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.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

SF Underground: Part Deux

Yes, the potatoes have arrived from Fully Belly Farms (via Natasha at Capay Organics farm store...thank you!) & Haut Jura Raclette is in casa. Now all we need is a roast-a-thon & a hop, skip, and a jump over to SOMArts & we are ready to roll for this Saturday's market! Righto...we are lucky enough to be invited back to the SF Underground Market (Mission Cheese will be there for the night shift 6-midnight...follow the link to sign up & buy tickets) & I have to admit that I am stinkin' fired up! For those of you that missed the last market, it goes a little something like this...

Raclette, meet Flame. Flame, this is my good friend Raclette. She comes all the way from Jura region of France & has been known to melt when approached by a hot fire like yourself.

Friendly sharp Knife, meet Raclette. She likes to be scraped. Strange, I know.

She particularly likes to be scraped atop small boiled (or in this case roasted) potatoes & cornichon and topped with some fresh cracked pepper. Just in case you were curious, Knife.

The rest is fairly self-explanatory (Face, meet Raclette) and DELICIOUS!

Would love to see as many cheese-loving faces as last time. We will do our best to be a tad faster this time to avoid the 40 min line, but as you well know...Raclette is the boss, and she is quite feisty!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Sometimes you just have to plant it yourself!

Raclette, the delicious melty cheese delight that we served up at the SF Underground Market back in June, & will be serving up again at the next market on July 24th (fist pump fist pump), traditionally is served with cornichon. Cornichon are typically found in micro bottles coming to us from France, which is not all too useful or environmentally friendly for a serious raclette operation. Challenge? I accept.

The next best option after said micro bottles from France was a bulk offering (yes!)...coming from...India (no! nothing against India...but that's stinking FAR). So, the search began for a farm growing miniature sized cucumbers ready for moi to pickle them into cornichon. Still...no luck. Time to move to plan C, the do it yourself method. Plant. Harvest. Pickle. FUN!

Cucumbers young'ins being lovers of the sun & heat are not likely thrive in the foggy & sometimes blustery San Francisco summer. Hmmm. Lucky enough, Oliver's family has a small outfit in the sunny Central Valley! Hughson, to be exact. (Pronounced like Houston, without the "t"...just in case you were curious.) The Dameron family graciously agreed to let us use a plot of their beautiful soil & even asked Neighbor Dave to come over & "disk the soil" (from what I can tell this means to get it ready...you know...mix things up a bit). Neighbor Dave went above & beyond & actually tilled & removed weeds & such, so by the time Oliver & I arrived, our cucumber garden was pretty much ready for planting! (Neighbor Dave, I don't even know you, but I think you're pretty awesome & I see some delicious cheese in your future.)

From there it was pretty simple, "farming light" I like to call it. We marked some nice & even rows 4 ft apart, created square-ish mounds about 2 inches high & about 4 inches apart, & planted 6 seeds in each mound. By then it was 90 degrees out & my SF blood was baffled. (Yes, I am well aware that the country is in an insane heat wave...but SF seems to maintain a blissful breeze & temps hovering around 70.) The rest of the day went something like this...lounge on couch, eat, cold beer, pool, couch, pool, eat, cold beer. Ahhh...good old fashioned summer day. I remember these!

Sun kissed & exhausted Oliver & I head back the fog. 5 days later we received word that we have babies...of the two-leaf variety (though with 90 miles in between us, something tells me this may have to be a joint custody arrangement). To be continued...

Heaps of curds of thanks to Sam, Gail and the Dameron family farm for allowing us to use their beautiful land for this project, sharing years of farming knowledge, & for nurturing our little seeds to two-leaf status. This mission would not be possible without you. And to Neighbor Dave...wherever you are, this curd is for you! Also, hats off to all you farmers out there, even "farming light" had me exhausted. You amaze me!

Friday, July 9, 2010

La Vie Bohemian Creamery!

Several months removed from the Great American Cheese Tour, and patiently waiting for the most perfect space for Mission Cheese to call home, it's time to get back to the heart of this mission...the cheese & its makers.

First stop, Bohemian Creamery! Founded by Lisa Gottreich & Miriam Block, ladies sick of life at a desk with a serious zest for life...and cheese. Former home cheesemakers, Lisa & Miriam followed a passion & a wild hair to create Bohemian Creamery & a variety of hand crafted artisan cheeses from sustainably farmed goat, cow, & sheep milks. (Hooray!) Their mission began in Bodega Bay leasing space from a small goat farm with a micro cheesemaking facility. Recently, they scored their own digs in Sebastopol & after an intense retrofit, have been officially making cheese there for about 1 month. This is the delightful operation which I was lucky enough to visit.

T'was cheesemaking day & Lisa was hard at work making Boho Bel (a Bel Paese style cheese made with organic jersey cow's milk & aged for 6-8 as the rind, flavor, & texture of this beauty come together). I arrived just after Lisa had added the rennet & was waiting for the curd to set, which was a perfect opportunity to visit her beautiful family of goats. A wonderful crew of saanen & alpine goats all baring bohemian names & ready to give their left utter, or a little horn jab to their neighbor for some love from Lisa. These social butterflies are the pride & joy of this outfit, and I am pretty sure both Lisa & I would have been happy as clams to hang out with them until sundown, but the curd is the boss.

A good half hour had passed & we head back to the creamery for a taste of the Boho Bel & Lisa suited up for curd cutting. I was in heaven grabbing giant whiffs of the sweet buttery aroma of the rich jersey curd. (It seriously looked like an enormous creme brulee & took every ounce of self control to keep my wits about me & avoid taking a scoop straight to my face.) After Lisa got the curd right where she wanted it, it was time to release the whey transfer the curd into the hoops, or molds, for further draining. Aside from life & cheese chatting, my task was to alert Lisa of rogue curds coming out of the drain at right. As you can see in this new set up there is a bit of crafty improvising until the official system is in place...but it certainly does the trick. I only failed at my task once...it was so lovely chatting with Lisa that I lost focus and some curd was sacrificed...lucky for their dog who was the proud recipient of the run-a-way curd. I may, or may not have been slightly jealous.

The curds were happily cuddling in their hoops (which now looks like a delicious souffle or breakie strada...YUM!) & whey continues to drain as Lisa begins the intense cleaning process that follows cheesemaking & often takes just as much time. (If only it produced an equally delicious outcome...saaay bacon?...life would be nearly perfect. haha...ok, I'll stop.) After the scrub Lisa sent me home with 2 rounds of cheese, both Boho Bel & Bo Peep (a sheep & cow's milk soft ripened cheese modeled after a Corsican basket cheese), a wonderful hug, and a renewed Mission Cheese glow. Loving food is wonderful, but connecting with those that produce it, to me, is nirvana.

I love this mission & I cannot wait to share!

Curds of thanks to Lisa for showing me around...and for making delicious cheese for all to enjoy.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Celebrating Independence from the Cracker Isle!

We all know that crackers & cheese are even better friends than peas & carrots, and if you've fixed a cheese plate or two in your day...you've likely struggled finding an appropriate partner for your beloved queso. Am I right? Am I overly particular? Basically, I am traumatized nearly every time I visit the cracker isle. Too bland. Too much flavor. Too expensive. Too much plastic (I love you Rustic Bakery, but $7 for a dozen or so crackers wrapped in two layers of plastic gives me serious buyer's remorse). It's enough to drive any cheese plate enthusiast to drink. I've...got...a plan. Save your liver & make the crackers! YAAAAAAAY!

It is actually far easier than it sounds & the results are delicious & waste free!

2 c Flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2/3 c warm water
1/3 c olive oil

Step 1: Preheat oven to 400 & mix flour, baking soda, & salt in a large bowl

Step 2:
Mix in warm water & olive oil until smooth-ish dough forms

Step 3: Split dough equally & roll out on 2 lightly greased cookie sheets. The rolling pin wasn't much help on these jelly roll pans, so I used a handy glass (what looks like a triple shot once used to take back whiskey after shopping in the cracker isle...haha...ok, maybe that's a bit aggressive) & it worked just swell.

Step 4:
Using a sharp knife or pizza cutter gently cut dough into desired cracker shape. Yes! YOUR the decider! (See...isn't this fun?!?)

Step 5: Sprinkle with whatever your buds desire. I choose a simple sea salt & fresh cracked pepper combo.

Step 6:
Cook for 10-15 mins (my oven is a bit wacky so I had to keep a close eye after the 10 min mark, but maybe yours is different) & voila! Crackers!

Step 7: Proudly present your delightful cheese plate & it's worthy cracker sidekick. Sit back & enjoy.

Thankful cheese plate eater: "Ohh...these crackers are so delicious...and...they look homemade?!?"

You: "Oh (hmhmhmhmmmm) yes...just whipped them up this afternoon. No big whoop (hmmhmhmhm)."

I'll be taking my crackers to a cozy little nook in central Oregon for some fun in the sun, great people, & a cheese plate in nature. (ummm...does it get any better?) Happy Birthday America!