Monthly Archives: July 2010

Barinaga Sheep Ranch: Marshall Matters.

Barinaga Txiki

Barinaga Txiki

Cows dot hills in California, not sheep. So when a new wheel rolls around with a pretty ewe on the label, people notice. When the cheese it produces rivals Vermont Shepherd in complexity, people start running after the wheels to chase down a taste.

Take a drive down the Pacific coast highway 1, past the signs draping the Sonoma hills with Swiss and Italian dairy names, and if you’re lucky, you’ll run into the Basque-inspired Barinaga Sheep’s Ranch. Located in Marshall, it is the fourth of five certified sheep’s milk dairies in California.

After finding that their successful careers in biology and journalism weren’t completely fulfilling their passion for the shepherding life to which Marcia Barinaga’s Basque family is devoted, the Barinagas headed to Marin. Marcia returned to her family’s sheep farms in the Basque country, studied with her shepherd and cheesemaker relatives, and toured creameries until she had a firm grasp of the Pyrenées cheese methods. Upon her return she focused on making two Basque style cheeses- Basseri, and Txiki. The pictured cheese is Txiki.

I was taken even before slicing into it.


The rind is an orange-brown that recalls the coppery tones of the Grand Canyon. It is rippled and rough from basket draining and graced by an occasional pocked depression or two, an affect of aging. Underneath the rind, the Txiki’s golden colored layer leads to a cream colored center. The paste is somewhat smooth, with a texture a little like a young pecorino.

The flavors are vibrant. The milk is sweet and buttery like a cow’s, lemony and lightly grassy like a goat’s, and nutty and earthy like a sheep’s. It’s sweet and tangy and spicy and shows the beauty of  farmhouse cheeses that impress because they never try too hard- they’re stunning in their simplicity and are made from beautiful milk. Tasting the rind (remember, this is Spain, not France) too packs an even earthier punch.

Txiki is a little over a pound and small enough to slip into a cloth bag for a shephard’s lunch. Or an Oakland picnic near my house. I saw some at the Pasta Shop Market Hall in Oakland, conveniently also near my house, next to the picnic. If you bring the cheese, I’ll bring a spicy Tempranillo or Grenache for us to share. Might as well pick up some salami and olives while you’re at the market too.

Have you tried Barinaga?

French Cheese: Nine Things I Learned.

Cheese served at Domaine Jean-Pierre Francois Quénard

Cheese served at Domaine Jean-Pierre Francois Quénard

While sitting in my room in a French bed and breakfast in the Jura region of France, I compiled a list of what I learned about France and cheese. It is longer than the following nine items, but I won’t share them all. I don’t want you to think that I actually spent one of my nights in one of tastiest countries in the world writing a cheese list. I spent part of the day too. That is, when I wasn’t hanging out in the restaurant, drinking espresso and wondering if most regional B & Bs played American soft rock on the stereo.

Here are Eight Things I Learned About French Cheese (and one about butter)

1. Fondue is delicious. It can also be painful. If you have slight problems digesting vast amounts of cow’s milk cheese but are so excited to be eating fondue in The Fondue Region of France that you ignore your digestive system, retribution may be fierce.

2. Some people of the Savoie say fondue has to contain Beaufort to be real fondue. Others in the Jura say unless it is all Comté, it’s “just” melted cheese. Texans seem to make their own fondue out of melted pimento cheese. I opt for A or B, but I’ll taste a good pimento cheese if someone delivers.

3. Unlike it is suggested among many cheese sophisticates, most French people do not eat the rinds of hard cheeses. They cut them off. If you eat them in front of French children, they will look at you funny. But they’ll secretly like it.

4. French children love Comté and my American friend who is thirty thinks it smells like feet. It’s all about warming the palate at a young age.

5. When one is a guest of a wine importer visiting his winemakers, they will be served a lot of beautiful cheese by sweet French families. I have counted and determined it’s required to serve at least one to five cheeses per person who visits. Preserve the presentation of the cheese. Cut wedges out of the wheels and neat slices from the blocks. You don’t have to finish it all.

6. The French do not find it odd that you’ve come to their land to learn about cheese. Why wouldn’t you? In fact, you should probably put down that other book you’re writing and focus one entirely on French cheese. It just makes more sense.

7. Unless in Paris, you will be served the cheese of the region you are in. It goes well with the wines you buy at the nearby store. It’s fresher. And it just flippin rocks there.

8. People in cheese and wine equally appreciate the other. It is understood that both manifest the terrior of the region from which they come and neither one is considered less important or more “snobby.” They hold hands and respect each other’s contributions to one other.

9. Butter is not generally served with bread in France. Except in Normandy and near the Italian border. You should visit Normandy and the French-Italian border. Raw-milk butter sprinkled with fleur de sel? Yes.

10. I need to visit again.

Links du Fromage: News & Cheese Loveliness


Pécalou, by Chez LouLou

Because the world of cheese is wide and vast and I can’t possibly meet all your dairy needs, here are some of my favorite Links du Fromage this month. Feel free to leave links to your own favorites that I missed in this post’s comment section.

If you need even more reading, check out  Gordon Edgar’s Cheesemonger book. I highly recommend it. I attended a tasting with Edgar and author Laura Werlin at 18Reasons in San Francisco, and loved the selections he choose to read from his book, and that he introduced the class to Cobb Hill’s Ascutney Mountain. Cool points. Do taste and read.


New Writing on the Dairy Crisis:

Dairy Fundamentals Keep Milk Prices from Rising

Whisky’s for drinkin’, Milk is for fighting?

Cheese Fests:

There are still tickets for the American Cheese Society’s Cheese-topia in Seattle, starting August 25th. This is the first year that I’m going, and I am super excited! I’ve heard the sessions fill up soon, so sign up quick.

If you’re in the area, don’t miss the Vermont Cheesemaker’s Festival this July 25th. No wait, it’s SOLD OUT! Congratulations, wow.

The first Cheesemonger Invitational rocked the east coast recently, when mongers from San Francisco to New York gathered in Queens and battled cheese wits. They plated, sliced, wrapped, paired, made sexy eyes at the cheese, and professed their love to the dairy world with style galore. Read more here:

The Cheesemonger Invitational: Cheese Nerds Like to Party Too

The First-Ever Cheesemonger Invitational

Winner, Culture Magazine


Wisconsin Cheesemaker’s Calendar, Cheese Underground

La Fête du Fromage – le Pécalou, Chez LouLou

A Dairy Goddess Preparing for Cheesemaking

Cheese is Alive on the new Caveman Blue by Rogue Creamery.

The House Mouse, Review: La Clochette Chevre Affinee Rings a Bell

What did I miss? Add a link in the comment section below!

Lincoln Log: Like Bucheron but Better

Zingerman Creamery's Lincoln Log

Zingerman Creamery's Lincoln Log

Zingerman’s Lincoln Log is made in the grand tradition of European goat cheese classics Bucheron and Caña de Cabra, but because Lincoln Log is made in the states, you’re going to love it even more.

Lincoln Log, Bucheron and Caña de Cabra are foot-long cylindrical cheeses with bloomy-rinds and soft centers. They age from the outside in and have three striking layers: the outer, plush white rind; the soft, velvet ribbon below the bloom, and the soft, crumbly center. Taste each separately, than enjoy together.

Bucheron is a French cheese that makes its way on more seasonal chevre chaud salads than bacon does burgers (or food blogs). Caña de Cabra is pretty much dead on like Bucheron, except that it’s made in Spain, so it obviously hangs out way later at night and rocked a mullet before hipsters remembered what they were.

But Lincoln Log tastes better. Why? It’s not that little “Made in the U.S.A” tag that’s on it (or not on it, whatever), it’s because its made close by, spends less time in transportation, so there is a much better chance you’ll get it fresher.

And this is a cheese you want especially fresh, when it’s lively flavors jump out to say hello and the rind hasn’t yet developed a strong ammonia-esque flavor.

Bucheron and Cana de Cabra are great, but Lincoln Log shines at a creamery near you. Try with an un-oaked California Sauvignon blanc or Italian varietal white.