Today: How to hunt for the best cheeses, no matter where you live.
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As Patrick Rance, one of the greatest cheese hunters of all time, wrote in his effort to catalog farmstead cheeses in France: Cheese hunting leads us to the most beautiful landscapes and rewards the traveler with unique flavors specific to the place.
The best place to begin your own hunt is at the local farmers market or specialty cheese shop. Get the names of cheesemakers who might have visiting hours or are willing to give pre-arranged private tours. Here's we've laid out a few tips to help you find the best cheeses around you.
1. Find the local farmers market by checking the national USDA directoryor the non profit Local Harvest. The local Slow Food chapter is also a good source for finding local cheesemakers here in the states as well as overseas.
4. Start a notebook. After locating the cheese producer, record your impressions of the operation. Dig deep and get the details. What are the animals eating? What’s growing in the pasture? What’s the breed of the herd? How is the cheese made? Where is it aged? How does it taste?
5. Bring along boots or an extra pair of shoes. Dairies are usually wet, muddy places. Don’t forget a cooler with ice packs and plastic bags to store the cheese in while wandering the countryside -- and maybe a knife and a cheeseboard, too.
Cheese photos by James Ransom; Panade photo by Christopher Hirscheimer and Melissa Hamilton
Cowgirl Creamery launched in 1997, but our story began well before then. We met freshman year at the University of Tennessee where, little did we know, a lifelong friendship and infatuation with food would ensue. In 1976 our journey westward began. Once arriving in the Bay Area, we became involved in the burgeoning food movement at Chez Panisse and Bette's Oceanview Diner, both in Berkeley, CA. By the early 1990s, we were ready for a new challenge when we decided to launch Tomales Bay Foods, a marketing vehicle to help West Marin's farms and dairies get their delicious products into the hands of the Bay Area's finest chefs. From there, we decided to make our own cheese using the milk from neighboring Straus Family Creamery. Two decades, two creameries, four retail stores, and two thousand tons of cheese later, we still love what we do and have decided to bring our stories and recipes (dishes that use cheese not how to make cheese) to you in our first cookbook, Cowgirl Creamery Cooks.