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.

Whole Foods Cheese Love

Springtime with warm picnic weather, graduations and family fun! Yes, bring on the cheese!  

We asked Chrissy, a certified cheese professional at Whole Foods Market (yes, those exist!) to share some of her favorite cheeses along the California Cheese Trail. Here are her top three picks:

San Joaquin Gold 

A farmstead cow’s milk cheese made in Modesto, California, by Fiscalini Farms. It’s a raw-milk cheese that uses microbial rennet, an ideal method for vegetarians. The cheese is reminiscent of parmesan — it’s nutty, salty and slightly sweet with a thin, natural rind. Pair this cheese with Rustic Bakery’s Organic Olive Oil on Sal Gris Flatbreads along with an IPA, and you will have the start of a beautiful picnic.

Chabis

The Laura Chenel Chabis, made in Sonoma County, is a creamy, delicate, flavorful goat-milk cheese with a slightly tart finish. It’s even vegetarian friendly! In 2018, the cheese won a Gold Medal at the California Exposition State Fair in the Fresh Goat Cheese category. For dessert, try pairing it with Charles Chocolates Candied Lemon and Hazelnut Bittersweet Chocolate. Paired together, they’re a perfect to end a meal. Consider your guests impressed.

Nicasio Square

A cow’s milk cheese, Nicasio Square is made by the Nicasio Valley Cheese Company. This cheese is a young version of a Taleggio and is washed in brine that imparts a garlicky bacon flavor. Pair this cheese with charcuterie and a hoppy beer for an extraordinary appetizer or spread generously on a baguette with a slice of Fra’ Mani Salametto. You truly cannot go wrong.

If you weren’t excited about cheese before, just a taste of one of these is likely to change your mind.  All locally sourced from Northern California, all cared for by the team at Whole Foods Market, they’re delicious and completely unique. Oh, and did we mention they’re on sale? Cheese platter dreams, realized.

Jenny MacKenzie of Tomales Farmstead Creamery

Original Interview by Hilary Green, ACS CCP at Marin Co. Monger

Jenny MacKenzie in the barn at Tomales Farmstead Creamery. Photo Courtesy Jenny MacKenzie

Four miles inland from the mighty Pacific ocean, a small Marin County dairy is making some of the best cheese in America. Tomales Farmstead Creamery is a 160-acre sheep and goat dairy in Tomales, California. Founded in 2003, owners Tamara Hicks and David Jablons dedicated four years to the restoration of the land, and after careful coordination with sustainable land management organizations, the farm became an Animal Welfare Approved goat and sheep dairy in 2007.

This year, Tomales Farmstead won second in its category at the American Cheese Society conference for Atika– a sheep and goat blended cheese with a beautiful, basket-weave natural rind. At the helm (or vat, as it were) for this winning batch: assistant cheesemaker Jenny MacKenzie. In my quest to better understand the world of West Marin cheese producers, I reached out to Jenny for an interview this month. Jenny is an East coast transplant with a love of cheese and sustainable agriculture. What’s the story of a micro-dairy cheesemaker whose work wins a national award? Continue below for Jenny’s story!


August 26, 2018

Marin Co. Monger: What brought you to the world of sustainable agriculture?

Jenny MacKenzie:  I started making cheese in 2014 on a very small, farmstead goat dairy, Appleton Creamery, in Appleton, ME. Working on such a a small farm and being surrounded by other types of small organic/sustainable/diverse farms at the farmer’s markets where we sold cheese really sparked my interest in sustainable agriculture. After attending the Common Ground Country Fair in Unity, ME that same year I really fell in love with small sustainable farms. Just being immersed in agriculture and learning the harms it can cause but being fortunate to see how it can be done correctly with little to no impact was so fascinating to me. I really don’t see why anyone would want to farm any other way!

To read the rest of the article visit Marin Co Monger

Hilary Green, ACS CCP

Visit This Cheesemaker: Nicasio Valley Cheese Co.

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.

The shop is open 7 days a week, 10-5.  Nicasio Valley Cheese Company is on the Marin County Cheese Trail, just a short jaunt off the Point Reyes Petaluma Road or, coming from the other side:  Sir Francis Drake or Lucas Valley Road.

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.

 

Golden Goats

Feta 300 x 400“Want to take a picture of my ass?” Charley of Jollity Farm asked me. Sweet, reserved, Charley. I’m smiling, but I’m not getting it. Turns out Charley is pretty darn funny.  Because then he showed me his donkey, “Otie.”  Get it? Don Quixote. Donkey Otie.  Yeah. I’m slow.

IMG_7610Charley bought 13 acres – his “Shangri-La” – in 2006, in Gold Country. His place is just a few short miles from the original Sutter’s Mill where gold was first discovered, and the American River, where hoards of fun-lovers come to raft and fish. (half an hour from Hwy 50 or 80 as you make your way to Reno or Tahoe).

The property, located on a gloriously wooded mountain, is covered with oak trees and manzanita. Of all the goat farms I’ve seen in California, this one is truly a goat’s Shangri-La. Goats prefer scrub and brush over pasture. They love the oak leaves and branches, the bark on Manzanita (which regenerates), and even the invasive Scotch Broom. The slightly dried green oak leaves on the ground are their “potato chips” and the acorns are their candy. They’ll scramble to find them amongst fallen leaves.IMG_7573

Charley took this treed property, with its own abandoned gold mine, and built the barn, the milking parlor and the creamery. He has about 40 goats, which include his original Alpine. His fiancée MaryLisa – whose exuberance and graciousness bowled me over – recently brought over her award-winning herd of Miniature Nubian, which has increased the butterfat and adds a creamy element to the cheese.

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Charley makes chèvre and feta, and starting mid summer, an aged cheese that becomes wondrously nutty due to the acorns the goats eat.  Because his milking parlor adjoins the creamery, the milk is never jostled. Jostling the milk is one factor in creating that “goaty” taste. Charley’s chèvre isn’t “goaty” at all (Not that “goaty” is bad. It’s just a matter of preference). The cheese is rich and creamy and full of flavor. After I left I couldn’t keep my hands out of the feta. It was my candy for the rest of my drive.

You can pick up Jollity cheese locally in Placerville and at various farmer’s markets close to the farm. Plus, the farm is open Tuesdays from 9am-noon.  You can peek into the creamery and see the goats and purchase cheese.  Or if you come by when the farm is closed, at the bottom of the hill, you can park your car and pet goats hanging out close to the road.

Charley, is a really nice guy, and he makes some really nice cheese.Otie

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!