Tag Archives: Cheese

Local, Sustainable Tastes of the Sonoma-Marin Fair

Sonoma and Marin Counties enjoy such a rich agricultural bounty that it should come as no surprise that the Sonoma-Marin Fair provides a wonderful opportunity to sample some of the best and newest local, sustainable food. This year, the Farm-to-Table exhibit had been expanded. The first item we tried was the fantastic McEvoy Ranch Olive Oil. You could really taste the fresh grass in it.


McClelland’s Dairy (where we used to take our daughter to watch the cows being milked) is now making their own organic, artisan, small-batch butter, which we happily sampled and found extremely tasty.


We had terrific honey from Hector’s Honey, which is available at the Santa Rosa, CA, and other local farmer’s markets in eucalyptus, vetch, wildflower, and other flavors from local flowers.


We spoke with Karen Bianchi-Morada, 8th generation cheesemaker (Italy, Switzerland, and now five generations in West Marin). Her Valley Ford Cheese Estero Gold was extremely tasty. Aged 120 days, it’s an asiago-type cheese that’s buttery, distinctly flavored, and affordably priced. It’s available in Whole Foods and other local markets.


Next up was something new called Sonomic Vinegar, from Wine Country Vinegars. It’s a rich balsamic-like vinegar that had more depth and flavor than a typical balsamic and, yet, was still made from 100% grapes. The producer also runs Sonoma Valley Portworks. I assured him a visit would be forthcoming.


Of course, no fair would be complete without the requisite corn dogs, funnel cakes, garlic-fry bricks, deep-fried twinkies (!), watery margaritas, barbecued chicken, chow mein, kettle corn, and lemonade. And, sure enough, we left the sustainable exhibit and sampled some of that stuff, too.

Follow our other fair adventures here.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Cheese of the Week: Juniper Grove Tumalo Tomme Goat Cheese


The world’s longest lasting cheese course (lucky us!) continues with a Tumelo Tomme Goat’s Milk cheese (also known as Tumelo Classico) from Juniper Grove Farm in Redmond, Oregon. This is a lovely cheese, with a firmer texture than you might ordinarily find in a goat cheese, which results in something like a goat gouda. It’s a solid, pleasing cheese, with a lot of body in the mouth.

The goat aspect takes a moment to hit you and, when it does, it is equally pleasant and on the mild side. (The Haystack Mountain Queso de Mano, which was on the same plate, is bolder.) There are nutty and sweet, even caramel-like notes, along with an earthy, slightly mushroom-y taste.

Redmond Grove Farm’s owner/cheesemaker, Pierre Kolisch, studied cheesemaking in Normandy with master cheesemaker Francois Durand, and cites European “tomme” cheeses as an influence. (“Tomme” loosely means small cheese from partial milkings, with the “tomme” and “toma” names in particular use in the French and Italian Alps.)

Tumalo is a raw-milk cheese, made from milk from Redmond Grove’s herd of goats, which feed on alfalfa year-round on beautiful land east of Oregon’s Cascade Mountain range. (Indeed, Tumalo bears the name of a local village.) Kolisch employs traditional farmstead methods in his cheesemaking, such as separating curds from whey, and then brining, stacking and hand-turning the washed-rind cheese, as it ages on pine planks in a dry, cool environment for three months.

The result is this nice, lovingly made goat cheese.

The Tomalo Tomme works well with crackers, grapes, apricots, or a fruity red wine, such as Pinot Noir or Merlot.


Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Cheese of the Week: Fiscalini Farms Bandage Wrapped Cheddar


Moving further along our superb Girl and the Fig cheese course, in order of distinctiveness (to me), we find the Fiscalini Farms Bandage Wrapped Cheddar. This was my husband’s very favorite cheese on the plate.

It is, indeed, a special cheese. It has a wonderfully strong, complex taste that features a mix of salty and sweet flavors. There are hints of grass and nuts, along with a pleasing buttery quality.

Far from the gummy, uninteresting, mass-produced cheddars that can give this cheese a bad name, the Fiscalini is dry and on the crumbly side, without sacrificing any creaminess of texture. It’s aged 18 months, using unpasteurized milk from the Fiscalini Farmstead cows and traditional methods that include bandage-wrapping the wheels in cheesecloth. The cheesecloth lets the cheese breathe as it ages and lends it a nice porous rind.

The Fiscalini Cheese Company, in the California Central Valley town of Modesto, has been operating since 1914. Their current cheesemaker, Jorge “Mariano” Gonzalez, studied at Montgomery Farms in England and perfected his methods at Shelburne Farms in Vermont. His bandage-wrapped cheddars consistently win awards, competing with such cheddar stalwarts as Neal’s Yard Dairy in England.

Cheddar doesn’t boast the same name-protection as some other European cheeses, which can only call themselves by certain names if they come from specific geographic areas. As such, cheddar is produced in many parts of the world. The first cheddars were created in Medieval times, in the village of Somerset, England, and it is the “Somerset model” that some use to determine a true traditional farmstead cheddar.

Randolph Hodgson, the proprietor of Neal’s Yard Dairy, has worked with the Slow Food Movement to develop standards for artisan Somerset cheddar. These include using unpasteurized milk from a farm’s own herd, employing traditional “cheddaring” methods, like stacking and turning the curd by hand, and aging at least 11 months. Aside from geographic considerations, Fiscalini fits the bill, and is the only American farm to do so. (Shelburne Farms makes a clothbound cheddar, but it is in extremely limited production.)

After enjoying this tangy cheese, it will be harder for me to take the cheddars for granted. Pair the complex Fiscalini with a hearty ale or a fruity wine, and crisp apple slices. Due to quality and price, I’d make it a nibbly cheese, rather than a cooking cheese. And I’d certainly give it its rightful place on the cheese board.


Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Cheese of the Week: Haystack Mountain Queso de Mano Goat Cheese


Continuing down our Girl and the Fig cheese plate, I really enjoyed the Queso de Mano goat cheese, from Jim Schott’s award-winning Haystack Mountain Goat Dairy in Niwot, Colorado. This is a superb raw-milk cheese — it has a wonderful, prominent, goat taste that is slightly sweet, and carries with it an undertone of nuttiness, as well as a hint of its farmstead grass and herbs. All that makes it terrifically complex and interesting, especially if you love goat-milk cheeses, as I do.

The Queso de Mano also manages to combine a firm texture with a velvety mouth feel. The cheese is aged four months and has a natural washed rind. It would be great with toasted almonds, fresh cherries or apricots, and a good fruity red wine.

For a long time, Haystack Mountain was the last remaining dairy in Boulder County. Sadly, local and other business expenses forced the company to sell its goats to the State Prison in Canon City, Colorado, which has operated an inmate-run dairy for 70 years. The upshot, though, is that the company is still producing and distributing its fabulous cheese from its headquarters in Longmont, Colorado, inmates at Canon City are doing fruitful work and learning a skill, and the Nubian, LaMancha, Sanaan and Nubian Cross goats are continuing to thrive and produce the milk that goes into Haystack Mountain’s cheeses.

The Queso de Mano is the second cheese from the right:


Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Cheese of the Week: Bohemian Creamery Bo Poisse


I recently ducked into the fantastic Girl and the Fig restaurant in Sonoma and shared a wonderful cheese course with My Man. Of the six cheeses, the Bo Poisse, from Lisa Gottreich and Miriam Block’s new Bohemian Creamery in Bodega, was the absolute standout. The first thing that hits you about Bo Poisse is its sweet, pungent smell. When you bite into it, you find a delightfully creamy, almost wet cheese that tastes of mushroom, cream, a slight bit of ash. This is followed up by a lusty, tangy finish that brings with it more than a hint of a barnyard on a hot afternoon.

This cheese totally commits — As such it’s not for everyone. I loved it.

Bohemian Creamery is a small-batch, artisanal producer. They handcraft each round on their seven-acre farm, much of the milk coming from their own goats. The cows-milk Bo Poisse is made with milk from neighboring Jerseys. The washed-rind cheese is created using an Epoisse recipe. The French village of Epoisses is known for its pungent, soft, washed-rind cheeses. Napoleon was supposedly a fan, as was early epicurean/writer Brillat-Savarin, who called it “the king of all cheeses”.

The restaurant’s bubbly, sweet Fig Royale proved a nice companion to the complex cheese. I could see Medjool dates working with it, as well. Though my husband had other favorites on the cheese board (that’s what makes the world go ’round, plus more Bo Poisse for me), I can’t wait to have this cheese again, and I wish Bohemian Creamery great cheese-wheel-shaped success.

Look for my other reviews from this tasting, as we work our way down the cheese plate, bit by bit.


Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Cheese of the Week: Brigante


When Alex, the cheesemeister at my local Whole Foods recommends a cheese, I tend to listen, and this week he told me about a sheep cheese called Brigante, from Sardinia. Then he cut a slice for me to taste.

I found it an extremely pleasing cheese, very mild and so creamy as to be almost buttery in texture. Subsequent tastes confirmed that Brigante tasted a lot like a cow cheese, with the sheep taste coming on late, almost as an afterthought. As such, the subtle sheep flavor lends a pleasant tang to the buttery goodness. I tasted hints of something caramel-y and toasty, along with the buttery, milky taste, but those were very subtle. This is a mild cheese — It’s clean, supple, sweet, easy to like and, oh, easy to just go back for one more slice.

I haven’t even mentioned another of its great gifts. This Italian sheep cheese is a bargain, especially given its taste and pedigree. It’s from the huge Pinna dairy, in Thiesi, in the northern part of Italy’s Sardinia island. It is a Pecorino cheese, though it doesn’t have any of the Pecorino’s hard, crunchy texture or sharp taste. Brigante is a young cheese, matured only a few weeks, and it has a papery coating instead of a rind. The cheese’s attractive pale yellow color compliments its smooth texture and taste. You could easily offer it on a cheese board at a gathering, or have it on a picnic, with grapes and a light, fruity wine.

If Brigante were a dinner guest, it would be the one rounding out the party, not calling a lot of attention to itself, but being a good listener and guest — blending in, universally liked, the one everyone talks about the next day and invites back: What a nice cheese!

Photo by Susan Sachs Lipman

Cheese of the Week: Blu del Monviso


If you love the distinctive taste of blue cheese, but would like to try something more creamy than crumbly, then Blu del Monviso, from the Serale family dairy in Italy’s Piedmont region, is your blue. It’s extremely soft and spreadable and, as a result, is excellent on a water cracker. Its dense, creamy texture gives this cow’s milk blue a great mouth feel and incredible staying power, which is good because the taste is wonderful — sweet, milky, a bit nutty and somewhat mild, but with plenty of traditional, pungent blue-cheese mold. Blu del Monviso is especially rich (60-day aging brings out the mold), but without a sharp bite, rendering the contrast between taste and texture an exceptional treat. It also has a chewy rind my husband calls “toothworthy” and, indeed, some of the most tasty cheese was right at the rind.

This cheese would be fantastic on a burger, or anywhere else you might use, say, brie. It’s also great spread on a thick piece of whole wheat walnut bread and accompanied with grapes. Being the port fiend I am, I had this with a 20-year Cockburn’s Tawny. The caramelness of the port offered the perfect complement for the Monviso’s distinct taste.


Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Cheese of the Week: Coolea


On a recent trip to my old stomping grounds in Santa Monica, CA, I wandered down Montana Avenue and into a delightful, relatively new cheese enterprise, Andrew’s Cheese Shop. Not only was the Andrew on hand, along with some hearty cheese tasters, he personally recommended a Coolea cheese from Ireland’s County Cork. “Outfreakingstanding” was his word for it, and he was right.

Coolea (pronounced Coo-LAY) is hand-made on a small Irish farm (near the town of Coolea) by the Willems family, which is now into its second generation of cheesemakers. The family emigrated to Ireland from the Netherlands, and they employ their wonderful Dutch methods (and recipe) to produce a cheese that is indeed Gouda-like. It’s nutty and mild, with a nice semi-firm texture and a very pleasing mouth feel. Other flavors begin to come through as it sits on the tongue. There’s a hint of the Irish farm, of the earth, sweet grasses and flowers, which Andrew says make this cheese an outstanding example of Terroir — of its taste bearing the land from which it was produced. If that weren’t enough, a nice caramel note comes on from the back of the mouth, along with more earthen tastes, something a little damp.

This is a very nice cheese. It’s solid, with a medley of meadow-y flavors. Because of the caramel aspect, it pairs especially nicely with grapes or with my favorite cheese-partner, a Warre’s Otima 20-year Tawny Port. Andrew recommends having it with an Amontillado Sherry. You could also go the ale route, to bring out the sweetness of the cheese and the uniqueness of the terroir.


Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Cheese of the Week: Rolf Beeler Reserve Gruyere


Wow! Master cheesemaker Rolf Beeler has swept this gruyere gal off her feet. I was already a passionate fan of gruyere – a greatly undersung cheese, I think, wasted in the vast melting pot of the typical less-than-exciting fondue. My fave cheese of late has been the L’Etivaz gruyere. So when I visited Berkeley’s eye-poppingly vast Cheese Board recently and asked the cheese expert what he had that was similar to L’Etivaz, he pulled out a great wheel of Rolf Beeler Gruyere.

Actually, he started me on an Emmi cave-aged gruyere, which was very good – tasty, redolent, interesting. But then he handed over the Rolf Beeler and, I repeat, Wow!

Everything about this cheese is right up front. Nothing holds back as an aftertaste. This bold cheese just hits you between the taste buds with its nutty, tangy, sweet, complex, cave-musty, buttery, slightly crystally, crunchy Wow. Bee-ler! Bee-ler! The man at the cheese counter elucidated how Beeler hand-crafted his cheese, visiting every cave and tapping on every wheel to choose the right ones for artisan aging. He’s definitely got a gift for gruyere.

Like L’Etivaz (also from the large Emmi producers), the Beeler is a raw-milk variety. It’s aged a full, old-school 16 months or more in carefully controlled, humid, cave-like conditions. Rolf Beeler is a relatively small-batch producer.

Unlike L’Etivaz, the Rolf Beeler Gruyere is not strictly an Alpage, or mountain pasture, cheese, a type made using only milk produced in warm seasons from high-altitude Alpine cows. Alpage cheeses have a reputation for tasting like the distinct Alpine flowers and grasses that make for summer grazing.

As the L’Etivaz is gone for the season, I’ll have to taste these Swiss gruyere giants against one another next year. In the meantime, I’m loading up on the outstanding Rolf Beeler.

This cheese pairs well with plenty of wines, especially a Syrah, but you may want to pop open a bottle of champagne to enjoy with the Beeler, toast the man, and celebrate the cheese’s specialness.

And, I know, you don’t have to tell me, it’s probably great in a fondue.


The big board at the Cheese Board

Top photo: Ready for our repast. We enjoyed our Rolf Beeler Gruyere with French oil-cured olives and a fresh ciabatta.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Cheese of the Week: Alta Langa La Tur


I first had this superb cheese, which hails from the Alta Langa Dairy in Italy’s Piedmont region, at Absinthe Brasserie in San Francisco. It was part of an after-dinner course of cheese, during which I thought, multiple times, Why would anyone ever have a dessert course consisting of anything other than cheese?

(For the record, the cheese course also consisted of a Monsenicio blue, also from Piedmont, which was drizzled with Il Caratello aged balsamic vinegar, and a Coupole goat cheese, from Websterville, Vermont, which was paired with cherry chutney. Yum!)

Even given those spectacular cheeses, the La Tur might have been the standout. This extremely creamy cheese is made from a combination of cow, goat and sheep milk. When store-bought, it comes in a disk shape in a pleasingly delicate paper wrapper. As the cheese warms to room temperature, it practically oozes from beneath its flavorful, bloomy rind, which itself adds an interesting juxtaposition of flavor and texture.

The flavors of this soft cheese come alive only after one takes in the buttery texture, and when they do, they yield a mushroomy and pleasantly cave-like taste that I can only describe as ancient. The taste is complicated, earthy, and redolent. The texture continues to add a sensuous and delightful element and, as is especially easy with such a creamy and interesting cheese, it is gone before you can say, “La Tur”, or “Do you think we can get some more?”

Because it spreads so well, La Tur is made to go with crackers or slices of baguette. Absinthe paired it with Medjool dates, as did I. My beloved Dalmatia Orange Fig Spread also worked (with a little going a long way, as the tastes toggled back and forth), as did a medium-bodied Syrah.


Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

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