On a beautiful sunny day recently in West Marin, Marcia Barinaga of Barinaga Ranch welcomed a group of cheesemongers from the Bay Area for a tour and celebration of the release of her first cheeses of 2013. “It’s not a life that makes you rich, but it’s a good life,” Marcia told us, recalling advice shared by her Basque cousin as she was learning her new craft.
After purchasing a ranch in overlooking Tomales Bay, Marcia and her husband searched for a way to contribute to the agricultural community that become their new home. With her Basque heritage and a love of sheep, cheesemaking seemed a perfect fit. Marcia studied cheesemaking in Vermont and in the Pyrenees where a rich history of Basque cheesemaking continues, before starting to experiment with milk from her own herd.
A talented and driven woman, Marcia has a PhD in microbiology and approaches cheesemaking from a seriously scientific standpoint! Her commitment to quality and attention to detail are remarkable–traits that make her an excellent cheesemaker. At Barinaga Ranch, the sheep graze on pasture all year long. Marcia has been crossbreeding their East Friesian sheep, which are known for their prolific milk production, with the hardy Katahdin, descendants of North African sheep. Last year, Marcia really focused on improving the genetics of her herd for higher milk production and quality, and is milking 88 ewes this year. She milks and makes cheese seasonally, often selling out of the previous year’s cheese before new cheeses from the current season are available.
Our favorite cheese from Marcia is called Baserri, named for the ancient tile-roofed cheesemaking huts in the Pyrenees where Basque herders continue to make cheese in traditional ways. Baserri is an exquisite raw milk cheese with a rich, nutty flavor. This year, the first wheels of the season will be released a bit older – at 90 days, rather than at 60 days as they have been in the past. They’re on the counter at both 18th Street and Divisadero Markets and are refreshing and lively! Swing by for a taste.