I had seen lately that everyone was visiting Weirauch Farm & Creamery, the cool new kids on the cheesemaking block. Mission Cheese had been there, Culture Magazine had been there, and so I wanted to go for myself and see what all the fuss was about.
Well, what an adventure that turned out to be. The Weirauchs don’t give their address out on their website or cards, and I forgot to ask for it in our emails. Gavin and I rushed around all over the place and on the internet trying to find it. We even stopped by Cowgirl Creamery to ask manager Michael Zilber for directions (Yes, this was weird for me, too!), but that was unsuccessful. Thanks to some computer sleuthing by Gavin, we found the address as we munched on the amazingly delicious vegan and Framani salami/spinach/burrata sandwiches in the car.
When we finally pulled up to Joel and Carleen Weirauch’s property, I was already smitten. The Weirauchs share the property with a free-range chicken company and another company that takes vintage (century-old) wood from barns and transforms them into beautifu furniture. The sun was beating down, but the chickens found shelter under stairs, wagons, and in any other nook they could squeeze their corpulent, feathery bodies into. I fell head over heels for those chickens, and was figuring out a way to take one home without anyone noticing when Carleen Weirauch came to greet us. She was unloading supplies from that morning’s market. Joel was on his way, she assured us. We turned toward the back of the property, and saw Joel, riding a small ATV, racing toward us down the central dirt path. Like a cowboy, he was.
He led us to his creamery first, a former school trailer classroom. Joel installed everything we could see himself—the walkway, entrance hall, the new floor. He plastered the walls, set up the vats and pasteurizer, and built the shelves in his aging room. If you are looking for a cheesemaker who truly has been with his cheeses every step of the way, Joel is it. He even made his own cheese molds by taking inexpensive plastic containers and drilling holes into them. This isn’t Joel’s first creamery, though. He designed and constructed Pug’s Leap Creamery in Healdsburg, as well as other food-related projects. Weirauch creamery, however, is truly his own. Currently, Joel makes only cow’s milk cheese from a local source. At the same time, he is preparing his sheep flock of about 60 for cheese production. I hope that will happen within the next few months.
Joel’s cheesemaking education was hands-on. In 2002, he spent a significant time in France, particularly the Alps and Massif Central. His first cheese was Salers. From that point on, he has learned and developed new recipes, seemingly by magic. To me, his cheesemaking seems highly intuitive. Joel seems driven by the need to construct, to experiment, to sense, and taste. As we walked into his aging room, we saw the fruits of his labors.
Joel’s aging room, although small, is rich with insight into his craft. He built it, so he is the person who tested what material should go on the walls and into the floor. He settled on a special lime plaster to recall the limestone caves of France. His shelves are a simple pine (I believe). He tried to use the vintage wood from his next-door neighbor, but found that those planks curl too much in the humidity to be of any use. Instead, Joel fashions cheese boards from them for the holidays. On the shelves, we saw several small batches of Peau de Pêche, his creamy washed rind cheese a bit reminiscent of St. Nectaire, Carabiner, his oldest cheese at 5 months, and Tomme Fraîche, which is aged for about 2-3 weeks. On the bottom shelf, Joel keeps some of his failed experiments, which he actually feeds to the chickens. Those are some well-fed chickens. One small corner of the rack was dedicated to an experimental sheep’s milk cheese. Joel couldn’t tell me much about it because he doesn’t know what it’s going to be like. We’ll see when it’s ready, I suppose. And we’ll know it’s ready when it smells, feels, and tastes right to Joel.
Next post, sheep!