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Archive for the ‘Cheese’ Category


Jon Fancey

Cheese Trek Travelogue: Queseria El Gazul, Acala de los Gazules, Spain!

CheeseTrek9The ninth stop on the Bi-Rite Cheese Trek takes us to a small town in the province of Cadiz, Spain – only an hour drive from the very Southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula. A region known for its many culinary traditions – cured hams, olive oil, cold soups and incredible sherry! Fresh and brined cheeses are the everyday fare in most regions this far south where cheese is not traditionally matured due to the warmer climates.  However, there are a few exceptions, of which Payoyo Curado is one.

CheeseTrek91Payoyo Curado is a small wheel of cheese crafted by master cheesemaker Jorge Puerto at Quesería El Gazul. He uses organic milk from the celebrated and rare Payoya goat.  Payoya are indigenous to this region and thrive in the rocky and shrubby landscape.  At one point they were almost extinct but have since been tended to, bred, and documented much like the famous Iberico pig.

Whilst visiting a Manchego producer in Spain, I had the opportunity to check out a wonderful new cheese shop in Madrid. Always on the hunt for cheeses that I’ve never tasted, this shop was a treat, with selections mainly from the northern regions of Spain.  I was offered a taste of Payoyo, the ‘rarest’ cheese in their selection from the far South.  The texture was dense and the flavors were gentle, yet assertive, like no other goat cheese I had tasted before.  It has taken a few months to arrange for us to offer Payoyo as part of our Cheese Trek, but we’re so excited to finally have these very unique wheels!

Enjoy it with a simple meal of our 25-09-2009. ALCALç DE LOS GAZULES. CçDIZ. QUSOS EL GAZUL./ ROMçN RêOS.house made gazpacho and crusty bread. It also pairs beautifully with slices of Jamon Iberico and a drizzle of fine olive oil.  It’s one of the few aged goat cheeses that I would pair with red wine; an easy drinking Rioja would be best.  A glass of sherry would also be lovely if enjoying Payoyo after a meal.

The next stop on the Bi-Rite Cheese Trek takes us to a chalet on the border of Germany and Austria for a one of a kind alpine treat. As a reminder, this will be the tenth cheese on our Trek and the first opportunity to claim the Cheese Trek tote bag with a fully punched passport.  If you don’t have your passport, ask a Bi-Rite monger for one and join our journey as we #cheeseyourownadventure.


Jon Fancey

Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese!

We’re celebrating two of our favorite local cheeses for August and September – Fresh Mozzarella and Toma from Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese! Most Bay Area folks are familiar with their award winning blue cheeses – but Point Reyes also crafts great cow’s milk cheeses that are perfect to enjoy every day.

The Giacomini Family has been operating a dairy farm just outside of Point Reyes Station for generations now and their 500 Holstein cows graze on the rolling green hills that overlook Tomales Bay.  Delicious, high quality milk from these cows is the not-so-secret ingredient of Point Reyes Farmstead cheeses – whether it’s a ball of milky fresh mozzarella or a wedge of buttery Toma. 

We’ve got plenty of suggestions of how to enjoy and pair these two cheeses for any occasion! Be sure to stop by the Markets and ask a Monger for a taste!

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Jon Fancey

Cheese Trek Travelogue: Twig Farm Tomme, West Cornwall, Vermont

TwigFarmTomme The eighth stop on the Bi-Rite Cheese Trek takes us to a small 40 acre farm just south of Middlebury, Vermont. Michael Lee and Emily Sunderman started Twig Farm in 2005 where they now milk 50 goats & make a handful of seasonal cheeses.  Michael was no stranger to cheese; he managed Formaggio Kitchen in Boston, one of the finest cheese shops in the country.  He honed his cheese making skills by apprenticing and experimenting and now, over a decade later, he crafts some of the most celebrated farmstead goat’s milk cheeses in the United States.

Twig Farm’s herd of alpine goats live outside on the pasture, grazing & browsing about the farm. They are fed organic hay when there’s nothing to eat TwigFarmTomme1outside.  Their milk is used to make Twig Farm Tomme– the farm’s signature cheese.  A small cylinder aged for 80 days with a beautiful natural rind, the rustic cheese has pleasant flavors of herbs & grass below the earthy notes from the rind.

Most Twig Farm cheeses are sold at nearby Famer’s Markets or reserved for cheese shops in Boston & New York. We’re really pleased to offer this seasonal stunner and encourage you to enjoy the cheese with hard cider, heirloom apples, or a pear preserve.

The next stop on our Cheese Trek takes us to the southern tip of Spain for another farmstead cheese from one of the rarest breeds of goats – available in the Markets on September 7th! Be sure to ask our mongers how you can join the Trek and #cheeseyourownadventure!


Jon Fancey

Cheese Trek Travelogue: Comté Reservation from Saint Antoine, France

Comte1The seventh stop on the Bi-Rite Cheese Trek takes us to Marcel Petite’s famed cellars of the Fort Saint Antoine, the one and only ‘Cathedral of Comté’.  Comté is one of France’s most ubiquitous cheeses: it’s eaten at breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  It’s produced by cooperative dairies in the Jura, a mountainous region on the border of France and Switzerland.  Strict guidelines are followed during the production of Comté – regulations that are rooted in heritage and tradition.  Only milk from two breeds of cows are used to produce Comté, Montbéliarde, and French Simmental.  The milk from these beautiful cows is the basis for great cheese, along with the traditional production methods, and the careful maturation.

I had the opportunity to spend a few days in the Jura a couple of months ago and truly experience Comté – the most memorable moments spent tasting and selecting cheese at the most famed aging facility.  The Fort Saint Antoine is a defunct military fortress in the forest of Haut Dobbs.  The altitude of 3,600 feet, the stone walls, and the earth sheltering provide an ideal environment to mature 80 pound wheels of cheese.  Over 100,000 wheels of Comté are aged at the Fort, and each is Comtetasted and graded by the experts at Marcel Petite.  It was quite an experience to walk through the cavernous Fort surrounded by cheese with a Master Selector and a daunting task to select one wheel for our Cheese Trek.

I was looking for a mature wheel, one that was at least 20 months old.  I prefer Comté with deep flavors (think roasted onions, toasted nuts, brown butter, fried bacon).  After tasting several wheels, I settled on one that was deep inside the Fort that is one of the most pleasurable wheels of Comté I’ve tasted.  I’m even more pleased to be able to share this hand selected wheel of cheese with you. It’s a once in a lifetime experience!

I encourage you to savor this cheese on it’s own, and have our wine team suggest a special bottle of wine from the Jura to pair with it.

The next stop on our Bi-Rite Cheese Trek is a very special farm in Western Vermont for a goat tomme that only makes a brief seasonal appearance – it will be available in the Markets on August 19th! Be sure to ask our mongers how you can join the Trek and #cheeseyourownadventure!


Jon Fancey

Cheese Trek Travelogue: Morrow from Mount Gildead, Ohio

MorrowThe sixth stop on the Bi-Rite Cheese Trek take us to my home state of Ohio.  Many things come to mind when the Buckeye State is mentioned, and fine sheep’s milk cheeses are not on the list.  My mom was the first person to mention Kokoborrego Cheese to me – she noticed their stand at her local farmer’s market and asked me if I had ever heard of them.  I had not. Most cheese made in Ohio comes from large cheese plants or very small artisan producers, and none of it really makes its way here to California.

Kokoborrego Cheese is one part of Sippel Family Farm, a 77 acre organic farm in North Central Ohio.  Ben and Lisa Sippel grow organic vegetables and apples, and raise sheep on pasture.  Ben and Lisa purchased the farm in 2004 when they were only 23 years old, and they’ve been making cheese for a handful of years with the assistance of cheese maker Ben Baldwin.

Morrow2Ben mainly focuses on crafting rustic tomme-style cheeses with raw sheep’s milk – sturdy cheeses that can be matured and sold throughout the year.  Morrow is the youngest cheese he makes: a small cube of dense sheep’s milk cheese that’s been dusted with ash.  It develops a light, bloomy rind after a week; the flavors are fruity and sweet with notes of green garlic and grass.  Morrow is Kokoborrego’s most sought after seasonal cheese – they only make it for a couple of months during the summer.  Enjoy it with a glass of sparkling wine on a warm summer day.

Up next on our Cheese Trek is a visit to the ‘Catherdral of Comté’ to select a very special wheel of cheese that will be available in the Markets the first week of August!


Jon Fancey

Cheese Trek Travelogue: Schapenboerderij De Zeekraal from Terschelling, Holland

The fifth stop on the Bi-Rite Cheese Trek takes us Terschelling, one of the Frisian Islands off the northern coast of Holland.  I recently had the opportunity to spend a few days in Holland visiting farms and enjoying great cheese.  My hosts were Betty and Martin Koster, the owners of Amersterdam’s Fromagerie L’Amuse.  The Kosters select and mature Dutch cheeses which they either sell in their shops or export.  Their L’Amuse Signature Gouda is a mainstay at Bi-Rite, but their selection and passion goes beyond aged cow’s milk Gouda.  Betty was excited to take me to Terschelling to visit one of Holland’s most inspiring farmhouse sheep’s milk cheesemakers.

Terschelling1Our day started with a drive from Amsterdam to the port town of Harlingen, where we boarded a boat for a windy and rainy crossing of the Wadden Sea.  When we finally arrived at Terschelling, we were greeted by Jolanda and Gerben Bakker of Schapenboerderij De Zeekraal.  Gerben grew up on the island and now spends his days milking sheep and maintaining an organic farm; his wife, Jolanda, makes cheese and ice cream with the milk and runs a charming farm shop on their property.  We made it to the Baaker’s farm just in time to see their 200 Frisian sheep being milked for the evening and we also spent quite a bit of time with the new born lambs out in the pasture.  We enjoyed the couple’s cheeses for dinner and were treated to an off-road excursion to the eastern tip of the thin island to watch the sunset (at 10pm!).  After spending the night in yurts on the farm, we woke to the sounds of the animals and cups of coffee with fresh sheep’s milk.

TerschellingJolanda is one of only three cheesemakers on the island – and the only one using organic milk.  Her signature cheese is a small wheel of sheep’s milk gouda named for the island.  I first tried this cheese a few years ago and was intrigued by its rich flavors of nuts and caramel that accompanied its smooth & dense texture – the wheel I tasted from had been selected by the Kosters and matured to export to the United States.  I appreciate the cheese even more after visting the Baakers and tasting younger wheels of their cheese on their farm – Terschelling is a unique cheese that reflects the commitment this couple has to their animals and land.  I recommended enjoying the cheese on its own encounter all the complex flavors.  Betty Koster is also passionate about tea and encouraged me to enjoy her selections with Jasmine Tea – the pairing was unexpectedly wonderful.

The next destination on our Bi-Rite Cheese Trek is my home state of Ohio for a taste of an extra-special seasonal sheep’s milk delight!


Jon Fancey

Cheese Travelogue: Condor’s Ruin from Chattahoochee Hills, Georgia

CondorsRuin1The fourth stop on the Bi-Rite Cheese Trek takes us to a newer farm in Chattahoochee Hills Country – a swath of undeveloped Georgia countryside that’s a short drive from Atlanta.  This area is the last rural area near Atlanta to prevent suburban sprawl with the hopes of preserving the natural beauty and agricultural traditions of the region.

Ross and Rebecca Williams started Many Fold Farm in 2009 with an ambitious mission to craft meat and cheese products on a piece of land that adhered to natural systems, while also educating the public about sustainable farming in the South.  200 sheep and 800 chickens live on Many Fold Farm – ewes are milked to produce cheese, lambs are slaughtered for meat, and the hen’s eggs are sold at the nearby farmers’ markets.

I first tried Many Folds Farm cheeses while at a conference three summers ago and they definitely stood out from other cheeses I tried that week.  There aren’t many cheeses made in the South, let alone French-inspired small format sheep’s milk cheeses.  Ross and Rebecca also stood out as a couple – they were young, energetic, and engaging.

CondorsRuinFarmersIt has taken a couple of years for Many Folds to increase their production and meet demand for their unique cheeses; they are just now beginning to appear on the West CoastCondor’s Ruin is my favorite from Many Fold – a delicate sheep’s milk cheese inspired by the French classic Valençay.  The ash coated pyramid develops a beautiful white rind along with well-balanced lactic flavors with notes of grass & garlic.  This impressive effort speaks to the quality of the sheep’s milk and the care given during the cheese making process.  The velvety and dense paste of Condor’s Ruin is best enjoyed with a dry white wine or a complex sparkling wine.

The next stop on our Cheese Trek takes us to an island off the coast Friesland for one of Holland’s rarest farmhouse cheeses that will be available in the Markets on July 7th. Ask our mongers how you can join the Cheese Trek and #cheeseyourownadventure!


Jon Fancey

Cheese Trek Travelogue: Alp Blossom from Doren, Austria

The third stop on our cheese journey takes us to the small village of Doren in Austria’s Bregenz Forest.  Doren lies in the Alpine region where the corners of Austria, Germany, and Switzerland meet – a region known for aged cow’s milk cheeses.

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Cheesemaking students at Sennerei Huban

Sennerei Huban was founded in 1901 as Austria’s first cheese vocational school and sources milk from a cooperative of 34 dairy farms.  The cooperative members have 15 cows on average, mainly Brown Swiss, that are on pasture all summer and are fed alpine hay when there’s snow on the ground.  The dairy mainly makes cheeses that are consumed in the region – their production is focused on Emmentaler and Bergkäse.  Alp Blossom is the dairy’s most special cheese, an aged wheel of cow’s milk cheese coated in herbs and flowers from the region.  This style of cheese is seasonally available in Bavaria and the Bregenz but is rarely exported.

AlpBlossom

Maker: Sennerei Huban – Doren, Austria

I discovered this beautiful cheese while attending Slow Food’s Biennial Cheese Festival in Bra, Italy.  It was a warm day in the middle of last September and I bumped into Norbert Sieghart, the exporter of Alp Blossom.  Norbert selects the best cheeses from the Bavarian and Austrian Alps and operates some of the best cheese stalls in Berlin’s Market Halls.  Norbert promised me cold beer and tastes of several of his newest cheese finds.  Alp Blossom stood out more than any offering at his booth – the blanket of purple and yellow flowers really grabbed my attention.  The paste of the cheese was silky smooth and the flavors were long and rich.  The coating of flowers and herbs not only made the cheese visually stunning, they imparted an herbaceous essence to the paste.

It’s been over 8 months since I first tasted this cheese and am excited I was able to secure a few wheels for our Cheese Trek adventure.  I’d recommend enjoying Alp Blossom with any Bavarian beer – I first tasted the cheese while drinking a Pilsner.  A bottle of Riesling would be great, too, as Rieslings always pair well with aged cow’s milk cheeses from the Alps.

The next stop on our Cheese Trek is the Chattahoochee Hill Country of Georgia for one of the most coveted sheep’s milk cheeses being crafted in America.  Look for this next exciting cheese on the Market’s shelves on June 23rd. Visit the Markets and talk to a cheese monger to see how you can join the Cheese Trek and #cheeseyourownadventure today!


Jon Fancey

Cheese Trek Travelogue: Bleu Mont Cheddar from Blue Mounds, Wisconsin

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Willi Lehner, Cheesemaker

 The second stop on the Bi-Rite Cheese Trek is a man-made earth sheltered cellar in Blue Mounds, Wisconsin.  This ‘cave’ was constructed by Willi Lehner, one of America’s most interesting and inspiring cheesemakers.  I had the chance to visit Willi a few years ago when I was on a cheese-fueled trip across Southern Wisconsin.  His operation is very inspiring: solar panels and windmills provide power, a large greenhouse grows fruits and vegetables, and the cave perfectly ages his cheeses.

Cheesemaking came naturally to Lehner. Willi’s father was a Swiss immigrant who came to Wisconsin to make cheese, and Willi spent summers herding cows and making cheese in the Swiss Alps.  Despite his strong Swiss roots, an aged bandaged cheddar put Willi on the map.  Bleu Mont Cheddar is Willi’s signature cheese: a small cloth-bound wheel that is aged to perfection in his cave.  Willi sources milk from four small dairies and only makes the cheese when the cows are out on pasture.  This excellent milk makes a good cheddar, but the time spent in the climate controlled cellar transforms the wheels into one of the most satisfying cheeses made in America.  Bleu Mont is a sharp and fruity cheddar with notes of toasted nuts and brown butter; the earthy finish makes it stand out against other domestic bandaged cheddars.

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Entrance to the cheese cave

I was able to taste several ages of Bleu Mont on my visit – from a younger 8-month aged wheel to an extra-aged wheel that was over two years old.  I enjoyed the cheese that had been aged for just over a year, and the wheels of Bleu Mont available for our Cheese Trek are just over a year old as well.  It’s the perfect cheese to enjoy with a unique beer, and great for a picnic or day hike, too.

cheesetrek_Logo1-01The next stop on our Cheese Trek is a small village in Austria’s Bregenz Forest for an exciting wheel of cheese that’s rarely available outside the Alps. As always, be sure to look for the Cheese Trek sticker on cheeses in both Markets, get your passport stamped by a monger or when you check out, and show us how you #cheeseyourownadventure on Twitter and Instagram!


Jon Fancey

Introducing the Bi-Rite Cheese Trek!

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Welcome to the Bi-Rite Cheese Trek, a new way to taste cheese and explore the world. I’m your guide, Jon Fancey, the Bi-Rite Family of Businesses Cheese Buyer. I’m responsible for curating the cheese selection at our Markets; to do so, I spend some time every year traveling to discover new cheeses. I visit farms, meet cheese makers and exporters, attend cheese festivals, and explore the world’s finest cheese shops to find new offerings. By joining the Bi-Rite Cheese Trek, you’ll be able to join me on my travels and taste some of the best cheeses I’ve found. You can also engage with me and fellow Cheese Trekkers by exploring #cheeseyourownadventure on Instagram and Twitter, and following @biritesf. Stop by the Markets and talk to one of our mongers to join the Trek!

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Maker: Poitou-Chevre // La Mothe-Saint-Héray, France

The first stop on our cheese journey takes us to a small town in the Poitou-Charentes, a region in western France known for medieval towns and cognac. This region is south of Nantes and north of Bordeaux, with miles of Atlantic coastline. Agriculture is important to Poitou-Charentes – oyster farms, vineyards, and dairies are prevalent in the region. The first cheese on the Bi-Rite Cheese Trek is crafted by Poitou’s finest goat cheese maker.

Bonde d’Antan is a small round of goat cheese whose origins lie in the Middle Ages. When the Moors invaded the region in the 8th Century they brought livestock and food preservation techniques,

The goats of

The goats of Poitou

including goats and cheese making methods. Goats thrive on the green pastures of Poitou and small format goat cheeses are now a regional tradition. Poitou-Chevre was founded as a cooperative dairy in 1897 by goat farmers around the town of La Mothe-Saint-Héray. The cooperative produced classic, small-format goat cheeses for over 100 years before being turned over to the Rongeon Family. The Rongeons have been making cheese in Poitou for generations and are committed to sustaining the heritage of the cooperative by using the village’s goat milk to produce classic cheeses. The cheeses of Poitou-Chevre are the best cooperatively produced small format goat cheeses I’ve tasted on my travels.

The original sign

The original sign

‘Bonde’ translates to ‘stopper’ – the little cylinder of cheese is reminiscent of a wine barrel’s stopper. The cheese’s paste is dense and fudgey, and the flavors are slightly herbal, yet clean and lactic. I would enjoy Bonde d’Antan with a bottle of Rosé or crisp white wine from the Loire Valley – a neighboring region of Poitou-Charentes. This style of goat cheese also pairs very nicely with farmhouse ales from Belgium and Western France – we have several great examples available in the Markets.

The next stop on our journey will be a small village in Austria’s Bregenz Forest – the featured cheese from this village will debut in the Markets on May 19th, stay tuned and be sure to #cheeseyourownadventure!