Perfect Pairings: A Farmers Market Guide to Cheeses
Selina Knowles, Communications Coordinator
February 10, 2023
Whether you’re planning date night, hosting a Galentine’s gathering, or snacking solo, show your love for local food by bringing a cheese board to your Valentine’s Day table. Artisan cheese is incredibly varied and versatile, and there are many types available at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market.
On the lush pastures of Northern California, the region’s farmers carefully tend to their herds of cows, sheep, goats, and buffalo. While some people value the consistency of industrially produced cheese, others prefer the variations born of smaller scale operations. Using milk from their own herd, on the farm where the animals are raised, farmers that produce farmstead cheeses end up with flavors found nowhere else. Meet a few local and award-winning cheese makers, and get inspired by cheese pairings with other farmers market goods.
Getting Around the Northern California Cheese Scene
About an hour north of San Francisco, David Jablons, Tamara Hicks, and their daughters, Josy and Emmy, tend to a 160-acre certified organic goat and sheep dairy and educational farm in Tomales. Originally named after the Tomales Bay, the Toluma Farms operation expanded after intensive land restoration to include Tomales Farmstead Creamery.
There, the family raises several animal breeds recognized for their high-quality milk, including Alpine, La Mancha, Nubian, Oberhasli, Saanen, and Toggenburg dairy goats and East Friesian sheep. They also work to improve the health of their farmland with California’s Healthy Soils Program.
Also located in Tomales, Ramini Mozzarella was founded by Audrey Hitchcock and her late husband, Craig Ramini. Neither of them farmed before they established Ramini Mozzarella, but together they went all out to create a unique product, fresh water buffalo mozzarella, while caring for their animals and the land. Since Craig passed away in 2015, Audrey has remained committed to the beloved herd of buffalo and the cheesemaking business.
Head inland to Petaluma-based Achadinha Cheese Co, another small family farm. Third-generation dairy farmer Jim Pacheco runs the farm with his wife, Donna, and their children, William, Daniel, Elizabeth, and David. The Pachecos pasture 150 goats and 70 cows, affectionately referred to as “the girls,” along with horses, sheep, pigs, dogs, cats, chickens, and ducks.
Further down the coast, the Giacomini family’s farm is home to 330 milking Holsteins and Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company. The family began cheese production in 2000 with their flagship cheese, Original Blue. Since then, the women-owned dairy farm has expanded their product line to include Toma, Bay Blue, and Aged Gouda. Operating on Marin Agricultural Land Trust, and as a Leopold Conservation Award recipient, the family centers sustainability, humane practices, and community support.
Putting Together a Show-Stopping Cheese Board
Whichever cheese you please, there are plenty of pairing options available at the farmers market. Here are a few ideas to get you started, ranging from sweet and spreadable to fresh flavors with a crunch.
Achadinha’s Broncha is a versatile Portuguese table cheese made with a seasonal blend of pasteurized goats and cows milk. It’s hard to go wrong with Broncha, which can pair well with fruity flavors like fig jam or fresh pears, as well as walnuts from Glashoff Farm and honey from Marshall’s Farm Natural Honey. Their Cowprecious cheese can be shaved onto a late winter chicory salad and goes great with citrus or pear.
Point Reyes’ flagship Blue or Good Food Award-winning Bay Blue cheeses both bring a tasty new dimension as a topper to winter squash or poached pears. If you’re looking for a snack to accompany a sparkling wine, try their newcomer cheese, the Toma Truffle spread, on your bread of choice from Acme Bread Company.
Of Ramini Mozzarella’s offerings, Audrey says, “If you can imagine it, you can do it with stracciatella.” Pair this creamy cheese with pomegranate seeds on top of a winter bruschetta, or add dollops to citrus and arugula salads. You can also bring hand-pulled mozzarella to the table with just olive oil and salt, or with Gavel’s Farm’s hothouse tomatoes and basil.
From Toluma Farms, Atika is Good Food Award-winning aged goat cheese and sheep Manchego-inspired cheese that goes well with Flying Disc Ranch’s dates or Everything Under the Sun’s dried mandarins. They also offer Liwa, a fresh goat cheese that compliments pepper jam from Little Organic Farm.
To complete your cheese spread, consider adding some of Sciabica’s California Olive Oil, flavored nuts from Winters Fruit Tree or Old Dog Ranch, pickles from Lonely Mountain Farm, chocolate truffles from Bisou Chocolate. When in doubt, try things out!
Check out our guide to Farmers Market Treats for Valentine’s Day for more ideas on how to celebrate the season of love.