I guess it’s just our California backgrounds that make us search out, and even demand, the freshest of all ingredients. We are so fortunate to have the ocean an hour away, grassy hillsides that raise the leanest of beef, a garden that gives us fruits and vegetables for 7 months out of the year, and a freezer full of 4-H beef, lamb and pork that have been cut and wrapped to our specifications, ready for the BBQ at a moment’s notice. Add to this an array of local North Bay cheeses, made by young and adventuresome cheese makers – the likes of our cult winemakers – and we are indeed blessed.
Our cheese education probably dates back to Millie, a brown and white Nubian doe (the ones with the long, floppy ears and the Roman nose), in the late 1970’s when we were caretakers on a large ranch in St. Helena. Along with geese, sheep, cattle, a donkey (Jack), a St. Bernard (Butch) and two small children, Herb took on the duty of milking Millie and making the cheese… it was all good, but some of it was better. We soon met the Bacchus’ (great name for Wine Country cheese makers, eh?) who created Goat’s Leap cheese in St. Helena, and then our palates wandered further toward the rolling hills of lush grass and the latest sheep, cow and goat’s milk cheeses of Sonoma and Marin Counties.
We became members of the California Artisan Cheese Guild, and made a point of searching out the latest and most experimental cheese we could find to accompany tasting of our wines; cheeses like the Cowgirl Creamery (who now also produces the Sonoma Toma along with their signature Red Hawk, Mt. Tam, Pierce Point, St. Pat and seasonal Devil’s Gulch), Bellwether Farms (great sheep’s milk cheese and yogurt), Cypress Grove, Fiscalini Farmstead Cheese, Laura Chenel, Pt. Reyes Farmstead Company – the home of California’s only blue cheese “Original Blue” which goes beautifully with Cabernet Sauvignon and a steak, Redwood Hill Farm & Creamery and our favorite, Andante Dairy, owned by the creative Soyoung Scanlan who produces a delicious new cheese several times a year!
We have toured dozens of dairies and creameries to hear their stories and get an idea of who they are and how they operate; much the same way people come to Wine Country to meet the vintners and winemakers. When we see European cheeses paired with local wines, we wonder what they are missing by not sharing the wealth of local creativity and exciting tastes with the fruit of our vineyards. When in Rome…