Creamery

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.

Chizu - Cheese in Japanese

Chizu is a pocket sized establishment in central Portland, OR. We had read about it before arriving in the city and we were eager to visit. Essentially it is a bar/eatery that serves cheese, wine and beer all encompassed by a Japanese theme. It's Japanese in the sense that everything in the place is minimalist and it is covered with miniature origami birds. Additionally, Portland receives a lot of visitors from Japan who often pick it as a second city to visit after checking out San Fransisco. The brainchild behind Chizu is the man who also owns The Cheese Bar; a cheese shop in west Portland that has over 200 cheeses. I guess he saw a good business opportunity based on the clientele and therefore Chizu was born.

Having now been to Chizu I can confidently declare that it indeed is pretty fun. It's the sort of idea that would work in Portland because the city is so hip it hurts. Hipsters like ideas, specialty food, local product and beer and Chizu has the lot. If Chizu was opened in downbeat country town it would fail worse than a failure who has failed to notice that he had in fact failed. You take a seat at the tiny bar in front of a wide selection of cheeses behind a glass case and pick up a menu that lists all of them on it. It's not restaurant, it's not take out its simply gourmet with a casual feel. You can either choose your own cheese plate and accompanying beverage or you can ask one of the very friendly and knowledgable staff to assist you in making a taste sensation.

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Our cheesemonger (who turned out to be a relative of Benjamin Franklin!) was excellent. I picked the cheese and she provided the customer experience whilst preparing our cheese board with a selection of dried fruit, salted nuts and crostini. Attention to detail goes into the layout of the boards and just enough cheese is given so that you get a few good bites but not so much that it's overwhelming. Considering the potentially high brow connotations that one may have with the eatery the prices were very reasonable - we had four cheeses washed down with two ciders and we paid $25. The fruit and nuts were part of the deal. I think that's a steal.

If we ever go back to Portland, we'll definitely go back to Chizu.

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...

Rogue River Dairy

Once you reach Southern Oregon everything seems to be named Rogue. The Rogue River Farm Stand and Dairy can be found not far from the meandering Rogue River after a long winding drive through Rogue State Forest. There is something about the word rogue that is pretty cool. A rogue to me is a mischievous swindler, a lovable bad guy - the Honorable Sheriff of Nottingham, Captain Jack, The Black Mustache....

So anyway, we were bumbling through backcountry Oregon feeling like rogues in search of Rogue River cheese. Our initial intentions were to go to the shop and cheese making facility in Central Point but because we got there so early the place was closed. Therefore we decided to continue on to the Dairy and Farm Stand in Grants Pass and I'm glad we did! When we arrived there were no cars in the parking lot and all we could see were cows - I guess Sunday is a quiet day for eating cheese. There was a milking parlor to the left, calves to the right and a pretty lawn with three picnic tables donning respective Rogue Creamery umbrellas to provide some shade from the hot sun. We hadn't even entered the shop and I already wanted to have my lunch there.

After viewing the outdoor premises we decided to venture inside. We were greeted by a lady stood behind a humble counter offering selections of Rogue cheeses. She was real friendly and directed us towards the cheese curd samples for the day; the lavender cheese curds were particularly good! The lady was one of only six (seven?) staff that work at this organically aimed establishment including all the herds people and merchandisers which surprised me considering the popularity of their product. I knew that the company had just started moving towards robotic milking and the lady (can't believe I didn't get her name) told me that despite the robotics costing an extremely large amount that they have greatly improved production. I was amazed to discover that each cow has a chip in its ear which automatically knows when the cow needs milking. Providing I have the information correct, the cow walks up to the milking barrier and if the chip sends a message that the cow has a full udder then it opens and allows the cow in to be milked! The milk is then transferred to Central Point to be made into cheese.

We tried the Caveman Blue and the Oregonzola (both wonderful) and then we discovered that they make grilled cheese sandwiches or as I prefer to call them - 'cheese toasties!' There were two to choose from so we decided to get one of each! The first was a 'Sebbie' that consisted of a delicious melting cheese made with a local chocolate stout and the second was a 'Classic' which was made with Caveman Blue and honey. We took 'em outside and ate them under the shade of the umbrellas on the lawn. The whole time we were eating, a cow was staring at us as if to say 'you've got me to thank for that sandwich' and I would totally agree (with a little help from Rogue River Creamery of course!)

Rogue River is a relatively new company and they are expanding fast. They export nationally and internationally. It's really not surprising why. If you forgive the pun, their cheeses, like their cows, are outstanding in their field and I have a special regard for their line of blues. Every blue cheese I have had from Rogue has been incredible - my favourite still being the smokey blue which is the best smoked cheese in the west!

Thank you Rogue River Creamery.

Thank you cows.

Good Thunder - Thunderously Good!

If you have ever been in a tent during a storm in the middle of nowhere , then you will have undoubtedly heard wild cracks of thunder that cause you to believe that the gods are wielding hammers and deciding the fate of the universe. Although at first it can be terrifying, once you sit back and relax you find it to be heart-poundingly exciting. This comparison is not unlike lots of people's approaches to washed rind cheeses. On first impression, most people recoil in horror at an orange (sometimes sticky, sometimes wrinkly) rinded cheese only to be pleasantly surprised and even heart-poundingly excited when they cut one open and try a piece. 

Good Thunder is a great name for a cheese. It's a good cheese and it hits you like thunder. Good Thunder is the name of a town with approximately 600 people near the town of Blue Earth, Minnesota. It's a little washed rind square which is soaked in Surly Bender beer a few times during it's production. It may look like an insignificant little square on the surface but underneath the surface lies a bright, chalky, dense cheese that tastes amazing! 

Cheese-o-meter rating: 9/10

 

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