This is the third installment of a multi-part blog series exploring the culinary treasures of West Marin with the Marin Convention & Visitors Bureau. The day-long tour highlighted some of the county’s premier artisan food producers and Agritourism destinations.
Indelibly etched in the landscape of West Marin’s thriving artisan community, the story of Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company and the visionary family that conceived it serves as a stellar example of reinvention gone exceedingly well.
The beautiful 720 acre Giacomini ranch property, which extends east from nearby Tomales Bay across Highway One, can only be described as bucolic bliss. Its lush rolling pastures flow gently over the fog-kissed coastal hills, and are dotted with the black and white shapes of Holstein dairy cows which have roamed here for more than a century. West Marin native Bob Giacomini and his wife Dean bought the ranch and existing dairy operation in 1959 and worked the farm as they raised their four daughters—Karen, Diana, Lynn and Jill.
When times turned tough in the dairy business, the family hedged against falling milk prices by becoming a partner producer for Petaluma-based Clover Stornetta Farms. But despite having a dependable outlet for selling their milk, Bob dreamed of making a value added product that would sustain the farm and create a unique niche for their business. That niche turned out to be artisan cheese, and as consumer demand began to rise the stars aligned for the next generation to step up to the plate.
The four Giacomini daughters, who had left the ranch as adults to pursue various careers, returned home in the late 1990s and joined forces to make their father’s dream a reality. They launched a new cheese division of the family dairy business with a focus on Blue varietals, and created a farmstead product representative of its West Marin roots.
Their first offering, Point Reyes Original Blue, was released in 2001 and immediately put the cheese making operation on the culinary map. As California’s only classic style blue cheese, it has garnered national awards for excellence including Best Cheese/Dairy Product at the 2011 Fancy Food Show in Washington DC.
In the last decade, Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company has continued to grow in stature among cheese enthusiasts and has added a British Stilton style Bay Blue, an Italian semi-hard Toma, and fresh Mozzarella cheeses to its distinguished roster.
The family also opened a new on-site events and education center in 2010 aptly named The Fork, which caters to locals and agritourists from around the world with a roster of sell out cooking classes, farm dinners, chef exhibitions and more.
On the day of our visit, the group is greeted by The Fork event director, Courtney Caldwell, who leads us on a tour of the grounds. We start in the dairy parlor where she notes that the staff plays Spanish music to signal the cows it’s milking time. Their well cared for bovine “girls” are milked twice daily, three hundred and sixty-five days a year, and each cow will produce around ten gallons of milk per day. Since it takes a gallon of milk to make a pound of their artisan cheese—well, you do the math.
We learn how the dairy has taken measures to be more self-sustaining for present and future generations by installing a methane gas digester which captures and converts livestock waste into green energy. This energy source currently powers approximately 65% of their operation.
The cows watch our progress with mild interest as we continue past the barns and stop to chat with dairy manager Brannon Areias on his daily rounds. He graciously answers questions before we head back to The Fork for lunch.
The group spills easily into the large, open dining room and settles around long tables set for a special tasting. Shortly, Marketing Director Jill Giacomini joins us to introduce her family’s farmstead cheeses.
We begin with a wedge of buttery Toma; a semi-hard Italian table cheese which captures the tangy flavors of the pasture grasses on which their cows graze. “If we do our job right,” says Jill, “our cheese will taste like our farm.”
Beside it rests a slice of Cornelia, which is simply a washed-rind Toma with a more pungent aroma and the same buttery texture. Rounding out the plate is Original Blue; their Danish-inspired flagship cheese which is full-flavored and tangy, alongside a milder Stilton-style Bay Blue with surprising notes of salted caramel and sweet butterscotch. This last offering recently won the Specialty Food Association’s top honor: the Gold sofi Award for outstanding cheese in its class.
We are still savoring our cheese when the doors to the adjacent kitchen swing open and servers deliver the meal: an heirloom tomato soup served in mason jars, followed by large communal bowls of fresh spring salad greens, and grilled farmstead cheese sandwiches on rustic artisan bread. To finish, we polish off trays of warm fudgy brownies for dessert.
As we take a final moment to relax and enjoy the scenery from the adjoining outdoor patio, I can’t help but reflect on the Giacomini’s journey of transformation that has breathed new life into this family farm.
To see a list of upcoming events at The Fork or plan a tour at Point Reyes Farmstead Creamery, please visit their website at www.pointreyescheese.com for more information.