64 South Bay Accent PREVIOUS PAGE: HIRSHEIMER & HAMILTON; THIS PAGE: MICHAEL WOOLSEY PART OF THE ALLURE OF THE TOUR IS SEEING GOATS UP CLOSE—ALL RATHER CUTE IT MUST BE SAID—AS WELL AS HIKING THE PASTURES AND VISITING THE MILKING PARLOR AND CREAMERY. Americans love cheese, but we haven’t been very good to one of our favorite foods. While early European immigrants brought over native cheese-making techniques, these gave way decades ago to standardized mass-produced cheeses designed for national distribution. Aged, hard, low-moisture cheeses such as cheddar and Monterey Jack that are less susceptible to bacteria became the norm. “There’s been a resurgence of roots,” says Lynne Devereux, founding president of the California Artisan Cheese Guild and a lecturer at the Cheese School of San Francisco. “All of us are part of a renaissance of cheese-making in the U.S.” With its gentle climate and rolling hills, Marin has been home to dairies since the Gold Rush, and one producer, Marin French Cheese, holds the distinction of being America’s longest continually operating cheese company. Strong conservational efforts protect an impressive amount of the Marin landscape, and a new generation of artisans is arising to take advantage of Mother Nature’s bounty. A DISTINCTIVE LOCALE “There are just nuances here that can’t be duplicated,” says Francesca di Donato, Whole Foods Market Northern California regional cheese and housewares buyer. “The California—especially Marin County— terroir creates flavors that can’t necessarily be produced elsewhere. The cheeses are fresh and clean; buttery and grassy.” Just as terroir, or environment, affects wine grapes, so does what animals graze on before being milked. “The animals take in the grasses, the clovers, the alfalfas,” explains di Donato. “Since we’re coastal, the salt winds coat the grasses in salt that the animals eat.” Goat milk is particularly influenced by the animal’s diet, according to the National Cheese Institute. Goats are more willing than cows to eat bitter plants such as the thistle, which is prevalent in Marin, one reason for this area’s particularly distinctive goat cheese. Bay Area artisan cheeses will be unlike any you’ve ever had. “There’s a lot of adventuring happening out there right now,” remarks di Donato. Rather than trying to replicate Old World tastes, North Bay cheese makers are busy forging a new identity, often tossing aside standard labels. Raw, unpasteurized, rindless, mixed-milk—all are options up for grabs. “We’re trying to make American, Californian cheese that tastes this way because of the terroir,” says Tamara Hicks, coowner of Tomales Farmstead Creamery. “I was asked yesterday on a tour ‘Is this a Gouda?’ I said ‘No, this is a hard goat cheese from Marin County.’” So here is our guide to five interesting Marin cheese makers to visit on a daylong trip to the country. While sanitary regulations keep most food operations closed to the public, a few are opening their doors, often offering small-batch cheeses available only on-site. Check www.cheesetrail. org for a fuller list. Options vary from drop-in tasting rooms similar to those in Wine Country to full-scale farm tours where you might meet a goat, cow or perhaps even a water buffalo or two. Saanan kid goat gazes at visitors from a barn at Tomales Farmstead Creamery.
South Bay Accent - Dec 2014/Jan 2015
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