Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese visit, part 2
This is the second article in a series of three articles about my recen visit to Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company in northern California.
After visiting the Fork and the attached storage and packaging areas of Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese, Chief Marketing Office Jill Basch walked us outside to another building, the creamery, where workers had already (by 11am) hooped (or put into molds) about 250 wheels of Original Blue. They were onto hooping some new wheels of Toma by the time we arrived. Again, floor-to-ceiling plate glass windows let us see everything that was happening inside. The cheese making begins at 3am, using milk from the prior 1am and 1pm milkings. Several creamery and farm workers live on the property, creating a veritable village of farmstead cheese production. Their principal cheesemaker, Kuba Hemmerling, oversees production, but also develops new cheeses (yes yes, there is more on that!).
Production of Original Blue, the cheese for which Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co. is best known, is first on the priority list for production. How does the cheese get so fluffy and creamy, you might ask? Homogenization. Pt. Reyes strips the cream from the milk, homogenizes the milk, puffing up the molecules with air, and reintroduces the cream afterward. Fat molecules can thus bind to the milk better, creating that all-around creamy, smooth texture. The milk is separated using a vegetable rennet. The cultures, salt, and penicillin are all added to the homogenized milk. The milk separates, the curds are cut super small—they looked pea-sized to me—and the whey is drained. The curds are placed in molds, are flipped and let to solidify drain further overnight. The next day, they are solid wheels. Workers then hand-roll them in kosher salt over a period of three days. Next, on day three, the wheels are punctured with long needles to encourage growth of the characteristic blue penicillin. This is why you see the blue in Original Blue always grows in straight lines. The next phase of production is key—over a period of 30 days, the wheels are cured in a room measuring 98% humidity, and 55 degrees Farenheit. This encourages the moisture in the cheese, as well as blue growth. From that point on, they are sealed in airtight packages and sent to finish the aging at much colder temperatures for 4-5 months (Did you know it aged that long? I didn’t realize it!). When a customer orders Original Blue, only then is the airtight seal broken, since moisture is lost quickly from that point on.
Toma production takes second priority. This pasteurized milk cheese is infused with Dutch cultures, which give it a Gouda-like quality. When the curds are separated, they are washed to remove some lactic acid prior to hooping, which might explain why I don’t really see eyes in the finished product, unlike in a Gouda. They are formed in closed forms, with lids, and pressed for several hours. The cheese is washed in a brine tank before aging for about 90 days.
The newest kid on the cheese block is the New Blue. The team at Point Reyes spent about a year developing the recipe. This is nothing like the Original Blue cheese. It is aged 90 days, as opposed to 5 months for the Original. It also ages in much dryer conditions than the Original Blue, resulting in a dryer cheese with a natural rind. Production is currently quite limited, and so far, the cheese is only available at local farmers markets. Expect to see that status change before the year is out.
Kuba Hemmerling, the cheesemaker at Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese, has been there since 2009. Since joining the team, he has refined the Original Blue recipe, developed (with the rest of the team) the Toma recipe, created the New Blue, and, from what I hear, is working on an alpine-style cheese, a gouda-style cheese, and a tomme for the Giacominis. I am so excited to hear about the new developments!
Next post: Hanging out with the cows.