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A Good Mouthful…of Cheese

Archive for the tag “California”

Making Waves: Bay Blue

My roller-coaster of a relationship with blue cheese has been well-documented on this blog, but that love/hate dynamic has recently reached new heights. I have found my cheese crack…and it comes from a very unexpected place.

Have you guys heard of Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co.? If you’re reading this from California, my guess is that you have. Throughout the country, really, these guys are a big deal. The creamery was founded in 2000 by Bob Giacomini, his wife, and their four daughters, on the family dairy farm in beautiful Marin County, California. There’s a lot to like about Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co.: A true family-run operation, the Giacominis are dedicated to preserving the area’s natural environment, serving as stewards of the land (check out this great write-up about their compost company & super-cool methane converter) and very active members of Marin Agricultural Land Trust. Plus, they raise hella-cuta (that’s Northern Californian for ‘very’) pasture-based cows! With all this going for them, and considering their popularity here in San Francisco, you can imagine the weight of my secret shame: I don’t like their flagship cheese. There! I said it!

Point Reyes Blue Wedges

Point Reyes Blue Wedges

Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co. filled a huge gap in the market when they popped on the scene in 2000 with the first-ever California-made blue cheese. Point Reyes Original Blue is famous, in-demand, and highly regarded…just not by me. I’m picky with blues! You already know that. The sharp, metallic, and persistent push of Original Blue is just too much for me. Amazing and mysterious cheese-blogger J ( Straight Outta Comte) perfectly described this flavor as ‘steely‘, an apt characterization that I recall every time we receive a new case of crinkly, pre-wrapped silver wedges. While that guy likes this cheese, I don’t. I’ve tried, and I’ve tried, and I’ve tried (often unintentionally, that cheese is so ubiquitous around here), and I just can’t get into it.

Sidenote: For those of you who love Point Reyes Original Blue, please don’t feel bad. By all accounts, I seem to be in the minority here, even in my own household. A certain boyfriend of mine maintains that this is the PERFECT cheese for a bacon burger, but we’ve managed to make things work despite our differences.

Suffice it to say, I’ve been looking for another California blue alternative and, in the meantime, put on my best poker face while talking with customers. So, you can imagine my mixed feelings upon learning that there was another local blue about to hit the market…from Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co. I heard rumblings and rumors about Bay Blue for months before I ever encountered it in the wild. It was on it’s way…and then it wasn’t. It was out, but impossible to find. And then one day I was out shopping, putting together a cheese plate for a friend’s visit. I had everything I needed, minus a nice, taste-ending blue. I asked one of the cheesemongers at my local little grocery for a suggestion and she pointed to a few small pieces of something tucked away in the corner of the case. And there it was: Bay Blue.

I have to admit, I felt chills. At the time, I thought I was nervous, but in retrospect I recognize that feeling as love-at-first-sight. I told her of my apprehensions and confessed my opinion of Bay Blue’s precursor, but she assured me that this cheese is almost that cheese’s opposite. If I was looking for a dessert cheese, this was IT, and she wouldn’t let me walk away without it. What a saint. That night, I ate Bay Blue for the first time…and I haven’t stopped eating it since.

Pt. Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co.’s Bay Blue (Pasteurized Cow’s Milk from Marin County, CA)

Bay Blue

The love that I have for Bay Blue is without parallel. It’s crazy to imagine the old me, ardently declaring myself anti-blue, when you see me now, happily spooning Bay Blue into my mouth (small, taster spoons, mind you). I have found my blue and, like I said, from an entirely unexpected source.

Where Point Reyes Original Blue is creamy, tangy, and intense, Bay Blue is dense, fudgy, crumbly, sweet, and mellow. This natural-rinded wheel is slightly yellow and jam-packed with little bits of crunchy blue mold. It looks killer, but it only kills you with kindness. Bay Blue is modeled after Stilton, but its salted caramel taste and slightly chocolatey finish remind me more of warped aged Gouda…gone buttery and blue. SF Gate cheese expert Janet Fletcher calls the flavor “a blend of toasted walnut, praline, caramel, brown butter, and saltine cracker.” Yes! That saltine bit is spot on and something I never could have pinpointed myself. Ms. Fletcher and I aren’t this cheese’s only fans. Only months after its debut, Bay Blue was named a 2013 Good Food Awards winner. I like to say that I knew it before it was famous.

Now go get yourselves some Bay Blue! I’ve been fantasizing about turning this cheese into a flavor of ice cream or gelato (especially if sandwiched between two gingersnap cookies) but, until that dream becomes a reality, simply smear some on a cracker (Effies Oatcakes, if you can find ’em) and drizzle with a little bit of honey. Feeling savory? A few weeks ago, I put some Bay Blue in a salad of Romaine, Arugula, cherry tomatoes and red onion with a simple dressing of balsamic vinaigrette. Delicious!

No Fault in San Andreas

“Go West. Paradise is there. You’ll have all that you can eat, milk and honey over there.”

As a cheesemonger-in-training, part of my job at Cowgirl Creamery is to familiarize myself with cheese. Cheese in general and, in particular, the cheeses that we sell. To do this, I look, feel, listen (to coworkers & customers…I’m not yet doing any direct cheese whispering), and taste. Taste, taste, taste. On my own, with the other cheesemongers, and with the people to whom I’m selling. The best way to talk to a customer about what they’re trying is to try it right there with them. And the way to sell what’s best is to know what’s best — for any and every occasion. While I have a list of favorites about a mile long (we sell a lot of cheeses!), the current apple of my eye is a native Californian — just like me!

Bellwether Farms San Andreas (Raw Sheep’s Milk from Valley Ford, CA)

One bite of San Andreas puts a song in my heart…and one in my head! I don’t think my love of this cheese is entirely due to the fact that it reminds me of a favorite Natalie Merchant song, but it doesn’t hurt.

Seriously though, this cheese stands on its own. Bellwether Farms makes a number of great cheeses (check out their lovely website), many of which we sell at the shop. Family owned & operated by the Callahan family, this mostly-sheep farm is located in picturesque Sonoma County, a few short miles from the tang & fog of the Pacific Ocean. The sheep at Bellwether Farm are mostly East Friesian Ewes, the most Lambchop-looking cuties that you’ve ever seen. The ewes graze freely year round (yay! run free!) and, in addition, are given grain and alfalfa as necessary.

Just standing around, being cute.

This might seem like a lot of sheep-related info, but it’s not for nothing. I firmly believe that good cheese comes from good milk and, as you may have heard, good milk comes from happy cows — or sheep (in this case), goats, and water buffalo. What the sheep eat will also come through in the taste of the cheese, so knowing about their dietary habits can shed some light when it comes to talking about flavor. Let’s do that!

San Andreas is made from raw milk. Though it’s made in the style of a Tuscan Pecorino, it’s a true Bellwether original. The interior paste is smooth, pale and straw-like in color, and dotted with some nice eyes (little holes) throughout. And that taste! The flavors of this cheese are rich and, like any good and oily sheep’s milk cheese, they linger in your mouth. I get notes of butterscotch, lots of nuts, and some hay — or maybe that’s alfalfa! — with a delightfully sour finish. This is a semi-firm cheese, but with enough moisture that it really melts in your mouth. A little bite goes a long way.

San Andreas might be named for the famous California fault line that runs past the Bellwether property, but I can’t find any fault with this cheese. I’m recommending it to all of my customers!

California I’m Coming Home

California I’m Coming Home

Oh oh oh. I saw this article linked to on Facebook, and it immediately put me in a Joni Mitchell mood. I’ve been in Massachusetts for awhile spending good and necessary time with friends and family in the wake of a death, but looking upon these lovely California cheeses made me homesick for San Francisco and for the cheese life I’ve been longing to start. 5 more days in Massachusetts, one more month of book publishing, and then it starts.

California I’m Coming Home

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