ageroom
Achadinha’s aging room filled with wheels of cheese from top to bottom.
Photos by: Samantha Clark 

Summer Cheese Country Tours have kicked off! Offered by the California Artisan Cheese Festival, the tours are an incredible chance to visit Northern California’s dairies and creameries and get a behind-the-scene look at the life of a farmer and cheese maker. Tour-goers learn about the hard work behind this fascinating trade from the increasing need for sheep lobbyists, to the science of spoiled dairy and mulling over molds.

The June 23rd tour kicked off the summer visiting three creameries around Petaluma on the “Marin to Sonoma” tour: Barinaga Ranch, Achadinha Cheese Company, and Weirauch Farm & Creamery. This dairy heart of California, with its perfect climate for animals and rich trade history, has over 150 diary farms with 11 up-and-coming cheese makers.

barinaga ranch
Marcia Barinaga offers a tasting of young and aged cheeses and a hot Italian sheep sausage.

The first tour began at Barinaga Ranch, a sheep creamery ran by wife and husband duo Marcia Barinaga and Corey Goodman. Barinaga focuses on producing high quality cheeses in a manner sustainable both to the land and community, always thinking “local.”

She continues “the ancient shepherding and cheesemaking traditions of [her] Basque family and ancestors in Spain.” Barinaga makes two kinds of cheeses: Basseri (meaning “farmhouse” in Basque) and a smaller version of Basseri, Txiki (meaning “little”), both Basque-style cheeses. She learned her Pyrenées cheese-making methods by visiting and learning from shepherds in the Basque region. Semi-firm and aged for 60 days, the flavors are of sweet milk with hints of salty and nutty undertones.

bellybutton
Achadinha’s Capricious. The knot from the cheese cloth is also called a “belly button.”

Next on the tour was Achadinha (Osh-a-deen-a) Cheese Company, which is family-run by Jim, a third generation dairyman, and Donna Pacheco. Donna Pacheco, who hand makes all the cheeses, showed tour-goers around the farm. Their aging room is lined floor to ceiling with shelves of golden-hued wheels. The 1600 free-range goats feed on pasture year-round plus “all of the brewer’s grain from the local breweries they want,” which gives their milk more fat and their meat nice marbling. Achadinha makes three kinds of cheeses: Capricious(Ca-pree-shus), Broncha (Bron-ka), and Feta, plus a smoked summer goat sausage. Capricious is a hand-rolled, hard, and aged cheese that won “Best in Show.” Very complex, it has a pebbly, rustic rind, dry and smooth texture, deep caramel tastes of sweet and salty, and it finishes with a mild pungent kick.  

 

cowscheese
Weirauch Farm & Creamery’s artisan cows milk cheese. 

Last was Weirauch Farm & Creamery, an on the rise creamery ran by the bubbly and enthusiastic Joel and Carleen Weirauch. Their sweet flock of ewes come up behind you and nudge your behind, wanting to be petted behind the ears. Because they have been building their flock, they are currently producing their first artisan cheese with cow’s milk from a neighbor’s organic dairy that can be seen from their fields, and they are just starting their farmstead sheep cheese. Their Doubloon, a fresh little cow’s milk crottin, with a supple and velvety texture.

Don’t whey-t! Tours are expected to fill up fast. Meet the makers of your favorite cheeses with an intimate group of people. For a list of the tours visit the California Artisan Cheese Festival online. Tours run from June to September.