Marin cheeses – from unknown to globally recognized

cheese tray 2

cheese tray 6

There comes a time in every girl’s life when she must eat some cheese. Lucky for me, that time came over Thanksgiving weekend. True, I cooked a lighter Thanksgiving meal this year (no butter-soaked sweet potatoes, no green bean casserole with Campbell’s mushroom soup), which left ample room for dairy-based treats.

With a stash of pinot noir, pinot bianco and chardonnay from Marin and Mendocino wineries (read more on pairing Marin wines with holiday foods here), I traversed the great expanse of taste between the blue-funk grunge of Point Reyes famous Original Blue and mild, shy Txiki, a sheep’s milk cheese made by the folks at Barinaga Ranch.

Txiki most closely resembles a young Manchego and the association is, perhaps, intentional – the Barinaga family background is Basque and yes, they were shepherds. Aged for 60 days, there is not a hint of sharpness or sourness, just an easy-going, mild cheese.

The Barinagas, who sell Txiki at just a handful of retail outlets, also offer this extremely limited production product to their mailing list. Positioned at #25 on Sunset magazine’s Hot 100 for 2011, the word is out on this mild, tender cheese with a firm bite.

Cow milk cheese is perhaps best known in Marin – Cowgirl Creamery distributes their cheeses nationally and works only with cow’s milk – and the girls at Cowgirl recently undertook an effort to increase the number of seasonal cheeses they produce. Welcome Devil’s Gulch! Yes, the Devil’s Gulch of Nicasio – practically a bridge between bucolic west and bustling east Marin.

A mild cheese in a comely round, it is creamy but not “wet” like a brie, with a tangy, white-wrapped exterior, and glitters with brilliant red sweet and hot chile bits, courtesy of All Star Organics. I have never tasted anything quite like it, alternately sharp then sweet, backed by a full-cream mouthfeel. Stefan declared it his new favorite cheese. Get it while you can – this cheese disappears when the winter rains come to an end.

Loma Alta, a cow’s milk cheese from the Nicasio Cheese Company, is young and straight-up buttery. Rich, rich rich. I would use this cheese in a pie crust if I could.

And finally, the classic that got Marin cheese off the ground, Point Reyes Original Blue. From the Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company, this is the one, the only cheese they make and it is bold and sassy with a fairly smooth texture…until it warms and then it crumbles like only the best can.

I don’t eat blue cheese straight, so I paired it with a salad of frisée and Asian pears with a dijonaise dressing whisked with a hint of maple syrup. Need I say more? …

…Yes, THANK YOU Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT) for sending me the lovely cheeses and please enjoy the best of Marin during the holiday season and beyond.