farm to keep the dream they shared alive.

She now works 15-hour days, caring for the animals, making cheese and delivering it to the handful of restaurant customers who covet the rare product.

She’s an energetic and determined force.  She’s making a cheese which is known to be one of the most difficult to properly craft.  Crazy as it sounds, she told me that until six months ago, she’d never been on another farm.

Audrey is charming and honest in the spectacular tour that she gives of the 25- acre farm she’s rented which is just a mile or so from the small town of Tomales (an hour north of the Golden Gate Bridge). During the tour, she relays the journey of the creation of Ramini and the struggles of running the business. She explains how she keeps the calves with their mothers, a rarity when it comes to a milking herd.  She’s figured out how to get the animals, who can be on the stubborn side, into the barns to be milked.

These water buffalo produce one-two gallons of milk a day, a fraction of a cow’s supply. However, this milk has more fat and less cholesterol than cows milk, 11% more protein, 37% more iron and 9% more calcium.
Mozzarella Plate Ramini

On the tour, everyone gets to see the animals and the barn. You’ll get a generous taste of the mozzarella and can buy some on the way out. You’re free to bring your own picnic to eat within view of buffaloes Janis Joplin and Linda Ronstadt.  The highlght of the tour is when she gives everyone a wire brush to massage the animal’s backs until they curl their tails in pleasure and collapse on the ground in pure happiness.

Book a Saturday tour that starts at 2pm or request a private tour by emailing craig@raminimozzarella.com.Combing Buffalo

Take Cheese Trail on the Road

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Yup. There’s a newly updated App for Cheese Trail. And if you’re into cheese, it’s a slam dunk way to get yourself off to visit cheesemakers.  The best thing about the app is the google map integration. You can pick the cheesemakers you want to visit and it will create a driving itinerary for you.

Or if you’re wondering what cheese events are happening now, or even next month when you might be visiting a certain area, check the Events for a listing by date of what’s happening, from classes to festivals to tastings.mozzarella_MAIN-800x375

But honestly, my favorite part is the Driving Tour section.  If you’re planning a trip to the Central Coast, it will suggest what cheesemaker is available for visits.  The Central Valley has five open cheesemakers, making a drive to or from the Bay Area to Los Angeles a whole lot of fun.

marin-driving-tour

And if you live in Los Angeles, did you know that you can get bulk fresh mozzarella and burrata directly from the cheesemaker?

If you’re looking for something different to do on the road, and you love cheese, this is app to have. (oh, the same information is on the website!).  Download links are below.

 

apple_app_storegoogle_play_icon

 

Hidden Cheesemakers

I’m a sucker for visiting farms and cheesemakers. So, I jumped at a full day Central Coast cheese tour with
FARMstead ED.

First stop was Central Coast Creamery in Paso Robles, where Reggie Jones, owner and cheesemaker, took us for a tour.  He led us through his immaculately laid out new creamery and we sampled his full line of cheeses made with goat, sheep and cow’s milk. His Holey Cow is the only Swiss cheese made in California. It doesn’t taste like one of those rubbery swiss cheeses I’ve disliked my whole life.  It’s amazing and creamy! He told us the cows that provide this milk eat a truckload of carrots each day, which is why the cheese is so yellow.Central Coast Aging Room

Dog at StepladderOnce we left, the bus turned off coastal Highway 1, onto a road no one would take unless they had a reason. The bus driver drove at a pace reserved for turtles, up small hills (more like bumps) and around corners, along a five-mile road. We could see nothing ahead, until we came to the opening that is Stepladder Creamery.  If I lived there, I’d probably be too lazy to ever leave.

Jack Rudolf, the grandson of the owner, greeted us amidst a charming cluster of vintage barns. The compound was both quiet and filled with projects. In exchange for managing the ranch, Jack raises his goats and makes cheese in a creamery he’s built inside the historic barn. You can’t even tell from the outside that it even exists.  The farm also has beehives, producing, honestly the best honey I’ve eaten in a long time, plus passion fruit and avocados.  Everyone was allowed to play with the kids (baby goats). Then lunch made by a local caterer was served.

Like many goat and sheep farms, they have their guardian dog, who makes his home with the animals.

Our final stop was Rinconada Dairy where we watched the goats being milked, gazed at huge sheep and sampled cheese and wine from Seven Oxen. Sadly, I’ve recently heard that they’ve stopped making cheese since our visit. But as far as I know, they’ll continue to milk their goats for other cheesemakers.

It was a great day. Check Central Coast Creamery and Stepladder Creamery profiles for tour options.  And FarmsteadEd also provides all sorts of tours. It was a fun day!

 

Goats & Rustic Cheeses

bohemian-creamery

Lisa Gottreich’s goat cheeses at Bohemian Creamery have the rustic look that reminds you of a European back road discovery. Imperfect rinds and bold tastes. This is the newest stop on the Sonoma cheese trail.

Here you’ll find a case full of rustic cheeses made from goats (which are sitting in the pasture just behind the shop), cows, sheep and water buffalo and every combination you can imagine. You won’t find these cheeses in a store, so stock up. You’ll be offered a taste of each before requesting a wedge or two be wrapped up for the road.

Caproncino Goats & Rustic Cheeses California Cheese Trail

Lisa has also been making a very unique whey frozen yogurt and whey sodas; light icy treats infused with a different flavor each day

The shop is just along Occidental Road outside Sebastopol amidst several wineries. Open Friday-Sunday, 10:00am-6pm.  Plan a day stopping at several Sonoma county cheesemakers by clicking here.

Bohemian Goat Goats & Rustic Cheeses California Cheese Trail