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Estela Salazar, left, and her daughter Emilia Salazar, right, prepare sections of stretched Oaxaca Mexican cheese to be rolled up into balls to set and cool overnight at their family business Queso Salazar in Brentwood, Calif., on Friday Jan. 18, 2013. (Dan Rosenstrauch/Staff)
Artisan cheese is deeply rooted in our Northern California culture, like Pride parades and Dungeness crab.
Most of us are familiar with the pleasures of a triple-cream Cowgirl Creamery Red Hawk or aromatic, soft-ripened goat's milk Andante. But there are dozens of other, lesser-known artisan cheesemakers hand-crafting delectable batches of cheese.
The following artisan cheeses are made from Brentwood to Sebastopol and range in price from $5 to $40 a pound: Queso Fresco, Queso Salazar. You're familiar with this fresh, Mexican cheese. But you've probably never had it like this: Made by hand in small batches by three generations of the Salazar family in Brentwood using whole milk from a small, pasture-based family farm in Escalon. The cheese is white, soft, moist and works well on everything. Find it at Country Cheese, Berkeley.
Sonoma Toma, Bleating Heart: This aged, semisoft cheese is owner and cheesemaker Seana Doughty's homage to French cheeses that develop their rinds naturally, depending on the molds lurking in the region. As a result, Sonoma Toma's rind is less than uniform, funky with dots of brownish mold. But the taste is unforgettable: salty and oh-so creamy. Find it at Solano Cellars, Albany. Txiki, Barinaga Ranch. Marcia Barinaga's raw, aged sheep's milk cheese is modeled after the Pyrenees style on the Spanish side of the Basque country, where her shepherding family resides. Txiki, which means "little" in Basque, is a raw milk cheese with a light orange rind, basket mold pattern, and grassy, buttery flavor. Find it at Bi-Rite Market, San Francisco. East of Edam, Schoch Dairy. This cheese is inspired by the Gabilan Mountains in the Salinas Valley that serve as the backdrop to so many of Bay Area native John Steinbeck's works, including "East of Eden." Head cheesemaker Beau Schoch and his brothers produce this semihard, nutty, Dutch-style as well as many others, including Gouda, feta and Swiss. Find it at Carmel Cheese Shop.
Marcia Barinaga holds wheels of her trademark Baserri and Txiki sheep cheeses in her Barinaga Ranch Farmstead, Jan. 15, 2013 near Marshall, Calif. (Karl Mondon/Staff)
Caproncino, Bohemian Creamery. Lisa Gottreich's aged goat's milk cheese is ivory in color with a semi-firm texture and a creamy, slightly lemony tang. The Sebastopol cheesemaker says the cheese was inspired by Italy's Asiago, and her 15 years of experience as a home cheesemaker. Find it at The Cheese Board, Berkeley.
Beau Schoch, left, and his brother, Seth, with cheese wheels at their family's dairy farm in Salinas Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013. (Patrick Tehan/Staff)