The California Artisan Cheese Guild had their annual meeting not long ago, hosted by one of my new local fave cheese companies, Toluma Farms. Ever since I tasted their goat milk Kenne, reminiscent of those Provençal chèvres that were my introduction to fine cheeses so long ago, I knew Toluma Farms was something special.
Despite getting lost for about an hour in the back country of northern California (seriously, I was about to give up and go home, and there were absolutely no humans around. Lots of cows, though.), I pulled up to the property where owners David Jablons and Tamara Hicks live, work, play, and make cheese.
The Guild meeting was well underway. The main buzz surrounded the upcoming California Artisan Cheese Festival taking place from March 21-23. The other buzz surrounded the American Cheese Society’s (ACS) annual conference, this year taking place in Sacramento, our backyard! I am totally excited for the cheese festival, but ACS in Sacramento is really the big cheese of conferences. I can’t wait to go and meet some of my favorite cheese heroes and heroines.
We had the chance to taste a bit of everyone’s creations. Apart from the Kenne, which I am majorly crushing on at the moment, Bleating Heart’s Seana Doughty made a gorgeous St. Nectaire-inspired cheese from cow, water buffalo, and sheep’s milk called San Tomales. I don’t know if she’s planning on taking this one to market, but if she does, she’s going to have a real winner on her hands. It had amazing depth of flavor, filled with umami and the added complexity of mixed milks. Laura Chenel’s Chèvre brought some Cabecou, which is always a joy to experience—very fresh, citrusy and flavorful. Pennyroyal brought Boont Corners, its aged mixed milk (cow and goat) cheese, at three different ages (2, 4 and 8 months). They were all exquisite, the younger cheeses flaunting some nuttiness and the older cheeses showing some caramel flavor, as well as slightly musty aging room overtones. I also delighted in Pennyroyal’s Laychee, a fresh goat cheese (although when sheep are lactating, there’s ewe’s milk as well). What pillowy, creamy joys this cheese brings to the palate! If you can get your hands on it, don’t hesitate. Get it. There were other notable cheeses on hand as well, like Nicasio Valley’s washed rind San Geronimo—if you want to make a Northern California version of Raclette, this might be the cheese for you. Redwood Hill Farm came with their Bûcheret and Crottin. Someone brought some little French cheeses washed in what seemed to be walnut liqueur.
After the meeting came creamery tour time! David took a group of us, and Tamara took another. I was in David’s group, where I learned that not only is he a cheesemaker, he’s a thoracic surgeon and very much a DIY kind of guy. He loves tinkering with cars, but now, also does all the veterinary work for the farmstead. They purchased the property in 2003, but have only begun making cheese in the last year. Now, there are about 100 sheep on the property and a couple hundred goats.
David explained that the inspiration for their cheesemaking operation is La Tur from northern Italy. The couple went into cheesemaking with the vision of creating similar creamy, bloomy rind, mixed milk cheeses. They’re really doing quite well after less than a year of production. Maybe by next year, they’ll have cows and be making their California take on La Tur!
After a peek around the creamery, I had to visit the animals. What’s a farm visit if you can’t cuddle something? I headed over to the barn, where a lot of goats were hanging out and a couple of newborn lambs and their mamas. I even got to hold one of them!
Thanks so much for opening your home and your farm to the CACG, David and Tamara! I hope to see you and your cheeses again soon!