Showing posts with label California. Show all posts
Showing posts with label California. Show all posts

Friday, December 12, 2014

Touring Paradise

LaFranchi Ranch
View of the LaFranchi Ranch
Tours of the dairy farms and creameries in Sonoma and West Marin are always the sell-out attraction of the annual California Artisan Cheese Festival, held each Spring in Petaluma, CA. 

During the 2012 Festival, I was grateful to lead the tour entitled, “California's Cheesemaking Counties: Sonoma to Marin”. Limousine service was provided by Pure Luxury.  Reggie, our wonderful chauffeur, wafted us for a full day between three farmstead cheesemakers covering cow, goat, and sheep milk types.

Curious Goat - Achadinha Dairy
Curious Girl ~ Achadinha Morning Milk
Achadinha Cheese Company 
Starting with the Pacheco Family Dairy and Achadinha Cheese Company, we arrived just in time to see “the girls”, as Donna Pacheco affectionately refers to her goats, line up for their morning shift in the milking parlour.

They were as curious about us as we were about them! More than 1000 strong and of various breeds including, Alpines, Saanens, Toggenburgs, la Manchas, Oberhaslis, floppy-eared Nubians, and mixes of all types, it was easy to see how smart and socially savvy these girls are.

While playing with newborn kids, we learned that “Nanny” goats really are just that!  Mother goats take turns watching over piles of babies.  When one “Nanny” ends her shift, another wanders in to take her place. The babies are never alone.
Achadinha Kids in a Cuddle
Achadinha Kids in a Cuddle

Highlighting our visit was a creamery tour that explained every step in the process of making Achadinha’s expanding selection of goat and mixed milk cheeses from fresh feta to year old hand pressed wheels.  Along the way, we tasted every cheese and met every member of the Pacheo family, a wonderful welcome at the start of our day.

Achadinha Cheese Company Links:Achadinha Cheese Company ; Novato PatchYelp Reviews

Nicasio Valley Cheese Company
View of the LaFranchi Dairy
View of the LaFranchi Dairy
Our next stop was the LaFranchi family’s organic dairy and Nicasio Valley Cheese Company where we first enjoyed a locally sourced lunch while overlooking the gorgeous green hills of West Marin.

Scott Lafranchi holding Nicasio Square
Scott Lafranchi ~ Nicasio Square
Established by Fredolino LaFranchi  in 1919, the cattle ranch and dairy are among the oldest in the county.  In 2007, as a tribute to their Swiss heritage, the family began making cheese under the guidance of Swiss master cheesemaker Maurizio Lorenzetti and the venture has become an award winning success.

Sold in leading grocery and specialty stores throughout the Bay Area, Nicasio Valley cheeses are also available in the family’s own delightful shop next to the creamery.  Our tour enjoyed lingering there for nearly an hour over a tasting and discussion of the family’s signature Italian-Swiss cheeses.

Nicasio Valley Cheese Links:Nicasio Valley Cheese ; North Bay Business Journal ; Novato Patch

Barinaga Ranch 
Spring Lambs at Barinaga Ranch
Spring Lambs at Barinaga Ranch
The tour finale at Barinaga Ranch in Marshall could not have been more exciting.  Just as we arrived, a ewe went into hard labor and so we followed Marcia Barinaga, the ranch owner and cheesemaker, into the barn where she helped to deliver twin lambs.

Marica is one of Marin’s most recent converts to ranching and cheesemaking.  Both she and her husband, Corey Goodman, are molecular biologists who planned to use the ranch as a place to retire. But for Marica, an avocation soon became a new full-time career.

Ewes and Lambs at Barinaga Ranch
Ewes and Lambs at Barinaga Ranch
Located on a hillside above the east shore of Tomales Bay with views of Point Reyes and the Pacific beyond, the Barinaga Ranch is a spectacular member of the Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT), the first land trust in the United States dedicated to preserving farmland and maintaining it for productive agriculture. Along with an experienced ranching staff and four Great Pyrenees shepherd dogs,

Marcia raises flocks of East Friesian and Katahdin sheep and is experimenting with a crossbreed of the two.  Once the lambs are weaned in the Spring, she begins milking the ewes twice a day in order to produce a Basque style cheese that harkens back to her family heritage.

In 1900, Marcia’s grandfather immigrated from a Basque village to the mountains of Idaho where he became a sheep rancher.   Although he didn’t make cheese with his sheep milk, Marcia saw Basque cheesemaking as a natural tribute to her ancestral lifestyle.  In 2007, she went to the Basque country and learned to make their traditional cheeses.  Produced by hand and in limited quantities, Marcia's cheeses are now among the most celebrated in the country.
Barinaga Ranch Links:Barinaga Ranch ; Bay Area Bites ;Culture Magazine

Cuddle with a Cute Kid!
Cuddle with a Cute Kid!
The California Artisan Cheese Festival
Visit the Festival Website: ( for schedule and registration details. Tours sell-out fast! Get tickets now or get on the waiting list.  An adventure of the heart is calling!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Cheese Country Tours ~ We'll Show You the Whey!

Achadinha's "Capricious"  Cheese
Wheels of Capricious in Aging Cave
When the California Artisan Cheese Festival offered farmstead and artisan cheesemaking tours for the first time in 2011, they sold out within a few days. As a result, Festival founder, Lynne Devereux, has continued Cheese Country Tours throughout the summer and I was able to attend the first one, called “We’ll Show You the Whey”, on July 7th.

Like those offered during the Festival, this was sold-out, so heed the advice on the website about booking early!  Details about upcoming tours can be found on this Cheese Country Tours link.

Three milk cows feeding at McClelland Dairy
Organic milk in the making at McClelland
Touring guests met at the Sheraton Sonoma County Hotel in Petaluma, site of the annual California Artisan Cheese Festival, then traveled in a Pure Luxury Transportation coach to three locations: McClelland’s Dairy, Cowgirl Creamery, and the Pacheco Family Dairy which produces Achadinha Goat Cheese and where we all enjoyed a delicious lunch prepared by Della Fattoria in Petaluma.

In addition to tasting outstanding dairy products at their source, the tour was an opportunity for learning that dairy farming and cheesemaking are cultures with a long history of hard work, routinely surviving on large leaps of faith. I, along with other tour members, came away with an awakened sense of gratitude for both the products and the people who make them. See earlier posts or use these links (McClelland Dairy, Cowgirl Creamery, Achadinha Goat Cheese) for highlights of the locations we visited.  And book your Cheese Country Tour before they're sold out!

Cheese Country Tours ~ Cowgirl Creamery

Cowgirl Creamery MT Tam Cheese in Brine
A herd of MT Tam cheeses float in brine
At every cheese-related event I’ve attended, at least one person has said that they fell in love with cheese on a Cowgirl Creamery Tour. Every time I take a tour there myself, I understand another aspect of why that happens.

There is the lovely cheese that can be experienced in all stages of its development.  There is the rare glimpse of people who so love their work, they plan to spend a lifetime perfecting their ability to do it. And there is the serendipitous yet thoughtful story of how Cowgirl Creamery came to be. All in all, there is a bit of magic in the Cowgirl air that infuses more than award-winning cheese molds.

Making MT Tam at Cowgirl Creamery
Making MT Tam at Cowgirl Creamery
Vivian Straus Leads Cowgirl Creamery Tour
Vivien Straus begins Cowgirl tour
Vivien Straus, whose family has historic roots in both the dairy industry and in Marin county, led our tour at Cowgirl. The Straus Family Creamery was the first certified organic dairy in the United States and Vivien’s mother, Ellen Straus, founded the Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT) which has inspired similar preservation efforts across the country.

Straus Dairy was also the first milk producer for Cowgirl cheeses and remains its principal provider. Vivien began the tour with a history of Sonoma/Marin agriculture and its direct influence on the success of San Francisco during the Gold Rush era.  Then she demonstrated the basic process of cheesemaking (video below) before we saw it done by artisan professionals.  We completed our experience by tasting MT Tam at various stages of ripeness, starting with samples that had been produced that day.

Cowgirl conducts regular tours of its Petaluma creamery and the original facility at Point Reyes Station where Red Hawk cheese is produced. For families and groups with young children, the Point Reyes tour is recommended as best for those visitors.

The Point Reyes Creamery has plenty of seating area and is also home to Cowgirl’s Tomales Bay Foods Company which offers a variety of specialty foods and dry goods.  If you aren't smitten already, though, be prepared to fall in love with cheese!

Cheese Country Tours - McClelland Dairy

Dixie Grazes at McClelland Dairy
Dixie Grazes before our Milking Lesson
Milking Stalls at McClelland Dairy
Milking stalls operate 22 hours a day
The McClelland Dairy is in production twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, with their herd of 900 cows being rotated through milking stalls for twenty-two hours each day.  It’s a very busy and well-organized operation. Besides a large professional staff, workers include young interns from places such as France and Brazil. McClelland’s has a reputation that has captured international attention.

Jersey Calf at McClelland Dairy
Jersey Calf at McClelland Dairy
One excellent reason the dairy has become so well-known both here and abroad is its award-winning European Style Organic Artisan Butter. It is tumble churned using an old world technique that is uncommon in the United States. They started producing this unique butter as a way to supplement their dairy income and they may soon be adding other handmade organic milk products.  Right now their butter is available at the locations on this link.

Demand for organic milk alone cannot sustain the dairy.  Yet two-thirds of the McClelland herd are certified organic and they are aiming to reach 100% in the next few years. The highlight of our McClelland visit was a milking lesson.  Thankfully,  Dixie seemed to enjoy our attempts and loved the attention.  She is a regular feature in Sonoma's Fourth of July parade.

Cheese Country Tours ~ Pacheco Family Dairy

Donna Pacheco Opens the Tour
Meeting Donna Pacheco is like finding a wonderful relative you never knew you had.  It’s her husband Jim whose family’s soul is embedded in the land, but it is Donna’s heart that has pumped life into the heritage.

Wheels of Capricious in the Aging Cave
Her award-winning Achadinha Goat Cheese is more the result of a desire to make a good, sustainable farming lifestyle for her four children than it is a pursuit for its own sake. Yet the first time it was entered in a contest, her cheese "Capricious" won "Best in Show" at the American Cheese Society event in 2002 and was later named one of Saveurs "50 favorite cheeses in the United States" in 2005. 

Pacheco Family Dairy Goat Herd
Pacheco Goats are Free to have Fun
The Pacheco Family Dairy maintains a herd of around 900 goats that are generally free to roam most of the farm property. Confident, curious, and contented, they seem to know their essential role in creating a nationally acclaimed cheese. It is an understatement to say that the Pacheco family is hard-working.  Besides the obligations of family, farm and cheese production they added sales at thirty-two Farmer's Markets this year.  All four children are involved in some aspect of animal care, cheesemaking and Farmer's Market sales.

Look for Achadinha Goat Cheese at specialty food stores, in most Bay Area Farmer's Markets and online at   And hope you are lucky enough to visit the dairy one day!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Marin French Cheese Company ~ An American Original

Road Sign marking the Marin French Cheese Factory
Marin French Cheese Factory Road Sign
The words “idyllic” and “pastoral” were invented to describe places like the Marin French Cheese Company.  Also known as The Cheese Factory and by its brand, Rouge et Noir, the company was established in 1865, making it the oldest cheese manufacturer in the United States.

Located half way between Petaluma and Point Reyes Station on Red Hill Road, the Marin French Cheese Company is surrounded by rolling green countryside and nearby olive orchards.  A large duck pond and picnic area welcome visitors on their approach to the unassuming production facility and retail store.

Cheese showcase at the Marin Cheese Factory retail store
Showcase at Marin French retail store
Specializing in soft-ripened European style cheeses, the company first sold its products to saloons in San Francisco for consumption by miners and dock workers. The label on its Rouge et Noir Breakfast Cheese even proclaims it as San Francsico’s first cheese. Soon, though, the Marin French Cheese Company will truly be French.  According to an April 2011 press release, Rians, a family-owned French cheese company has bought Marin French.  By all accounts, this relationship is expected to benefit both companies.

Wedges of Rouge et Noir Blue Cheese and Schlosskranz
Rouge et Noir Blue Cheese and Schlosskranz
Although Brie and Camembert may be the best known cheeses at Marin French, our personal favorites are the Rouge et Noir Schlosskranz and the Marin French Blue. Soft, creamy and subtle, the Blue is a delicate delight on the tongue while the smear-ripened Schlosskranz is a sharp, pungent and unforgettable Marin French original.

Anyone who doesn't yet have a favorite Rouge et Noir cheese has plenty of options for discovering one.  Affordable variety packages are available at hundreds of retail locations and through their online store.

 If at all possible, though, the best introduction to Rouge et Noir cheeses is to visit their factory and store on Red Hill Road.  It's like going back to a time and place that few would ever want to leave.