California's Marin French Cheese Co. Acquired by French Company

The Cheese FactoryMarin French Cheese Co. of Petaluma, California, the oldest cheese company in the United States, has been acquired by French cheese conglomerate Rians. Rians (click on the link to hear their cheery theme song) is the same company that purchased Laura Chenel's Sonoma County, California operation in 2006. Marin French has been operating for over 100 years in the San Francisco Bay area making mostly French style bloomy rinded cheeses. Starting in 1865 as Thompson Brothers Cheese Co., the company made its name selling a 'breakfast cheese' (which it still sells) in San Francisco. The company later reorganized into Marin French Cheese Co. Previous owner Jim Boyce, who purchased the company from the founding family in 1998, had apparently been searching for a buyer for several years. His untimely death from liver cancer late last year contributed to his family's search for a new owner that could preserve the company and its commitment to Marin County's land and dairy farmers.

This marks the second California cheese company to be acquired by a larger European company in less than a year - Cypress Grove Chevre of Humboldt, California was acquired by Emmi, a Swiss Company, in August of 2010. I think this is indicative of a number of things including the strength of the cheesemakers and cheese industry in California; I am also curious whether or not this is a trend that will continue. Which cheesemaker do you think will be next?

2011 United States Cheese Championships - Northwest Winners

And results are in for the 2011 United States Cheese Championships...held every other year (opposite the World Cheese Championships) in Wisconsin, this is a big deal to those in the cheese world because it's a chance to be judged by experts against your peers. In addition to the Northwest entrants, many familiar names took awards including Cypress Grove Chevre and Jasper Hill Farm, which won in the category of Smear Ripened Soft Cheeses (that's 'washed rind' to you and me) for its fantastic Winnimere. Congratulations to all of the winners!

To see the complete results, click here (then click through each category).

Monterey Jack

    Best of Class & 2nd Place - Tillamook (Boardman Plant)

Marbled Curd (Colby Jack)

    Best of Class & 2nd Place - Tillamook  (Boardman Plant)

Blue Veined/ Exterior Molding

    2nd Place - Rogue Creamery Flora Nelle

Pepper Flavored American Style Cheese (Cheddar, Colby, Jack)

    3rd Place - Tillamook  (Boardman Plant)

Hard Goat's Milk Cheeses

    3rd Place - Rivers Edge Chévre Astraea

Soft & Semi-Soft Mixed Milk Cheeses

    2nd Place - Rogue Creamery Echo Mountain Blue

 

*** Bonus: See the 2009 Northwest results here.

Northwest Cheese Top Stories of 2010

Recalls, Seizures Without a doubt, the biggest NW cheese story of 2010 - in fact, the biggest cheese story of the year, period - was the series of events that started in February with Estrella Family Creamery's first recall of cheese. The Estrellas continued to make headlines throughout the year, culminating in the FDA seizure in October and its ongoing aftermath. Later in December, we witnessed the e coli outbreak that was eventually traced to cheese made by Sally Jackson. But the overall food safety story is much bigger than these two producers (others were also caught up in the recall net, including Bravo Farms in California) - I think we are going to see regulatory changes in the future that will have wide reaching effect on the cheese we love to eat. Stay tuned.

Oregon State University Bequest  This news has flown largely under the radar but I think its effects will be HUGE for the cheese industry in Oregon. OSU announced in early December that it received a $860,000 donation that will be devoted to developing an OSU Dairy Center. OSU is reviving its shuttered creamery as a cheesemaking incubator for new cheesemakers and I'm looking forward to the promised Beaver Cheese coming in 2011. The state's cheesemaking community will benefit from this for years to come. Watch out Vermont!

Beecher's Expands to NYC  Seattle's favorite urban cheesemaker announced in March of 2010 that they will open a new satellite store in New York City in early 2011. This represents a significant expansion of Kurt Dammeier's cheese empire and provides a new growth model for the industry. Will other small-mid sized cheesemakers follow suit? Will New Yorkers love their new Flatiron cheese as much as Seattleites love Flagship? Only time will tell.

Artisan Cheese Renaissance Ongoing in the NW  I keep thinking that at some point the rapid increase in numbers of small cheesemakers in the Pacific NW will decline or at least slow down but that's not been the case...2010 was a banner year for the business. New cheesemakers in the region this year included Yarmuth Farms and Tieton Farm and Creamery in Washington, Cheese Louise Creamery in Oregon and two new sheep's milk dairies in Idaho, Lark's Meadow Farm and Blue Sage Farm. Another demonstration of the region's ongoing love affair with cheese was the opening of a new cheese shop in Seattle in May: Calf & Kid.

Closures/Evolutions  Despite an ongoing recession, only a few cheesemakers left the fold this year, including Siskiyou Crest Goat Dairy in Southern Oregon (which voluntarily surrended its licensed cheesemaker status in favor of selling goat shares) and Sally Jackson in Washington. The loss of industry pioneer Sally Jackson's cheeses is a blow for the entire cheesemaking community and represents, on a number of levels, the end of an era.

Awards Keep Rolling In The awards for cheeses made in the Pacific Northwest continue. At the American Cheese Society Conference held in Seattle, NW Cheesemakers took 42 awards in a wide range of categories. I was especially pleased to see tiny Mystery Bay Farm on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington pull out top honors for flavored chevre - that's among 1400+ entries! While you might be inclined to think that awards are solely about marketing (and that's true to an extent) they are also about having your products judged alongside those of your peers. These awards demonstrate that our region's cheeses are as good or better than any cheese in the nation.

In Memoriam  This year saw the passing of two bright lights in our region's cheesemaking community: Chuck Evans of Rollingstone Chevre in Idaho and Kathy Obringer of Ancient Heritage Dairy in Oregon.

Happy New Year!

** Reminisce with the Northwest Cheese Top Stories of 2009

Oregon State University Receives Big Grant For Dairy & Cheese Development

Oregon State BeaversBig news in the world of Oregon dairy and cheese! Oregon State University announced yesterday that it has received an $860,000 grant to create a new dairy center and new professorship within the College of Agriculture. Paul Arbuthnot and wife Sandra donated the funds to create the Arbuthnot Dairy Center, designed to become a center for research and outreach for the benefit of small dairy processors. Paul Arbuthnot is the former president of Sunshine Dairy, one of the last remaining dairy plants still operating within the city of Portland. Professor Lisbeth Goddik of the OSU Food Science Department will hold the first professorship endowed by the grant. Goddik has been working for several years to resurrect the OSU Creamery, which closed in the 1960s. The new facility was licensed for cheese production earlier this year, and Goddik hopes to develop several OSU produced cheeses in 2011. Goddik said that the grant will, among other things, assist her in bringing in national and international experts to assist local cheesemakers, as well as develop new styles of cheese.

See the full news release here.

Recall News Roundup & Fundraising Update for Estrella Family Creamery

Estrella Family Creamery

Fundraising for Estrella Family Creamery

A fundrasing pledge page has been set up for Estrella Family Creamery as they wage their battle with the FDA; supporters have raised almost $8,000 so far towards the considerable legal expenses faced by the family. A blog & Facebook page have also been set up to help publicize the campaign - see below for links to all.

Pledge Page

Help the Estrella Family Creamery Blog

Save the Estrella Family Creamery on Facebook

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In addition, there have been a number of news articles popping up on issues related to the Estrellas, Bravo Farms, the FDA and raw milk generally. Here's a brief roundup; if you're aware of others let me know and I will add any/all to the list.

* * * * Capital Press

FDA Seizure Leaves Cheesemaker Depleted by Steve Brown

* * * * Oregonian (Portland, Oregon)

Raw Milk Cheese in the Northwest, Elsewhere on FDA Radar by Lynne Terry

* * * * Fresno Bee (Fresno, CA)

Raw Milk Cheese Faces New Scrutiny by Robert Rodriguez

* * * * New York Times

Small Cheesemaker Defies FDA over Recall by William Neuman

As Cheesemaking Blooms, So Can Listeria by William Neuman

Slideshow: Estrella Family Creamery

The Guide to West Coast Cheese by Sasha Davies

The Guide to West Coast CheeseIn the rapidly expanding genre known as 'cheese books', you've got a lot of choices these days, and the numbers are growing. Clearly cheese is something more and more people are interested in learning about and reading about. But with so many choices, where to start? I'm recommending that you start here, with The Guide to West Coast Cheese by Sasha Davies. Just released by Timber Press, this book is a comprehensive, in-depth guide to the regional cheeses we've all grown to love.

Davies is a veteran of the caves at Murray's and Artisanal in New York as well as the mastermind, along with husband Michael Claypool, of Cheese By Hand, a grand cheese road trip across the US visiting and interviewing cheesemakers along the way, in their native habitats. They turned the interviews into podcasts (available on the Cheese by Hand website or on iTunes) which are invaluable snapshots of the artisan cheesemaking industry in the US.

That's all a long way of saying that the author knows her stuff. So here's the nuts and bolts of the book: organized alphabetically, Davies walks readers through each individual cheese made on the West Coast, starting at Acapella made by Soyoung Scanlan at Andante Dairy in Northern California all the way to Yaquina Bay Pavé made by Pat Morford of Rivers Edge Chévre in Oregon. Each entry describes a bit about the evolution of the particular cheese, explains the flavor profile in depth as well as providing other helpful information like potential wine pairings and similar cheeses for further exploration. Davies' depth of experience and sharply honed palate bring these cheeses to life. If cheese is your candy, then this book is the key to the candy store.

Great guidebooks are fabulous companions; they explain the unexplained and put all of your unanswered questions to rest. If your questions tend to revolve around issues like rind development or goat's milk gouda, or perhaps the ins and outs of West Coast cheddars - or  if you just love great artisan-made cheese and want to learn more about it - then this, my friends, is the book for you.

*Note: Sasha is a friend and colleague in the cheese world so feel free to take my objectivity for what you feel it's worth. Either way, I think this is a great book.

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The Guide to West Coast Cheese: More than 300 Cheeses Handcrafted in California, Oregon, and Washington by Sasha Davies Timber Press 224 pages  $18.95  paperback

Upcoming Cheese Events July/August 2010

Portland Oregon Cheese Events Tonight (July 20th):

Rogue Ales in Portland welcomes esteemed beer writer Fred Eckhardt for his 19th Annual Beer and Cheese pairing and tasting event. Starts at 5:00pm at the Flanders pub; tickets are $30 in advance, $35 at the door. Call ahead to reserve: 503-222-5910.

Two great events this Saturday July 24th:

Cascadia Cheese Festival at Madison Market in Seattle. From 11-3pm, stop by and visit cheesemakers from Kurtwood Farms, Larkhaven Farm, Willapa Hills Farmstead Cheese and more! Try lots of new and different cheeses and enter to win two tickets to the American Cheese Society's signature event - the Festival of Cheese on August 28th (a $70 value!).

Also this Saturday, Tumalo Farms in Bend, OR will be holding an open house. From 11am-4pm, you can visit the farm, take farm tours and taste a range of great cheeses including the brand new Jewel, a bloomy rinded cheese. Sign up on the website for a $10 guided tasting including small plates using the farm's cheeses, paired with local wines and beers.

And a little foreshadowing of things to come in August:

Don't miss the third Canadian Cheese Rolling Festival in Whistler, BC on August 14th....also coming up soon is the American Cheese Society Conference August 25th-28th in Seattle!

The Farmstead Creamery Advisor by Gianaclis Caldwell

The Farmstead Creamery Advisor, Gianaclis CaldwellEvery once in awhile a book comes along that is so timely, so needed, so... right... that you just have to pause in wonder and appreciation. This is one of those books.

With the rapid growth of the artisan cheesemaking industry and the availability of really, really good local cheese, many are ready to take the step of making their own cheese. And while some people are content to play with making cheese in their kitchen or with their kids, or both, others are taking the cheesemaking idea a step farther - they want to make cheese their livelihood.

I get a lot of questions from enthusiastic folks who are looking to do this. Until now, there was not much I could tell them about how to get started except - talk to a lot of other cheesemakers, go to cheese conferences and educational events and so on. And while that stuff is still true, now we have a roadmap. The Farmstead Creamery Advisor is a comprehensive guide to starting a farm-based cheesemaking business. Hallelujah!

Author Gianaclis Caldwell has been making cheese for years. She started Pholia Farm in Southern Oregon with husband Vern and daughter Amelia several years ago; now they're known nationally for their great cheeses, crafted from the milk of their herd of Nigerian Dwarf goats. I mention this background to emphasize that she knows what she's talking about; the Caldwells built their cheesemaking plant from the ground up and are very familiar with the ins and outs (not to mention the ups and downs) of the entire process.

Caldwell does not shy away from both the joys or the hardships of making cheese; her honesty about the entire process is engaging and refreshing. She covers everything - and I do mean everything - from the business end (financing and business plans) to permitting to equipment, sanitation and floor plans. The book is loaded with stories and anecdotes from cheesemakers across the country so in effect, it's like having a conversation with all of them. You'll learn about the million things you hadn't thought of about the process as well as glean ideas for doing it your own way.

If you are thinking of starting a cheesemaking business - even if you are just fantasizing about it -  you need this book. And while the book may serve as a catalyst to success or a much needed reality check, either way, I think this book will have served its purpose.

* * * * * *

The Farmstead Creamery Advisor: The Complete Guide to Building and Running a Small, Farm-Based Cheese Business by Gianaclis Caldwell Chelsea Green $29.95  256 pages  paperback

Shoplifting Cheese? Apparently it's a Problem in British Columbia

shoplifting cheeseAccording to this article in the Times-Colonist out of Victoria, BC, there is an epidemic of shoplifting north of the border. But thieves are not stealing sudafed or diapers or even beer. They're stealing .... gourmet cheese. In fact, cheese is one of the top three shoplifted items in Vancouver, BC, according to the Vancouver Police (the other two are meat and razor blades). So serious is this problem that cheese shops must resort to locking up the better stuff in glass cases to protect it from being stolen!

And what's really amazing is that apparently there is a black market out there - in Canada I mean - for good cheese. The article says local bars have been buying stolen cheese from random strangers....thereby functioning as pawn shops, sort of. For cheese.

update: here's a more in-depth article from the Vancouver Sun.