• sondra bernstein

About the Maker: Bohemian Creamery

Cheese is just another avenue that shows how incredible Sonoma County is. Each one has a personality, flavor, and texture you’ll find nowhere else. Artisan American cheeses have flooded the market in the past ten years, using goat’s, sheep’s, or cow’s milk, which has left us with a lot of choices.

One of our favorite discoveries in 2009 was Bohemian Creamery, a one-woman operation in Sebastopol, near the coast of Sonoma County. The woman behind this delicious cheese is Lisa Gottreich. Relying on the head of 40-plus Alpine goats, supplemented by locally milked goats, sheep’s, and Jersey cow’s milk, Lisa makes at least nine different Italian-influenced cheeses.

Lisa lived in Italy for seven years and then started making cheese from animals she kept on her property. After making cheese in her home for 15 years for friends and family, Lisa decided to start a cheese company. She found property with an old creamery and barn just off Highway 116 minutes from Sebastopol. Lisa renovated the creamery, brought the goats to their new home, and started making cheese.

Lisa’s Italian influence becomes clear in the salt levels of the cheese, which she likes to keep low—something she learned in Italy. “When Italy was occupied during World War I, the Italians were taxed heavily on salt, so it was a precious commodity, especially in the inland areas,” she says. “In the region of Umbria, they still make bread without salt, which is left over from the days when salt was too expensive to use.” Lisa wants salt to be just one component of the flavor profile rather than the dominant one.

The cheesemaking process is straightforward; it’s the aging that gives Lisa a chance to personalize the product. She starts with milk (goat, sheep, or cow), and gravity-feeds it into the pasteurization vat. She can make cheese in the vat or separate it into other vats for different types of cheese. She tests the pH levels before culturing and renneting the cheese, and then tests the pH levels again. The curds are then moved to the stainless-steel tables where the cheese is hooped and shaped. The cheese may be drained at this point, depending on the cheese. Some cheeses will also be dipped in a brine before aging, while the soft cheeses are dry-salted before being moved to the aging rooms.

The cheese then enters the affinage, or aging, stage: it will sit in the aging rooms from anywhere from two to ten months.

“This is where the real process happens,” says Lisa. With the changes in weather and humidity, “you have to deal with what nature hands you,” she adds. “While some cheesemakers try to battle the molds, we try to make the best of it.”

These molds that exist naturally in the air are what give the cheese its character. Lisa notes the wild blue mold in Sonoma County that flourishes in the warm summer months “doesn’t like the humidity. It comes back in the spring.” Some cheesemakers spray their cheese with certain bacteria, but Lisa uses mostly wild molds.

The aging process is essentially waiting for the cheese to break down; flavor in cheese develops from the breakdown of fatty acids, it’s a waiting game: waiting for the cheese to age and evolve into Lisa's vision, but also dealing with challenges that come up every day.“ While the cheese ages it’s turned once or twice a week and the mold is scraped off, depending on the type of cheese." Lisa watches the cheese, using instinct and experience to determine how the aging process is coming along, and takes samples and monitors the numbers in the lab. Both processes are needed to determine when the cheese will be ready. At that perfect stage of maturity, it’s cleaned (sometimes the mold is scraped with a knife to give it a more desirable appearance) and delivered to the customer. The result is sixteen types of cheese, all with their own personalities (and tongue-in-cheek names), but all clearly from Bohemian Creamery: Capriago, Boho Bel, Caproncino, Bo Poisse, Boviago, Bovoncino, Bo Peep, Romeo, and Bodacious. They range in color from creamy white to buttery yellow, depending on the milk used. Lisa’s tip for identifying cheeses made from different animals: goat’s milk cheese is always pure white, while sheep’s and cow’s milk cheeses are more yellow.

What most people don’t realize is that cheesemaking is more about cleaning than making cheese! Cheesemaking takes up about 20 percent of the time and cleaning takes up the other 80 percent, A clean facility is crucial to managing bacteria.

Not content with just a handful of cheeses, Lisa is constantly thinking up new types of cheese. She “listens to chefs and their flavor suggestions” and incorporates their ideas into her brainstorming. Her newest creation is a Robiola-style cheese pressed with cacao nibs called Holy Mole. Naming the new cheeses is the most fun part, according to Lisa.

Lisa is in charge of sales and marketing, and visits restaurants and talks to chefs almost every day. Chefs can come to the creamery to learn about cheesemaking, with a group visiting every month. “I love working with chefs,” says Lisa. “They’re using our cheeses in such interesting and creative ways, especially how they’re cooking with them."

Bohemian Creamery makes less than 20,000 pounds of cheese each year, and the cheeses are only available wholesale and in a few local retail markets. Lisa plans to keep it that way.

“I just want to be able to pay myself and my bills,” says Lisa. “I don’t want to become so popular that I can’t keep up with the supply. I want to make sure that we are still touching the cheese.”

Lisa’s passion as well as the amazing quality is what keep the cheeses on our menus. Our chefs take Lisa’s advice as to when the different cheeses are best consumed, and we are always willing to be cheese tasters when it comes to trying her new creations. We serve it on a cheese plate, rather than combining it with other ingredients, to really show off the subtle flavors. For more on Bohemian Creamery, the goats, and Lisa, check out their website at www.bohemiancreamery.com.

The Cheese

Capriago: an asiago-style cheese made from our goat milk and aged between 8 and 10 weeks. The rind is washed with brine at the beginning of the ageing process, then allowed to cultivate a wild blue mold, promoting a moist and slightly sweet, nutty paste that is well-paired with fruit or seasonal greens, complements the spicy aroma of many of Sonoma County’s pinot wines. Average weight: 3.5 pounds per wheel.

Boho Belle is made with organic Jersey cow milk in the Bel Paese tradition. Each wheel is aged 6-8 weeks to allow for the natural development of geotrichum, a thin layer of white mold that enhances the vanilla flavors of this soft, rich cheese and helps maintain its deep, yellow rind. A semi-soft paste, Boho Belle is the perfect finish to any dessert. Its creamy texture and subtle finish pair nicely with bolder wines and fresh fruit. Average weight: 2.5 pounds per wheel.

Caproncino: A tangy, semi-hard goat, traditional rind cooked curd pressed into small wheel and aged six to eight months or longer, promoting a solid texture that endures but does not overwhelm. Average weight: 1.5 pounds per wheel.

Romeo: is their longest-aged cheese, brined and tended to for up to 10 to 12 months during which time it acquires deep and complex flavors and a crystalized paste reminiscent of Grand Padana. Can be served on a cheese plate or grated over a variety of dishes for a rich and intensified experience. Average weight 4.5 pounds a wheel.

BoDacious: is a fresh lactic goat’s milk cheese encased in a bloomy candidum mold to keep the paste tangy and spreadably soft. Perfect with breads and summer salads. Average weight: .75 pounds wheel.

Cowabunga: a soft fresh lactic Holstein cow’s milk cheese filled with a delicious sweet cajeta (goat milk caramel) surprise and sealed with a milk bloomy candidum-geotrichum rind. A low-fat miniature cheese cake-like surprise, Cowabunga offers a sweet and desserty richness to any meal. Average weight 1 pound per wheel.

HolyMoly: a soft ripened mild goat cheese with small eyeholes of airy lightness to lend it extra mouthability. Delicately bloomed rounds weighing 0.5 to 0.75 each.

Bo Peep: a small, semi-soft round of bloomy ripened sheep milk cheese, mild and richly moist. Perfect with fresh fruit or compote. Average weight .50 pounds per wheel

Bovoncino: the traditional year-long aged organic jersey cow Asiago style cheese. Breaks off into buttery chunks. Perfect for grating or shaving, the perfect compliment to any cheese plate with its intense and enduring flavors. Average weight 1.5 pounds per wheel.

The Bomb: a sheep-goat blend washed rind square of stink and ooze loosely fashioned after the French Epoisse. This cheese is carefully washed in Consecration beer as it softens and fills the ageing room with its signature odor. Each square weighs around .75-1 pound and is available in the cold and wet months only.

Agua Bufazola: a super creamy, soft, dense, one-ofa-kind gorgonzola dolce style cheese made from the milk of one the few water buffalo herds in the United States. The milder italian strain of roqueforti blue promotes a paste that is bold but not overwhelming to the palate. Aged 4-6 weeks. Perfect paired with fruit or honey for an explosion of sweet, rich, salty tang. Each wheel weighs roughly one pound.

Surf and Turf: an organic cow’s milk ripened to a soft thickness and sporting a thin layer of Sonoma coast harvested, toasted dulse seaweed through its center and pressed into a lightly aged rind. Average wheel weight 0.5.- 0.75 pounds.

PocoLoco: a soft-ripened wonderfully gooey round of bright white delectable water buffalo milk cheese. Balanced between fresh and ripe, perfect with summer salads, bread and fruit, but with enough power to sidle up to bolder wines. Average wheel weight 1 pound.

BahBoom!: a summery version of its winter-time cousin, The Bomb, BahBoom! is a sheep’s milk cheese, lightly washed in Russian River Brewery’s Consecration Ale. Packs less of a punch on the picnic table while remaining highly ripe and spreadable Pairs beautifully with Summer and Fall fruit and crisp wines. Robust and hearty like The Bomb while curbing its “aroma” to a fifty-yard radius as opposed to The Bomb’s 100.

FlowerPower: a fresh lactic organic cow cheese pyramid speckled inside with bursts of bee pollen and crowned with a ring of pollen on the outside. Each bite offers mingling moments of milk and honey: the embodiment of Spring when milk is fresh and new and flora bloom anew. FlowerPower is best eaten right out of the vat. Each pyramid weighs in at around a half pound.

Twist & Shout: a sheep and cow blended natural rind cheese infused with saffron and toasted peppercorns then cooked for hours in its own whey before it is aged for a three month minimum. Shaped from a 1,000 year old remedy presented to the Queen of Sicily in order to lift her from her dark spirit.

Cheese Source: www.bohemiancreamery.com

Excerpts from Plats du Jour, the girl & the fig's Journey Through the Seasons in Wine Country

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