Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Barinaga Ranch...Best Monday Ever

To make a long story short, SF Undergound Market Part Duex was a smashing success! We stayed busy & kept the dance party going until our puppies just couldn't take it anymore. Heaps of curds of gratitude to Jenny Lou & Oliver for hanging out with me & giving out free high fives all night long, and to everyone who came to the market to show their support. My milk jug overfloweth.

It was only appropriate to follow such an exciting cheese weekend with a cheesemaker visit. Monday morning, I cruised to Barinaga Ranch to rendezvous with Marcia Barinaga & her sheep up in the hills overlooking Tomales Bay. Life. Is. Good.

Marcia, a former science journalist with a PhD in molecular biology (yeah...brainiac cheesemaker...love it), has moved from Oakland to the beauty of West Marin to make cheese. Hallelujah! She & her husband, Corey, purchased their ranch back in 2001 determined to become a sustainable part of the community & have poured their hearts into the operation ever since. The first barn was built in 2007 & not long after came the cheese room (built inside a retired shipping container...best reuse EVER!), and the first batch of cheese was ready for sale in 2009 for a lucky few. The cheese, is a raw sheep's milk tomme, Baserri, and it's mini-me Txiki (the names translate to "farmhouse" & "little" in Basque) They are intended as a West Marin version of a Basque cheese. It is made by hand with the help of an old soup kettle (second best reuse EVER!), and it is utterly dreamy.

After visiting the cheese (Marcia had to take the latest batch out of the brine) we pay the lil' lambs & their milking mommas a visit, and for the first time...I was able to pet a sheep! Past sheep farm visits have not gone as well...visualize a flock of boney-legged-fluff-balls scurrying away in complete horror. Yep. The calm demeanor of these ladies basking in the cool coastal air allowed for some good quality time & by the end I was ready for a snuggle. Seriously. Look at them!

As you probably know, sheep's milk cheese is not quite as common as the rest & there are a few reasons. 1) Sheep generally produce less milk than their goat & cow friends. Their milk is higher in butterfat & therefore provides a better yield, but it's not enough to make up for the difference. This leaves less cheese overall & higher prices (certainly worth it if you ask me). 2) Since the whole hoof & mouth fiasco, it is nearly impossible to import sheep, so we have to work with what we have her in the U-S-of A & keep our fingers crossed for females. On Marcia's hunt for her flock, she did her research & bought some East Fresians from Everona Dairy out in Virginia. Since she has cross-bread some of them with Katahdin, an African hair sheep, for a hardier flock hoping for increased resistance to parasites & disease. Her flock is set to nearly double this year, and more sheep means more milk & more milk means more cheese!

After meeting Marcia, yet another brilliant & inspiring cheesemaker, and hanging with the sheep, I was pretty sure my trip to Marshall couldn't possibly get much better. Then I found these guys...cuddling porks, I mean...pigs. They are a perfect compliment to any cheese operation eating whey for days in between mud rolls & snuggles. They also make delicious bacon, braised pork shoulder, porchetta, ribs...what? They do!

Thank you to Marcia for having me out for such a lovely visit! You reinforce my opinion, yet again, that cheesemakers are the best people on the planet. Once Mission Cheese finds a space (yes...still on the look-out), I would be honored to bring your cheese to the people.