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Summer at Whole Foods
As summer heats up, picnics and sunny afternoons with friends become more and more regular activities. And these types of summer activities require snacks to share. With a platter of delicious local cheeses and accoutrements, you can bring out the flavors of summer for everyone to enjoy — because, let’s be honest, it’s hard to not like cheese. It’s even harder to not like these:
Organic Mt Tam
One of their most beloved triple creams, Organic Mt Tam contains buttery hints of mushroom. This soft cheese pairs well with fruit jams — no crackers required. When paired with We Love Jam’s Blenheim Apricot, the pair creates a stunning color, intense ripe flavor and a silky texture you’ll want to share (actually, you might want to keep this for yourself). Don’t forget the napkins for this delicious yet messy combination!
The Cabrillo is a Spanish-style farmstead goat’s and cow’s milk cheese, rich with hints of almond and brown butter. On its own, the Cabrillo is a great cheese to pair with nearly any picnic assortment. However, when paired with the La Saison Herbs De Provence Almonds, a true match is formed. The almonds are slow roasted in olive oil infused with savory French herbs before getting seasoned with smoked salt — bringing the delicious flavor of toasted almonds to light.
Point Reyes Farmstead
When hiking around Point Reyes, this may be the most appropriate cheese to have. The young, natural rind on the Bay Blue yields to an earthy and sweet, creamy interior. This juxtaposition also adds a punch with its salted caramel finish on the palate. To mix with that caramel finish, we recommend pairing with the silky Charles Chocolates Candied Valencia Orange & Almond Milk Chocolate bar. What’s a picnic without a little dessert, anyways?
Central Coast Creamery
The Ewereka, besides having an adorable name, is also an award-winning sheep milk cheddar. The cheese is delightfully sweet on the tongue with a little nuttiness that lingers throughout. To match, we paired the Rustic Bakery Apricot, Pistachio and Brandy Chips to go with the sheep milk cheddar for the perfect crunch.
With these cheeses in mind, it’ll be easy to make a cheese platter everyone will fall in love with. Even better yet, they’re all on sale right now at your local Whole Foods Market. Stop by to pick these up — and watch summer picnics become your new favorite hobby.
Wrapping Wedges Like a Pro
I’m constantly trying to figure out how to wrap those leftover wedges of cheese in my fridge so they don’t dry out before I have time to eat them.
I also want the packages look as pretty (and intact) as I see in the cheese shops.
Thanks to an instructional video from the famed Neals Yard Dairy of London, it seems to be all about the angle of the fold! Check it out.
Although this video uses cheese paper, I use wax paper. Works just as well, and it’s much cheaper.
Remember not to use plastic wrap to seal your cheese. Because cheese is alive! Don’t want to suffocate it.
Another day, perhaps I’ll find one on wrapping differently-shaped cheeses. Or you can find out how yourself by doing your own YouTube search.
Visit Achadinha Cheese
Just a short jog outside historic Petaluma you can meet goats, see sweet, brown Jersey cows grazing in the fields, and taste cheese.
The Pacheco family of Achadinha Cheese, the sixth generation of a Portuguese farming family, offer both farm tours and cheesemaking classes. Right there on the farm.
Donna is bubbly and Jim always makes me smile. Their “kids” are coming into their own. And the cheese is fantastic. They make fresh cheese, cheese curds, feta and aged cheeses with a combo of goat and Jersey cow milk.
You may have seen their cheese at farmers markets throughout the Bay Area, but what better way to really enjoy a cheese, than to know where it comes from and meet the people behind it. Click HERE to see a list of their upcoming farm tours and classes.
Why No Pig Milk Cheese?
Theoretically, pig’s milk should make great cheese. It’s got the fat (8.5%!), lactose and water as needed.
But they only produce a gallon and a half of milk per day (as opposed to cows that give about eight). It takes a gallon of milk to make a pound of cheese. And then, pigs can’t become pregnant while they’re lactating; an economic downside.
But the real problem? Pigs have fourteen teats – yes 14! – as opposed to four for a cow and two for goats or sheep.
And milk only comes out in fifteen second blasts (as opposed to 10 minutes for a cow).
So a fancy contraption that works in fifteen second intervals with fourteen attachments would need to be designed for a very small amount of milk.
There might be other cultural or religious reasons that pig’s milk and cheese haven’t made our breakfast table, but the conclusion is clear: Let’s leave that precious milk for the little piggies.
Get more cheese facts HERE.
Discovering Organic Cheese
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.
California organic cheesemakers include Cowgirl Creamery, Nicasio Valley Cheese, Organic Pastures and Spring Hill Jersey Cheese. Rumiano and Sierra Nevada also have organic lines of cheese.
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!
Care for a bit of Cheese by the Lake?
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.
Marin French is open 7 days a week, 8:30am-5:00pm. Nicasio Valley is also open 7 days a week, 10:00am-5:00pm.
Next Blog: What about that Mold?
How to Store Your Cheese
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
Should I Eat the Cheese Rind?
“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.
More to Monterey Than Jack
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.