Monday, March 23, 2009

Farmstead Dairies in California

Today is my final day at the California Artisan Cheese Festival, and it's my favorite day of the event - Tour Day!!  I was extremely excited to visit two farmstead dairies here in Sonoma/Marin Counties that normally don't allow visitors -- Pt. Reyes Farmstead Cheese and Bellwether Cheese Company.

I've discovered that not only does this part of California have happy cows (what cow wouldn't be happy with an ocean view?), they also have very happy sheep -- as in super cute baby sheep (it's lambing season) whose mothers produce milk that makes awesome cheese.

My tour group of 15 die-hard cheese fans got to see those sheep up close and personal at Bellwether Farms, a family-owned farmstead cheese operation run by Liam Callahan and his mother, Cindy. We also toured the cheese make room, sampled many of the family's cheeses, and in what could be the highlight of this trip - got to taste the new Bellwether Sheep Milk Yogurt.

Holy sheep, is this yogurt yummy. Imagine the best cow's milk yogurt you've ever tasted and then multiply by 10. And in even better news, Bellwether hopes to have nation-wide distribution in a couple of months. I first tasted the strawberry, and then when no one was looking, snuck another cup of vanilla and ate that before we left. Wowsers.

Bellwether of course also makes several cheeses (and have been since 1992). Cindy and Liam craft an excellent sheep's milk cheese called San Andreas, which has pretty decent distribution around the country. However, in a smart marketing move (since sheep give milk only seasonally), the Callahans also buy Jersey milk from a cow dairy just down the road. They turn that milk into some amazing Fromage Blanc, Creme Fraiche, Crescenza, and my all time favorite - Carmody, an American Original semi-soft Jersey milk cheese that absolutely melts on your tongue (pictured above - receiving its second layer of waxy rind by hand brushing).

After we finished oohing and ahhing at the baby sheep at Bellwether Farm, it was off to Pt. Reyes Farmstead Cheese, a cow dairy perched on the rolling hills overlooking Tomales Bay. I have to admit that I've seen this company's marketing materials that include a lovely picture of cows in knee-high green grass with a bright blue bay in the background, and thought
 to myself, yeah, right, as if it actually looks like that.

Turns out it ACTUALLY does. Pt. Reyes Farmstead Dairy is one of the most picturesque places I've ever seen. The Giacomini (pronounced Jack-uh-meany) family has been milking cows here since 1959. In an effort to both improve profitability and pass the farm on to his four daughters, Bob Giacomini decided to begin making farmstead blue cheese in 2000.

Today, the 700-acre farm has gone organic, with all the milk from 200 cows going into making Pt. Reyes Farmstead Original Blue. The farmstead creamery is expanding rapidly -- construction is nearly complete on a brand new building, which will house a new, larger cooler to house some new cheeses with which the family is experimenting, as well as more dry storage space, new offices, conference rooms, and an entertaining center with commercial kitchen to host chefs, media and special groups.

So, look for new, original cheeses coming from Pt. Reyes at the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco next January. If they can make farmstead blue this good, who knows what else they will come up with? I'm sure it will be amazing.

6 comments:

Cheesewench said...

I can't even tell you how jealous I am of your California adventures!

Lenneth said...

You got to visit Bellwether! :D My friends and I chose to visit Cowgirl Creamery and Redwood Hill Farm, but it was a difficult decision, since sheep cheeses are my favourite. (Sheep's milk yogurt must be fantastic!) I still sort of wish we'd gone to Bellwether . . . But Sue Conley (Cowgirl Creamery) and Jennifer Bice (Redwood Hill Farm) were both incredibly gracious and informative, and I got to take home a St. Pat's from Cowgirl Creamery, so you won't hear me complain! It's got to ripen a bit more, which gives me time to eat the other fresh cheeses I picked up at the marketplace. ;) And speaking of Carmody, I had it on a grilled cheese sandwich today. :D

Kirstin said...

I left my normal northern California habitat to head south that weekend, and my cheesy heart is feeling pangs of dairy regret after reading your description of what I missed. Next year. Looks like you had an amazing time.

micheesy said...

I'm also a big "cheese geek" and was wondering if you have any info of a cheese tour or festival of any sort in California. I'm looking to go on vacation in July and hope that you know of anything?

cheese underground lady said...

I don't know of any cheese festivals in July in California, but the Cheese School of San Francisco has some great classes going on in July. Check them out at: http://www.cheeseschoolsf.com/schedule/index.html

Le Meems said...

Yes, come take my class Sheep Showdown August 13th at Cheese School SF ;)