The Callahan family own and operate Bellwether farms in the rolling hills of Sonoma County, just a few miles from the Pacific Ocean. Having raised a family and had a career as a nurse, Cindy Callahan decided to change direction in the early 1990s and start a sheep farm. Today her herd consists mainly of East Friesian ewes, found grazing freely outside year-round. Cindy’s son Liam Callahan oversees cheese production, while his wife Diana manages the office. To supplement the range of sheep’s milk cheeses, the Callahans also buy local Jersey cow’s milk in order to make this ricotta.
Renowned for its rich, buttery characteristics, Jersey milk has a higher fat and protein content than most milks, which gives this cheese a wonderfully rich, balanced flavor and creamy mouthfeel. Although Bellwether make a couple of varieties of whey-based ricottas, these are only sold locally. In order to fulfill national demand, Liam has developed a whole cow's milk ricotta, made using cultured milk that has been allowed to acidify naturally for many hours until it's ready to begin the heating process. Making ricotta this way requires constant attention. Once heating begins, Liam stands at the vat watching for just the right moment to stop stirring, letting the curds form. The curds are then hand scooped into small ricotta baskets and allowed to drain naturally under their own weight. In keeping with Italian tradition, the ricotta is sold in the same basket, resulting in the minimum of disturbance of the curd and the maximum retention of moisture. This gives the finished ricotta a remarkably delicate, soft texture and lactic flavors of cream and butter with a clean finish that leaves you longing for more.