I had the pleasure of speaking with Lisa Gottreich, who, with her business partner Miriam Block, opened Bohemian Creamery three years ago in Sebastopol, California. The creamery is going strong, making its way to fine tables of the likes of the French Laundry and Chiaroscuro in San Francisco.
Lisa explained to me the origins of her passion for cheese making. Growing up in a rural area around Bolinas, California, she always had some farm animals around the house. Making cheese was something she had done since she was a child, although with a doctor as a father and a horologist as a mother (how amazing is that?), it probably was not apparent to her that one day she would turn cheese into her livelihood. It took a series of events to lead her to decide to take the cheese making to a commercial level. While in undergraduate school, she majored in Economics and Philosophy, and spent a year in Padua, Italy. In love with Italian culture, she returned to Italy to pursue a career in the film industry, but returned to the United States for graduate studies. Already having extensive background in Europe, she launched a new career working on trade issues between the European Union and the United States. During these stays in Europe, she was able to taste and explore the cheese spectrum. When she found herself working at an oncology clinic following a divorce, she decided that this was her moment to do something positive. She wanted to produce something that would give people joy.
Her meeting with Miriam Block was serendipity. Miriam was hosting a dinner party, and during the course of the evening, announced that she had offered herself a cheese press for Hanukkah. Lisa’s interest was piqued, the two began talking cheese, and Bohemian Creamery was born.
They chose their name in part because of their proximity to the Bohemian highway, but, it seems to me, also because of their family connections to the European region of Bohemia, which is roughly the area of the Czech Republic today.
The ladies started small, renting creamery space. When their cheeses gained some popularity, the two ladies realized they needed their own facility. They enlisted the help of respected Dairy technology consultant Neville McNaughton, among others, and developed their creamery.
When asked about the inspiration of her cheese recipes, Lisa said that her Italian experience was a huge factor. Many of their cheeses are inspired from the Italian, such as Asiago, Robiola, or Bel Paese. The two ladies touch on their knowledge of cheese to develop cheese ideas, cheese dreams. Then, their know-how makes it happen—sometimes, with a twist. For instance, their Holy Mole is a blended milk cheese inspired from Robiola, but comes enrobed in cocoa nibs. The list of nine cheeses this dynamic duo produces is impressive. They work with cow, sheep, and goat milk.
Ah, goats! Bohemian Creamery keeps a herd of roughly fifty goats. When I listened to Lisa speak about them, I could see that it was here the nexus of her history, her future, her professional, and her personal interests. Lisa has kept goats since she was young, and now, the professional herd is growing. Since the beginning, she has named them each after a member of her family, some of who perished during the tragedies of the Holocaust. With each new generation of goats, though, she has to rush to find new names. If you have the chance to visit the farm, you’ll probably see the bustling four-legged family with names like Sidonia (named after one of Lisa’s grandmothers), Amil, Stephie, or Amanza.
Bohemian Creamery is committed to minimally impacting the environment, and reuses as much of its material as possible. Their closed loop cooling and heating system allows them to reuse nearly all of their water. They share their goat droppings with friends and family for fertilizer, and source organic milk as much as possible. They also recycle their whey, feeding it back to the animals.
Right now, Bohemian Creamery distributes largely within California, especially Northern California, but that may all change very soon. I had the feeling that Bohemian Creamery is poised to strike, and you may soon find their delicious cheeses in retail locations near you.
OK, so some of you are probably saying, “Enough with the story! I need cheese!” Here is the list of Bohemian Creamery’s cheeses:
• Capriago—a goat milk asiago;
• Boho belle—a cow milk made in Bel Paese fashion;
• Bodacious—a fresh goat milk cheese;
• Bo Poisse—the Bohemian version of the French Epoisses;
• Bo Peep—a cow and sheep milk blend, fresh, inspired by Corsican basket cheese;
• Holy Mole—a sheep-cow milk blend styled after Robiola, with cocoa nibs in the rind;
• Bovoncino—a cow’s milk cheese inspired by Asiago Stagionato
• Romeo—a cow milk cheese made in the style of Romano, and aged for 6 months.
• Caproncino—a goat cheese aged 3 months.
I guess you can say Lisa does have a favorite child, and it’s the baby. Romeo is Bohemian Creamery’s newest creation, and the one you are most likely to find Lisa munching on. Since it is turning chilly with fall coming, she recommends that to warm your heart and your belly, try a pairing of Bo Poisse with a glass or two of pinot noir. So hearty! If you’re enjoying balmy weather, maybe a bit of Bodacious tossed in with a light salad will cool you down.
I would like to thank Lisa Gottreich for so generously donating some of her time to Miss Cheesemonger. I hope I will have the chance to taste more of Bohemian Creamery’s creations soon!