I thought it was only appropriate that I try out some artisanal American cheese, given the recent Wall Street Journal article I just put on the blog. I settled on San Andreas, a farmstead cheese made from sheep’s milk by Bellwether Farms. Talk about an exceptional American cheese! This was actually my predecessor’s favorite. It has won NUMEROUS accolades, including 1st place this year (2009) in the aged sheep’s milk category at the American Cheese Society’s (ACS) annual competition. Past wins include: 2nd place in 2006 in the sheep’s milk cheeses category (ACS), and a Gold Medal in 2006 in the semi-hard ewe’s milk category at the World Cheese Awards in London.
Country of Origin: United States (Sonoma County, California)
Age: at least 2 months
I loved researching Bellwether Farms, the dairy that produces this cheese (but also fromage blanc, Crescenza, Crème fraîche, Carmody and Carmody reserve . . .). The story of its owners is a great example of how people from all backgrounds can find joy and satisfaction from working in cheese. Bellwether Farm was founded in 1986 by Cindy Callahan, a registered nurse. It sounds as though she bought her first sheep to keep the grass cut, and just allowed the sheep-raising, then cheesemaking to flourish from there (oh, how I would love to ask them directly and find out exactly how this happened). In any case, the business is a family affair, as Liam Callahan, Cindy’s son, as well as his wife Diana, are now running the company. Their dairy farm and creamery are located in lush Sonoma County, California.
Bellwether Farms produces a variety of cheeses made from Jersey cow and East Fresian sheep. The San Andreas cheese is inspired from a 1994 visit to Italy to study pecorino cheeses. This delicious cheese is truly the product of a long and involved study of sheep cheese production, and the awards San Andreas has won shows that the Callahans’ hard work has paid off.
On to the cheese, shall we? This particular round of cheese arrived at the store in a 3.9 lb. wheel wrapped in white paper. The cheese has rounded edges, and a slight indentation in the center, enough to be able to hold some liquid if you really wanted to. It sports a natural rind of mottled colors with various shades of tan, orange, and brown. The paste is a bright tan color (I suppose that’s possible–bright tan?), at least, it gives me the impression it is glowing. There are small eyes throughout the paste. It appears springy or spongy, actually, and gives slightly if you press on it. The cheese’s aroma is slightly acidic, a bit sour, perhaps with a bit of grassiness and a hint of barnyard.
On to taste, which is quite marvelous! San Andreas starts a bit acidic, but then grows in its refreshing sourness. However, after the acidic element fades away, the more familiar grassy, pastoral flavors more commonly associated with sheep milk cheeses come through. San Andreas’s finish is quite short. In terms of texture, the cheese crumbles easily in your mouth. I would say it shines best as a table cheese, although the Bellwether Farms website does include some recipes featuring San Andreas and its peppercorn peppered sister, Pepato.
The whole sensory experience is quite stunning, frankly. This cheese offers a wonderful, full, complex flavor, and I would highly recommend it.