Ever since Alissa Shethar, cheesemaker at North Bay Curds & Whey in Berkeley, announced that she was going to make buffalo milk cheese, I have been in a state of frenzied anticipation. Thank goodness she and I are both on the regulatory affairs committee of the California Artisan Cheese Guild! She was generous to bring in a wheel to share at our last meeting. At long last, I had my chance! And I got to take some home with me to photograph and share with you!
First off—water buffalo milk. Water buffalo dairies are a rare thing in California. Di Bufala Dairy in Valley Ford, provider of the milk to North Bay Curds & Whey, is one of only two such operations that I know of in the state. This particular cheese only began retailing in mid-February, so I think the jury is still out on how much the market for this will grow. For what it’s worth, though, I think there is a pretty substantial market niche for water buffalo, and am looking forward to seeing more.
So the cheese! As of now, it remains unnamed. I just call it the buffalo-goat cheese because of its mixed milk composition. Don’t let the namelessness fool you. The cheese is gorgeous. The process of basket draining imparts a richly-textured imprint on the slightly mottled, natural rind. The paste is a deep ivory and sprinkled throughout with small eyes. Next to the rind, the paste takes on an almost translucence, like a stained glass cheese.
The bouquet is just as rich as its appearance, with a fresh, grassy tang, supported by a richer, creamy, buttery undertone. I could tell this was going to be one complex cheese!
First bite: I noticed how soft the rind is in relation to the paste. They both crumble and break down, almost like a young manchego. It’s a pretty salty cheese, but once the salt melted away, I could sense everything I had noticed in the bouquet, except it started with the rich cream flavor, and finished on a flowery, citrusy note with a long finish. Pretty extraordinary.
I’ve been cutting it up into salads, but have served it with much success on a cheese plate as well!
If you are in Northern California, you can find this cheese at Cheese Plus in San Francisco and at local farmers’ markets. I’d like to see it in a few other places as well.
The water buffalo revolution begins! I am very excited to see what other local water buffalo cheeses will show up in the coming months!