I hope you all are doing well and your week is wrapping up nicely.
One of the really cool things about working for Whole Foods is seeing how a large corporation can still give back to the local community and help smaller businesses flourish. It is in this spirit that in May, Whole Foods Market granted a "Local Producer Loan" to cheesemakers who are near and dear to my heart. The lucky recipients were husband and wife team, Seana Doughty and Dave Dalton from Bleating Heart Cheese.
Bleating Heart is located in Tomales, CA and their main focus is to produce top of the line cheese using milk from animals that have been treated humanely by the farmers and whose farm practices responsible stewardship of the land. As a result, the milk used in their cheeses is produced during the animals' natural lactation cycle. Cows have a cycle that lasts about 12 months, goats have a cycle that lasts about 10 months and sheep have a cycle that lasts 6-8 months. Keeping this in mind, you can see why many of the cheeses that Bleating Heart produces are only available on a seasonal basis.
Ok, on to the cheese! The cheese I'd like to talk about today is the Shepherdista - a combination of the words "shepherd" and "fashionista" - a delectable sheep's milk cheese.
Producer: Seana and Dave at Bleating Heart
Location: Tomales, CA
Milk: Raw sheep's milk
Rennet: Traditional (animal)
The Shepherdista is a natural rind cheese where the cheesemakers allow the rind to develop on its own with the help of the molds and bacteria that are in the air surrounding the cheese. (I remember a year or so back, I attended a class that discussed molds/bacteria on the rinds of cheeses. Seana was there and we had the opportunity to look at the rinds of some of her cheeses under the microscope. It was incredible to see all these little flavors producers up close and personal!) The wheels are turned and patted every few days and are aged 60-90 days.
One of the most pleasant surprises for me with the Shepherdista was the "fudginess" of the paste in terms of consistency. It was incredibly smooth, with very few eyes and it coated the inside of my mouth similar to the way fudge does. Just on this alone, I can tell you that this would be an incredible melting cheese and you may consider using it on your next grilled cheese!
The flavor really highlighted the stereotypical characteristics of sheep's milk cheeses. A richer lactic flavor overall because of the higher fat content of sheep's milk with a touch of nutty, earthy, tangy goodness. Because of it's richness, I would pair the Shepherdista with something slightly acidic... think grapes, apples, Pinot Grigio or even a younger, lighter red wine.
As I stated before, this cheese is not always available due to the seasonality of the lactation cycles of the sheep. That being said, we have it currently in most of the Whole Foods Markets in Northern California and Reno. I know that the production is currently limited, so if you see this cheese at your local cheese counter, be sure to grab some for yourself!
That's all I have for now... until next time, eat, drink and be happy!