This week, Miss Cheesemonger had the great opportunity to visit Redwood Hill Farm in Sebastopol, California. David Bice, of of the four Bice siblings (out of 10!) working on the farm, showed us around (more on that in an upcoming post!). He also had very generously offered Miss Cheesemonger a goodie bag filled with Camellia, their fresh-ripened cheese made famous by Alice Waters of Chez Panisse, their Mango/Orange/Pineapple kefir, smoked cheddar, two types of yogurt (plain and cranberry orange), and two of their fresh chèvres (plain and fire-roasted chile pepper). The weather was rainy, less than ideal for a picnic, so we weren’t able to enjoy them at one of the wooden picnic tables dotting the property. Plus, we didn’t have any bread.
The first cheeses I tasted from Redwood Hill Farm were their traditional fresh chèvre and their fire-roasted chile chèvre. It was the day after my visit, and visions of baby kids were dancing in my head. All right, actually, the first taste I had was just after visiting Redwood Hill Farm. The photographer and I were absolutely starving, so we drove from the farm to Petaluma to find some bread. I found a decent baguette from La Boulange Bakery, and those fabulous fig and hazelnut biscuits from Daelia’s Biscuits for Cheese, which I had discovered at the Fancy Food Show. We dug in. Taking notes at that moment was out of the question.
However, the day after, I was calm, collected, and I could reflect. Redwood Hill Farm’s Traditional chèvre was pristine white, and almost resembled the stiff peaks of beaten egg whites, not like those packed, heavy logs you often find in grocery stores. As I tasted, I was struck by the smoothness of the cheese, its silkiness as it glided down my throat. It was slightly crumbly, but somehow, the folks at Redwood Hill have managed to find a wonderful balance between a smooth and crumbly chèvre. It felt like a chèvre cloud. In terms of flavor, this chèvre is amazingly delicate. Like “white dress on sunny Sunday afternoon” delicate. David had explained that many people enjoy Redwood Hill Farm chèvre because their cheeses were not that “goaty,” and I could see what he meant here. The flavor prances toward the back of the mouth, where it blooms to maturity, always restrained. If I had more, I might think of making a cheesecake out of it.
Their fire-roasted chile chèvre is a slightly different story. The Bices do grow their own produce on the property, including chile peppers. One day, David and his brother Scott, who is the farm manager, thought of the idea of mixing their chile peppers with the chèvre. A great product was born, and it is currently their best-selling fresh chèvre. As I opened up the cheese, I could see that these chiles looked real. There’s clearly minimal processing, and the peppers’ vibrant yellow-green tint gives a hint of the heat that is in these cheese. Tasting, I could have sworn the peppers had been just picked. The balance between chèvre and chile pepper is just right so that the sweetness in both ingredients is highlighted, and not until the cheese hits the soft palate did I start to feel the heat. I’ll admit it’s not a cheese I would have thought of getting for myself, but now that I’ve tasted it, it’s pretty easy to see why it’s become their best-seller. It’s a fine quality cheese without being pretentious. You could serve it at a barbecue or a casual get-together without looking stuffy, and it can appeal to a lot of people, goat-cheese lovers or not.
I guess you can call this a sneak peek of the visit! I will post much more on our trip to the farm, the animals, and the other cheeses in the bag!