I’m feeling cheesy

June 2, 2008 at 11:04 pm (farm, food, ice cream, restaurants, review)

LaMancha the Localvore, Ben, and I visited Redwood Hill Farm and Creamery for a tour (free) of their goat farm and yogurt and cheese operation. LaMancha and Ben have been visiting a lot of farms around the Bay Area and in Northern California so they’re experts on this whole agriculture business. But for me, it was new and interesting. I figured I could share some of what I learned and provide some reviews of Redwood Hill Farm’s various products. I’ll put some photos in this blog entry, but if you want to see more photos, you can see the full album.

yogurt tour guideFirst, let’s talk about the yogurt to get it out of the way. The tour wasn’t very interesting and the yogurt wasn’t so good. Because it’s a liquid product, California requires that their whole process be automated in this huge system of pipes and vats and tanks. So it isn’t that interesting to see. Plus, I’ve already learned a bit about how to make yogurt from various people who make their own yogurt (Jen at SEP, Da – she makes DaDannon yogurt!, and Karin) and the larger scale process is pretty much the same. Plus, this tour leader, while knowledgeable, didn’t answer my questions as fully as I would have liked, and I didn’t want to be a pain for the rest of the tour group, so I let things go. For example, he said that goat milk comes out of the goat homogenized while cow’s milk is not and will separate if left standing. When I asked him why that was the case, he basically just defined what homogenization meant rather than really explain why. We decided amongst ourselves that it must be because the goats are more active than cows, jiggling and jumping all over the place to homogenize the milk in their udders. If it were any other reason, this tour guy would have said so, right?

strong yogurtOther than learning that goats homogenize their milk, the only other interesting thing that I learned on the yogurt tour was that they package the milk and cultures into the little cups, and then let the bacteria grow within each individual cup! It’s not going to change my life, but it’s interesting, to me, at least.

hairnets to save the yogurt

We had to wear hairnets and booties over our shoes to help them keep things sanitized, but I suspect that it was all a sham or an excuse to point out the long shelf-life of their yogurts. They weren’t making any yogurt that day and all the yogurt was enclosed within steel pipes and tanks. So what were the booties and hairnets protecting? They weren’t really making cheese that day either, but that portion of the tour was much better because of their head cheese maker doing a good job talking about cheese and answering questions. That’s head (cheese maker) not (head cheese) maker.

Before I get to the cheese, a quick review of the yogurt. They add tapioca and pectin to thicken the yogurt. Boo. The flavor is pretty good, but I didn’t enjoy the texture and I wish they wouldn’t put tapioca and pectin in it.

cheesemaker, cheesemaker, find me a cheeseThe cheese maker was the exact opposite of the yogurt guy in how much information she provided and it was great. It would have been slightly improved if she had described the different types of cheese and how the final product looks and tastes before she described how each kind is made, but I think I put together the pieces eventually. It looks like a really fun job. She tweaks various parameters relating to proteins (casein in the milk and rennet – from baby cow stomaches! – that’s added), fat, squeezing the whey, shaping, different aging conditions. And she takes plays with various microorganisms – bacteria that produce lactic acid, yeast, mold. She says that she has a number of small experiments running to tweak and optimize the cheeses that they produce, and to develop new ones. Seems like a really fun job. In case anyone is wondering what it takes to get a fun job like this, she did her undergraduate work at Davis in animal science and dairy something or other, and then she did a masters degree in microbiology. And then she studied with some cheese makers in Europe, maybe France. Plus, I’m sure she has a ton of other qualities that help, but those are the basics.

So on to what I think of their cheeses! I won’t really cover the information that’s already on their website, so go there if you want more information. I’ll just share what I think is the most interesting and/or relevant.

aging gravenstein goldGravenstein Gold – This would have been LaMancha’s nickname had I not decided to use the breed of goat with the funny ears. Based on what I’ve seen online, this is a type of cheese that was developed at Redwood HIlls Creamery and there’s way more information at this other blog. To summarize, they wash the cheese with cider from Gravenstein apples and that’s what makes it yellow. This cheese is aged so it’s firm and got a good stink. But only mildly stinky. And, it really is a good stink. I don’t have a good vocabulary to describe the stink of cheese, so you’ll just have to take my word for it that it’s enjoyable and try some yourself.

camelliaCamellia – This one is a soft one, very much like Camembert in texture and flavor and visually. Actually, now that I think about it, it’s probably made with the same process as camembert but with goat milk instead of cow milk. CAMEmbert? CAMEllia? They say this cheese is named after one of their favorite does, but it sounds like it’s also named after camembert.

Bucheret – This cheese has a texture is halfway between Camembert and feta, but flavor is more like Camembert.

filling molds for crottin/bucheretCrottin – This one was quite similar to Bucheret and I can’t really do a good job describing the difference in their textures and flavors without both in front of me. I recall the difference in how they were made being that in one, the salt is mixed into the curd mixture before it’s added to the mold (to shape it, not mold like what grows on the cheese) and with the other, the salt is sprinkled on to the ends of the mold and it’s allowed to dissolve into the cheese. I think the former is Crottin and the latter is Bucheret.

They also have feta and chevre. These are pretty good, but there’s nothing interesting to say about them.

We wound up buying some chevre, Bucheret, and some of the Gravenstein Gold. I had a good dinner with some sour dough bread, these three cheeses, and some Rainier cherries! I would have liked to buy goat milk directly, probably to make ice cream, but maybe another time and another creamery.

Here’s one last bit of interesting information that I learned from the whole goat tour: Goats are seasonal and produce milk with highest fat and protein content in spring, and fall’s a close second. So goat cheese is best during those times.

screamin\' mimi\'s ice cream - black walnut and cassis sorbet

We also stopped by Screamin’ Mimi’s in Sebastopol for ice cream. I was a little concerned when we walked in and it looked and smelled very much like a Ben and Jerry’s store. And I was a little disappointed in their flavors (I’ve been spoiled by Bi-Rite Creamery), but they still had a good selection and things were very tasty. LaMancha and Ben got lemon poppy and ginger, and I got black walnut and cassis sorbet. The lemon poppy was nice and bright, maybe a little too sweet and not tangy enough. The ginger good, but I would have preferred it to be more sharp and spicy Black walnut was good but not spectacular. The cassis sorbet was really nice with a full and bright flavor. The texture for everything was pretty good but I would have preferred it to be a little bit more custardy and chewy (which would be a direct result of custardiness). The best part of this place is that they sell you the ice cream by weight so you can get what you want to eat and what you want to pay for. My guess is that the bump up the price a little in exchange for the customization, but that’s okay, I think. It was a fun place to stop if you’re in Sebastopol, but there’s no need to go out of your way to come here. Bi-Rite kicks Screamin’ Mimi’s butt! And it’s much closer to where I live.

We had a few other stops up north, but this post is long enough and I’ve already covered the parts that are most worth writing about. See, I’m using these awkward phrases. That means it’s time to end now.

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