Saturday, March 21, 2009

Classico Cheese

It's Saturday and I'm here in Petaluma at the third annual California Artisan Cheese Festival. Today was seminar day. One of my favorite sessions was "Traveling the Oregon Cheese Trail," hosted by David Gremmels of Rogue Creamery, Tami Parr of the Pacific Northwest Cheese Project, and Flavio DeCastilhos, owner/cheesemaker at Tumalo Farms near Bend, Oregon.

As you may recall, Tumalo Farms' cheese, Classico, just won reserve champion at the U.S. Championship Cheese Contest in Wisconsin this week. While I didn't get a chance to taste it at the contest, I did get a chance to not only sample it here at the California festival, but to also listen to the cheesemaker describe the cheese and its history.

Like many American Original cheeses, Classico, a creamy farmstead goat's milk cheese, has a unique story behind its origination. Owner Flavio DeCastilhos spent 20 years as a manager and executive in Silicon Valley's fast-paced, high-tech industry. He co-founded Healtheon/WebMD, introducing online healthcare to the market. He also worked at Silicon Graphics. His wife, Margie, is also a computer industry veteran, with 15 years experience at Hewlett Packard.

Flavio told the story that during a vacation to southern Brazil's wine country, he became fascinated with the local cheese industry and the tastes and textures of artisan cheeses. When he returned home, he decided to research the potential for building a business centered on what he considers "food for the soul." A few years later, he and his family founded Tumalo Farms.

Starting a farm and a business from scratch gave Flavio the opportunity to build a state-of-the-art cheesemaking operation. He spent two years researching, studying and learning the art and science of running a dairy goat farm and making goat's milk cheeses. He became particularly interested in perfecting traditional Dutch and Italian cheeses, and in experimenting with local ingredients to develop new recipes that would celebrate the terroir of Oregon.

Today, Flavio has invested in modern barns and automated milking stations. The creamery has separate rooms for holding the milk in stainless steel tanks and making the cheese. He also built an aging cellar into the side of a hill designed systems to control temperature and humidity to perfect age his cheeses.

Tucked in the triangle between Bend, Sisters, and Redmond in central Oregon, Tumalo Farms consists of 84 acres surrounded by views of the Cascades. At 3,500 feet above sea level, the high desert climate means more than 300 days of sunshine a year (sign me up!!). 

Tumalo Farms' flagship cheese is the now award-winning Classico, a hard goat's milk cheese inspired by traditional Dutch cheeses. Made in 9-pound wheels, it boasts a honeysuckle aroma and becomes more caramelized as it gets older. Flavio crafts about eight different cheeses, five of them based on the Classico recipe, including cheeses with capricorns, cumin, fenugreek seeds and rosemary. He also makes a couple other American Originals, including Pond Hopper, a goat's milk cheese made with a local microbrew.

If you get a chance, I'd highly recommend trying Flavio's Classico. Especially now that it has won such a high profile award, more retailers should start carrying it. You can also buy it online at the Tumalo Farms website. Enjoy!

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