Spring is one of the best times to visit a cheesemaker’s farm. You’ll have sunny days and plenty of time to interact with all the hardworking girls who make cheese possible!
On a tour you might see the loafing barns, the milking parlor or the cheese plant. It depends on the farm, so check ahead of time. And you always get tastes of cheese.
Whether cows, goats or sheep, each cheese has its own distinct flavor.
In general, cow’s milk, with larger fat molecules, has an earthy taste. The smaller fat molecules in goat’s milk contribute to a slightly tangier flavor profile. Sheep’s milk has the highest content of fat molecules which leads to a more nutty taste.
Each girl on Achadinha Cheese Co has its own name and personality. You’ll meet William’s Jersey Cow Macy (#77) who has a tendency to walk in front of the cheese plant so she can look at her own reflection in the windows.
At Monkey Flower Ranch, there are over 100 ewes providing milk for Garden Variety Cheese. Each ewe is named after a garden flower and produces milk for about 6 months of the year.
In addition all the dairy goats, Harley Farms also has guardian llamas, Anatolian shepherds and Rosie the Donkey. Rosie will look at you with a pleading, hungry face. But resist feeding her!
At Long Dream Farm, you’ll catch gorgeous heritage cattle roaming around the farm. They live outside year-round!
Cheese is made seasonally at Pennyroyal Farm. Each cheese is named from Boontling, a unique language that originated from Boonville and the surrounding hills at the end of the 19th century.
As a Bay Area resident, there’s nothing like taking a drive out to the coast. As you head out towards Point Reyes from Petaluma or Marin, slip down a side road to find the only farmstead, organic cow cheesemaker in California, located in the one-block town of Nicasio, population 96.
There you’ll see St. Mary’s, a sweet church built in 1871, Rancho Nicasio, a restaurant with live music (they get some pretty hot bands) and Nicasio Valley Cheese Company, a tiny creamery & retail shop filled with yummy cheese and other goodies.
The Lafranchi family, originally from Maggia, Switzerland, dairy farmers in the U.S. for 3 generations, have the ONLY farmstead, certified-organic cow dairy making cheese in California.
Farmstead means that the cheese is made on the farm with milk from the farmer’s own herd (which is right down the road from the shop).
At their creamery, you can watch them make cheese through the floor to ceiling window (best during the week), sample each and every one of their cheese, and purchase cheese and other picnic items. Tomino and Locano are their latest creations. They’re gooey and absolutely fine. I’m especially in love with the Tomino, a washed-rind (it has a lot of flavor!) and their fresh Foggy Morning. But you’ll find your own favorite, of course.
This week we picked up some of Fiscalini Cheese’s Traditional Bandage-Wrapped Cheddar. This cheese has won more awards than you can count, including “Best Farmhouse Cheese in America.”
Cheddar cheese originated in the village of Cheddar in England. Yes, there’s a place called Cheddar Village. We can only dream of living there! While it ages, this cheese is wrapped in cheesecloth (which is how it gets its name). It’s a tad crumbly, and has a nice delicate smoky flavor to it. You can eat it with pretty much anything!
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.
I head to Los Angeles from time to time and I always drive. The Central Valley is FULL of cheesemakers. And I’m not kidding. It’s sprawling, flat farmland, remote and mysterious. As I headed back to the Bay Area on my latest trip, I decided to stop by three cheesemakers I hadn’t visited before.
The first stop was Dairy Goddess. Barbara Martin, a 3rd-generation farmer, along with her husband Tony, just opened an unpretentious farm stand on the road in front of their 100-acre cow dairy. Housed in a trailer, she carries her own fresh fromage blanc plain and flavored as well as fresh curds with herbs.
I’m always asked where you can get fresh curd, and these are cheese popcorn, in that they didn’t last very long once I opened them. They’re soft and squishy and delicious.
Barbara also sells local meat (from their farm), pickles, jam and dairy items.
Barbara makes cheese with her daughter Tara, who also makes cheese down the road at Peluso Cheese.
After I picked up my items, I drove the twenty minutes to Peluso Cheese where Rene, the general manager, sat down with me and told their story. I knew some history, as Peluso Cheese, makers of the famed Teleme, started in Tomales near where I grew up. It was sold by the 2nd generation to a distributor about ten years ago, along with the original recipe. Today you can pick up Teleme along with cheeses in a cooler at the factory, or they will ship. — Or find Franklin’s Teleme, made by Franklin Peluso, grandson of the original cheesemaker, in stores around the state.
Half an hour later, I stopped by the Portuguese cheesemakers Farmstead Fagundes Old World Cheese. Once again, you can pick up large wedges of cheese for around $4.oo – just as reasonable as the cheese at other stops. Their unique St. John, an ACS winner, defies description. It’s unlike any cheese I’ve tasted, and that’s always a good thing.
Anyway, I encourage you to start your cheese adventure around the state. It’s a great way to see parts of the country you might never visit otherwise. Click here for the full Central Valley Driving Tour.
On another note: you can win a stay at Straus Home Ranch in the heart of Marin County’s cheese country (and help this Cheese Trail nonprofit project) by clicking HERE: The raffle ends October 30th.
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.
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.
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.