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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Nicasio Valley Cheese Co. Makes Real Farmstead Cheese

Posted By on Wed, Aug 24, 2011 at 4:00 PM

Clockwise from 12 o'clock:  Nicasio Reserve, Foggy Morning, Nicasio Square - BEN NARASIN
  • Ben Narasin
  • Clockwise from 12 o'clock: Nicasio Reserve, Foggy Morning, Nicasio Square

To be considered "farmstead," a cheese must be produced on the farm from which its milk originated. Hence it is appropriate, certainly more so than kettle corn and funnel cakes, to find farmstead cheese at a farmers' market.

On my visit this weekend to the Fort Mason farmers' market to pick up some award-winning cheese (more on that in a later post), I came across Nicasio Valley Cheese Company, a family-run "Certified Organic Farmstead Cheese" producer from Nicasio in West Marin.

While I struggle to believe their claim that they are "California's only certified organic farmstead cheesemakers," I'll leave that aside because the cheese is worth talking about. The Lafranchi family that runs the farm came to the US from Switzerland and brought the Swiss view of cheese, and a Swiss master cheese maker as a mentor, to create cheeses reminiscent of their native Valle Maggia. All are made from cow's milk.

These are not the simple Swiss cheeses of cartoon mousecapades. Nary a hole in site. These are products plateable for your premium party platter. Of the six cheeses you can find at Fort Mason I'd focus on three:

  • Ben Narasin

Foggy Morning

It's soft in texture and appearance like a fresh chevre, but in a nice, small wheel that holds up better than soft goat cheese does. It's bright and pleasant in the mouth with just a hit of rennet, like a homemade cream cheese. Fake your friends out and see if they can tell this cow's milk cheese from a fresh chevre.

Nicasio Reserve

Based on a classic Swiss mountain cheese recipe, this firm cheese has a beautiful rind and looks pretty on the board. It's a great step up if you like Manchego and quality cheddar, but want more distinction without a massive hit of "stink." BTW - "stinky" is not a negative to cheese folk, and this is of just a modest scent.

Nicasio Square

A washed rind cheese with a reddish tint. Eat it with the rind to get a bit of the grit and character of the wash. Less in-your-face than many washed rind cheeses, like Mt Tam's Red Hawk or the pinnacle of cheese, Époisses. A good step if you want to move up the cheese complexity ladder without diving all the way into the ammonia. Also a very nice mild alternative to French washed rind cheeses for people already on the upper rungs (caseophiles, turophiles, et al).

Tech note - Kudos to the family for using wax paper lined plastic wraps instead of plastic. Plastic interacts with cheese and causes a reaction, and a film you should scrape off. Paper, or waxed paper, is the right choice.

In addition to Fort Mason on Sundays you can find Nicasio cheeses in SF at Cheese Plus, Mission Cheese, and a a variety of other locations.

When he's not writing for SFoodie, Ben Narasin is a regular contributor to Cheese Connoisseur magazine.

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Ben Narasin


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