This interview with Bohemian Creamery kicks off a series that I’m very excited about here on It’s Not You, It’s Brie. Called, (well…. I’m a little behind on this part, recs are welcome!…) the series will follow and detail the lives of those involved in the varied and vast cheese world. I’ll interview cheesemakers, cheesemongers, educators, distributers, importers, writers, and more, to give behind the scenes look at those that make, house, peddle, and love our cheese and make our fermented world happen. It will share insights to how our cheese comes to be, gets from the farm to our table, and maybe even provide food for thought for those thinking about entering the cheese world themselves. I’m going to focus entirely on those making or working with American cheese for the month of October because… it’s American Cheese Month, after all.
Lisa Gottreich is my first interviewee. The cheesemaker for Bohemian Creamery , Lisa is located in Sebastopol, California, land of grapes, apples, and.. an incredibly inventive cheesemaker. You can also read about her Capronico in my book. I think you’ll enjoy reading Lisa’s thorough and thoughtful answers. Photos were supplied by Gottreich.
Your resume includes cheesemaker, Italian instructor, and writer. How do these passions play into each other and inspire your main career as cheesemaker?
I am basically unemployable after years of working on my own terms. My last pay-check job really ushered in the creation of the creamery. I worked for a large multi-county oncology practice. It was a disaster on my psyche. Sad to see the death and dying, which I expected to be profoundly touched by, but found myself instead embattled every day by the ins and outs of group dynamics, politics, and the dueling wastefulness and dearth of heath care policy. And so the writer-goat-herder (I had goats and made cheese at home for many years before I ventured into commercial production) kind of hung up the towel. Helped along by a mid-life crisis husband who was backing out on our 18 year marriage. The thread here is really just a question of disposition. I am idealistic and head strong (ok, stubborn), and so the rushing waters run a course more solitary and self-determined.
Bohemian Creamery makes cheese with all the milks under the California sun- goat, cow, sheep, and buffalo. From whom do you source all these milks, what inspired such a broad milk range, and do foresee keeping your own animals for milk in the future (or do you now?)?
I absolutely love goats and have had them around for almost the past two decades. In fact, cheese-making is probably my rationalization for having goats. That being said, I also buy my milk. To run a dairy that would produce the amount of milk I consume would be a full time occupation in itself. Yet I am at an awkward size —too large to produce enough with my own herd and too small to be able to take advantage of any economy of scale. I will always have my goat herd, and I will continue to source my milks from the wonderful dairies of Sonoma County.
To give people an idea of what happens at Bohemian Creamery, describe a typical work day for you.
I’ve been jumping on my bike lately and biking with my dog up to the creamery, enjoying the cooler autumn air and feeling sick of needlessly regurgitating spent fuel. SO that happens around 6:00 am. I get up the creamery, look out over the santa rosa laguna and Mt St Helena and sigh. Push troubles to the side, temporarily. GO into the creamery, listen to NPR and start my day which consists of either jumping into the milk truck to pick up milk, turn on NPR until the news swings back then turn on Pandora, make cheese, do affinage, pack and wrap orders, clean. Clean and clean. I don’t think people realize how little time cheese makers spend actually making cheese compared to their gargantuan lifetime of cleaning. Then the afternoon I dedicate to the goats, feeding, hoof trimming, mandatory petting.
What would you say is the most exciting cheese that you make, for you? For some, it might be your fresh goat, bloomy-rinded Bodacious cheese- one of my favorite quotes of yours from the LA Times article I wrote that featured Bodacious was- “it’s modeled after a boob, though it’s not always the most thrilling boob, the mold is food grade, stainless steel.” For others it might be your Bo-Peep, a sheep-goat blend washed with Russian River’s Consecration beer. But I know you have a new one you’re working on too. What’s the first cheese you know you’ll be looking forward to making or tending most after coming back from your upcoming two-week writer’s retreat?
I really like working with the water buffalo milk. It’s so different from anything I’ve ever touched. It’s hard to separate the animal from the product and those bufale are really like nothing I’ve ever faced down before…I have roped and cut cattle, herded goats, kept sheep. But these girls, they are like staring into the eye of a whale…they penetrate you. I lived for years in Italy and for me it is very very special to be able to have this milk. That being said, I am working on a crazy idea for a cheese…sort of a secret of this point, but I like inventing. Like my cowabunga, a fresh lactic cow cheese I make then stuff with cajeta I make from my goat’s milk. So when I get back from my residency, I am going to set to work on the newest crazy combo…
Who and what is inspiring you at the moment?
I am inspired by the people I get to work with. I have two wonderful women who work with me and I really respect and cherish their input. We are working together to build out the creamery into an agrotourism destination where people can sit back and dive into the incredible view, eat cheese, bread cheese plates, make a cheese pizza, hang with the goats, see cheese being made, maybe also drink a little wine. I think that the more people taste and understand cheese as a living entity that, like us, is born, throws its colors, then fades, concepts of consistency will gain a more holistic context.
Thank you so much for your time, Lisa!
Any ideas for the name of the series welcome in the comments section!