Sunday, I trekked from San Francisco to Sebastopol for the annual meeting of the California Artisan Cheese Guild. I only joined the organization in December, but I am so excited to be a part of the Guild!
Anyway, back to the meeting. Redwood Hill Farm & Creamery was our generous host for the day. While I visited the farm back in May, this was my first time at the solar-powered creamery. Owner Jennifer Bice was in attendance; I first spotted her on the far end of the packaging room-turned-banquet-hall. Brother David Bice popped in to take photos, but was called away to the farm soon after. I admit, I was a little star struck by the crowd around me. In attendance were the likes of Scott and Rick Lafranchi from Nicasio Valley Cheese Company, Sheana Davis from the Epicurian Connection shop, Kiri Fisher and Lynne Devereux from Laura Chenel’s Chèvre, Seana Doughty of Bleating Heart Cheese Company, Lenny Moonsammy from Bellwether Farms, and Vivien Straus from Straus Family Creamery and Cowgirl Creamery. There were so many wonderful people there, but I only had the chance to meet a handful.
The meeting began with a tour of the creamery, led by Jennifer Bice herself. We all booted up in some lovely elastic, plastic booties, and donned hairnets. We walked by the pasteurizing room, where I think it was 1,000-gallon pasteurizers do their thing nearly every day. Jennifer showed us stainless steel pipes overhead that lead to a 500-gallon vat, where cultures are added to the milk. The milk incubates in the vat for about 16 hours, and is transferred to another vat, where the rennet is added. Once the clean break occurs, the creamery can cut the curds with these nifty “wire paddles” (ok, I made that term up) to ensure uniform size. The whey is drained away, and is sold to some local pig farmers, so you can be assured that waste is minimized. Because I’m a little nerdy, I snapped a picture of the molds they use to form 5 lb. blocks of feta.
Jennifer whisked us past her drying room, a very homey space filled with fans, and into her cameo/camellia aging room. She explained that all of those steel tubes behind us regularly mist the room to regulate the humidity. A good number of guests did get wet! Because it’s wintertime, milk production, and thus cheese production, is at its lowest point of the year. We saw 3 racks of Camellia, a camembert-style goat cheese, and its smaller cousin, Cameo, aging. Jennifer shared that when the cheeses reach this phase, they must be turned every day because otherwise, the fluffy mold that grows around the cheese begins to grow around the wire on the racks.
Our next stop was a slightly cooler, slightly dryer aging room where two racks of Gravenstein Gold were hanging out. Jennifer dashed all my hopes by saying this is just an experimental batch. They haven’t quite recommenced production on Gravenstein Gold, but that will happen soon. Redwood Hill was forced to halt production for a time because the aggressive b. linens bacteria were contaminating other cheeses (they were all being aged together).
We took a quick visit to a packaging room for the fresh chèvre, and I didn’t even have a chance to peek in the room where the terra, crottin, and bucheret were aging, but that’s because I wanted to get to know some of the awesome people around me. In this room, Jennifer explained how everything in the production process is done by hand, with the exception of only two tasks: filling certain packages and washing the equipment. Everything else is done by a real person in a real solar-powered creamery in Sebastopol, California.
Lunch was very casual—lots of cheese, lots of salad, and lots of wine. I tasted some amazing cheeses that day! Bohemian Creamery brought some Boho Bell and Romeo (I think), and they turned some heads. A new creamery, Penny Royal, which hasn’t even officially opened, shared a wheel of an as-of-yet unnamed cheese. Redwood Hill had a strong representation, and everyone made a beeline for Bellwether Farms’ jersey cow ricotta (I made a beeline for the Carmody). Unfortunately, I didn’t get all the names of all the cheeses.
The main take-aways of this meeting were as follows:
***The election of the new board. I am very excited to learn more about the new board, and work with them on their projects for the next 2 years!
***SF Beer Week begins next week, Feb. 10.
***The California Artisan Cheese Festival is taking place in March. It looks like it’s going to be delicious.
***The Guild is going to participate, again in “Cooking for Solutions” at the Monterey Aquarium in May.
***If you are a restaurant that serves artisan cheese, work in the food/beverage industry, or just love cheese, you should think of joining the Guild!
***There’s a great map of the Sonoma Marin Cheese Trail to help visitors explore the rich cheese culture of the area. Vivien Straus has worked long and hard on this project, and it’s beautiful.