Cow

Tête du Moine

Tête du Moine really is a cute little cheese. It can immediately be picked out of a line of cheeses due to it being almost as round as it is tall. There are certain phrases in other languages that have an air of prestige about them, a sense of importance, a sense of style. However, when they are translated into English they don't sound half as fancy. Tête du Moine converts into English as 'Monk's Head.' As a phrase, Tête du Moine sounds regal, ancient and sophisticated just like the Swiss like to portray themselves. Monk's Head sounds like a deserted, failing pub in Northern England and not at all appetizing.

 Cheese shop with traditional dress! 

Cheese shop with traditional dress! 

We bought this cheese in Courmayeur (which is possibly the closest Italian town to the Swiss border) in a fantastic fromagerie where the employers wore traditional red gowns to work. As we entered the shop I almost felt as though we were being transported back in time to an era where people valued a sense of style in retail establishments. Both ladies in red attire had their hair tied back and traditional clogs on their feet making them actually look like they were at work in a cheese shop. Whether it is part of the gimmick or not, cheese is stylish in Italy and so are the people who sell it.

Tête du Moine is a small cheese with a unique shape and a stinky odor. We bought a section of a wheel to take hiking with us on the Tour du Mont Blanc in the hope that it would last a few days. Traditionally, I believe you are supposed to eat it by scraping slivers off with a knife which allows oxygen to hit the surface changing the taste of the cheese. After a long day hiking we were far too hungry to mess around with shavings so we simply cut chunks off and ate it with bread. It tastes nowhere near as strong as it smells as one lucky hiker found out on our trip. Recently returning from the shower in the refuge he complained that there must be a hiker near by with terrible smelling boots. Once we revealed that it was probably the cheese he could smell he retracted in horror only to be pleasantly surprised when we forced him to try it!

 So it's not the best picture of Tête du Moine but we had just walked 12 miles in the rain!

So it's not the best picture of Tête du Moine but we had just walked 12 miles in the rain!

As the name suggests the cheese was first made by monks in what is believed to have been the 8th century. No matter where you go in Europe, monks are always brilliant at making cheese. Or at least they used to be. Regular invasions by all sorts of invaders meant that monks needed to stay on their toes and hold onto their robes. Perhaps cheese was used to save their skins. Their vast knowledge of self sufficiency, resilience, dislike for waste and simple lifestyle has proven an excellent combination for the progression of cheese through the ages.

Tête du Moine is a raw cow milk cheese made only in the Jura mountain area of Switzerland and it's said to be great with white wine although I wouldn't know because I don't like white wine! It's shiny silver foil package can be found in many cheese shops nationally and internationally with it's AOP designated status clearly visible on the label. Whether you are eating it under the name of Tête du Moine or Monk's Head, one thing is for sure, it tastes pretty good!

Matos Cheese Factory - Satisfyingly simple!

Artisan cheese in California is rife. Come to think of it anything and everything that can be considered artisan, local, home-grown, solar-powered, alternately-lived, organic, sustainable or farm-table-y can be found in California. It's a little overwhelming and can almost make the above words redundant. As a result they lose their significance and it can be difficult to tell what is a trend and what is authentic. With that in mind, sometimes it is refreshing to visit somewhere that keeps things plain and simple. A place where there is no merchandise for sale. A place that doesn't have signage telling you absolutely everything you need to know. A place that doesn't have a Twitter account or an Instagram or even a website. A place that has been making the same cheese for years and yet still only accepts cash or checks. Lots of these locations can be found in other countries but this is the consumer capital of the world so these places are few and far between.

One such spot is the Matos Cheese Factory in Marin county, California. The only cheese made at the farm is St. Jorge which is themed on the fromage that comes from the Portuguese Azores. The family, originally from Portugal, have been making cheese on and off since Jack was a lad. All the cheese is made from raw milk and it is available in two stages of aging.

How your experience may go?

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You enter the farm by driving down a long dirt road that passes a variety of cow breeds all chewing on the cud and staring at you. The road ends in a tiny space just enough for three cars. The farm seems deserted and just when you start to ask the inquisitive cows for directions you see a tiny sign saying 'cheese' in a window of a room so small that it looks like it may be home to a family of mice. Almost feeling like you must be in the wrong place you'll turn the handle on the wooden door and enter a miniature space that has nothing in it except a small desk and another door that houses all the aging cheeses. As previously mentioned the company only make one cheese but it is offered at two levels of aging. You should ask the very friendly girl behind the counter to try them both and to see the wheels at their various stages of maturation in the back room. Finally, buying a piece is a good idea - you can get a fairly big wedge for $5 and feed your face with it as part of a picnic.

 St. Jorge on Advocado

St. Jorge on Advocado

In all honesty, having tried it before I'm not a big fan of the younger version of the cheese but the aged version is spicy, floral and fruity. Not only is it a great tasting cheese but it would be real good grated on top of a pasta dish to add a punch of flavor. Matos factory is open 9-5 daily and amazingly it's part of the official California cheese trail. Unlike Cowgirl Creamery or Marin, don't expect any frills here, just simple cheese tasting with a friendly atmosphere.

Loleta - Cheesemaking Without the Fuss

We left the giant trees of the Redwood forests in Northern California to make our way to Willits to see a friend who was working at a place called The Grange Farm for Adaptive Agriculture. Intrigued towards what we were going to find on an adaptive agriculture farm we decided to brainstorm what it might be like. In order to brainstorm we needed fuel to think. Therefore, cheese.

We decided to stop at a dot on the map named 'Loleta' which apparently held a small cheese factory within the limits of the town. We peered out of the windows of the car at rural Humboldt county, green and lush pastures aren't necessarily what one thinks of when conjuring up an image of California but this was certainly the case amongst these parts. The vibrancy of the fields reminded me of my home country, England, with its rolling hills and farm buildings.

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The shop was on a side street opposite a derelict building with smashed windows, it hardly seemed like a good location from the outside. However, when we went in we could clearly see that it was a popular location. First opened in 1982 I think the factory must look the same today as it did 35 years ago. The shop had a simple cheese case that was filled with what I like to refer to as 'solid no frill cheese!' There was a large selection of Jack, Cheddar and Havarti that was infused with different flavors and each cheese had a respective sample to try.

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Filling our faces with cheese I looked up to the picture on the wall and saw an image of Guy Fieri from Diners, Drive-in's and Dives when he visited the establishment a few years ago. He was stood with Bob Laffranchi, the owner of Loleta Cheese. Guy Fieri was quoted as saying 'it was the real deal'. On a side note I think Fieri's spiked hair would make an excellent spot to place cheese and pickled onions for a party!

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Being on a strict budget we decided to by the end piece of a Monterey Jack for our 'make it yourself and eat it out of the trunk on the side of the road' picnic. The end pieces were ridiculously cheaply priced at $2, it would have been rude not to buy one. As we set off on our merry way we saw the cows that made our cheese possible. We thanked them udderly...