California

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.

Lagunitas - Big but still humble?

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There's no denying it, Lagunitas is huge now. It has just sold half of it's company to Heineken to try and branch into the global market which means it can no longer be described as a craft brewery. Internationally speaking, Lagunitas is still a fledgling but on the national stage it is one of the most well known beer brands in the country. The brewery is massive and trucks line up ready for distribution near and far.

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Whilst Lagunitas is said to have effectively 'sold out' it still very much feels like a craft brewer. The quality and variation of their beer is excellent and the prices at the brewery are totally reasonable considering its popularity ($5 seasonal's!). It entertains a large brewpub with swathes of outdoor/indoor seating and regular live music from well known artists (Deer Tick, Blind Pilot) to help wash down the large variety of beverages on offer. Familiarity with most of their regular line lent me towards two of their seasonal ventures (Stoopid Wit, Fusion 39), a stout and 'Aunt Sally' which I had never tried. Without delving too much into the individual beers, Fusion 39 is an interesting tipple that's certainly worth a try but for me the Stoopid Wit is spot on. Lagunitas, with their catchphrases and made up words describe this drink as a 'Belgian-ish Wit-ly-esque-ish-ness brew.' Whatever you want to call it, its a summertime drink and it's bloody good.

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Sitting there in the summer sun under the shade of an umbrella, listening to good quality live music and watching people mingle on the 'mingle tables' it's clear to see why the brewery scene has exploded. From a brewery as large as this all the way to the smallest nanobrewery the object is for punters to enjoy the experience. And people were certainly enjoying themselves here. Providing Lagunitas keeps making great tasting beer then I don't see its expansion as such a bad thing - somebody has to be at the top of the pyramid!

Stoopid Wit-o-meter 9/10

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...