The Power of Preserved Milk: How the Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company Preserved the Giacomini Family Legacy

in Cheese

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The California Bay Area-based cheese pioneers at Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company 

continue to impress critics and cheese lovers alike with their growing line of artisanal, sustainably-produced cheeses made from milk of the highest quality. In the year 2000, their flagship cheese, Point Reyes Original Blue, was introduced as the first classic-style blue cheese produced in the Golden State (hence the “Original” in its name) and remains a staple on the American cheese plate. Original Blue, favored by chefs from coast to coast, is playfully zippy and somewhat spicy with a crumbly texture perfect for salads and baked potatoes, yet still creamy and spreadable enough for crackers, crusty bread or for melting atop piping-hot burgers or steaks. The farm’s newest offerings, Toma and Bay Blue, are two of our favorite domestic cheeses to hit the scene in the last few years and we’re honored to offer all three at Southern Season this month in both North and South Carolina at a discount.

Located at Point Reyes Station just outside the city of San Francisco, the Giacomini family dairy farm could not exist in a more ideal and beautiful location. I’m talking about the kind of rustic beauty you find around each and every bend in the windy, winding, country roads that tattoo this stretch of northern California. If you’ve not been to this part of the country, imagine peaceful, endless rolling hills surrounded by a perimeter of dense green trees that rest a mere stone’s throw from both vibrant cityscapes and violent ocean waves, waves that crash and scramble against the jagged rocks and cliffs of places like Tomales Bay. The Giacomini family farm showcases lush green fields which are swept with just the right amount of sea salt from the nearby ocean breeze. Their closed herd of happy, well-fed Holstein heifers graze lazily on those fog swept fields come late autumn on through to spring, and if they’re lucky, depending on rainfall that year, well into summertime (the grazing season is pretty much reversed in much of California, as the fields turn yellow, ochre and brown come hot weather… drying the soil, scorching the grasses, grains and wildflowers).

Having grown up on the other side of the Bay Bridge, I will testify that Point Reyes Station truly is picture perfect. So perfect that not only do I testify, but also confess to harboring some healthy jealousies towards folk born and bred in counties like Del Norte, Sonoma, Marin or San Mateo simply for their proximity to expansive California farmland and wide open spaces, the majesty of places like Muir Woods or Mount Tamalpais (indeed cheese friends, that’d be the very same mountain Cowgirl Creamery’s triple crème opus “Mt. Tam” is named for) as well as the powerful Pacific Ocean. Don’t get me wrong, the East Bay is beautiful, but our tiny Tilden Parks and our man-made Lake Merritts simply cannot defend themselves when pitted against the mighty Pacific and all its immediate and intimate, breathtaking surroundings. But, enough about my coastal envy and back to the monthly cheese promotion at hand…

The Giacomini family dairy farm was purchased by Bob Giacomini in 1959. Bob, having grown up on his father’s farm just a few miles away, wanted nothing more than to remain in this beautiful area and raise a family with his bride, while continuing to cultivate the family tradition of farming. For several decades, that’s exactly what Bob did.

As you may or may not know, being an American dairy farmer comes with its challenges. One of the biggest challenges in my opinion has not to do with the long hours and hard labor involved, but with the price of milk. Milk prices are, well, they’re complicated. There’s an equation which determines the price of milk per hundredweight which I can’t quite wrap my pretty little head around, but I know that it exists and whether you know it or not, it affects us all. In summary, the price-of-milk equation involves the relative simplicity of supply and demand plus the addition of government and private interference (in the form of regulations and subsidies) in order to keep costs down for public consumption (often with little regard for the farmers or their families). That’s the dumb-dumb, dummy Matt Hart version of the story. If you require more explanation, do a little digging. There’s a lot of information out there on the web. To give you a teeny, tiny example of what I’m talking about though, read on (otherwise, skip to the part about the cheeses which I can assure you, is close at hand!). In 1959, the year Bob bought the dairy farm, the retail price of one gallon of milk was around a buck ($1.01 to be exact). Today, that same quantity of milk costs four to five times the retail amount it did in 1959, and according to this week’s open Daily Dairy report, milk was traded at $1.79 per gallon here in North Carolina (around 43% of that milks retail value depending of course on what quality milk you buy and where you buy it). Relative to other American industries, this is not a great example of economic growth, nor is it a positive model for economic sustainability for the average American family farmer (subsidies or not) when compared against the not-so-slow, but steady rise in the cost of living.

What follows are some really basic comparisons illustrating some of the many increases in cost of living over that same 55-year span:

1)       As already mentioned, the price of milk went from $1.01 per gallon in 1959 to $3.99 or as much as $4.99 per gallon in 2014 for conventional Grade A milk (that’s four to five times as much).

 

2)       The average salary in 1959 was approximately $5,000 per year. Today’s average American salary is approximately $47,000 per year. That’s nearly ten times more than in 59’ and, speaking from experience, I don’t know of many families who could survive on that low a salary in today’s San Francisco Bay Area when considering costs for the basic necessities (rent, food, transportation) continue to skyrocket!

 

3)       The average home in 1959 was approximately $12,000. If you want to own residence in today’s Bay you can expect to pay at least $683,000 for what is considered by the internet to be an “average” San Francisco dwelling. Incidentally, I looked at some of these “average” listings online and I would argue that these homes are not what most would consider to be “average.” I’d feel far more confident classifying them as well below average for the kind of money you’d be dropping on ‘em. Crazy. Per usual, I digress… Basically, it’d make purchasing a home 55 times more expensive today than it was back in ‘59 (55 times more expensive over 55 years… an increase which can only be described as criminally unachievable for the “average” person).

By the 1990s many family-owned American dairy farms still in existence were faced with this serious and sobering dilemma. Although the cost of living had risen dramatically, thanks to dairy subsidies and regulation, the price of milk had not. Good news for the consumer in theory, but not so good for the family-owned and operated dairy farms whose costs often outweighed their profits before subsidies. The impact was especially overwhelming in places like the greater Bay Area where property values and taxes had gone through the roof many times over and farmers were literally faced with the reality of losing their family farms, and therefore, their respective family legacies. Because of this, across the nation corporate farms usurped many of the lesser farms who had little option but to sell their land and operations to avoid bankruptcy, foreclosure or worse. Some farmers had the foresight to form or join pre-existing cooperatives in order to avoid this fate while other dairy farmers converted to producing certified organic milk in order to get better value for their efforts. A few visionary dairy farmers saw the potential to save their land, as well their dignity, in the form of preserved milk. Bob Giacomini was one such farmer.

Bob recognized that one could expect to get an exponentially greater return for cheese than one could get for milk, so he began researching cheese making. Quickly concluding that he could not undergo this metamorphosis by his lonesome, Bob began campaigning amongst immediate family for assistance in transforming their humble family dairy farm from milk supplier chrysalis to the farmstead cheese making butterfly it has become today. Eventually, his wife and four daughters were all on board. Each of the four prodigal daughters having long since moved out of the house in pursuit of their own respective careers and dreams over the years, one by one returned to roost and together the family was able to preserve the Giacomini family farm legacy. Fortunately for the cheese lovers of America, that meant the birth of the Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company.

Starting with a simple mission, to create the first California-made, classic-style blue cheese, the Giacomini family enlisted the help of a well-known Midwestern cheese maker (producer of a well-known Midwestern American blue) who abandoned ship at his then current position in order to develop a farmstead blue cheese using high quality milk near the gorgeous Pacific coastline (I could be wrong, but I imagine one too many hard, Midwestern winters played no small part in that decision?). By the year 2000, Original Blue was born and immediately received praise from the cheese community and consumers alike. 

The Point Reyes Farmstead featured cheeses:

Today the farm produces several cheeses under their talented plant manager/cheese maker Kuba Hemmerling, who when interviewing for the position, outright confessed that unless he could make new cheeses for Point Reyes Farmstead, he’d quickly lose inspiration and get bored making only Original Blue. The family assured Kuba that if he ironed out some inconsistencies they were experiencing with Original Blue, he could explore the unknown and satiate his desires. Within six months Kuba corrected the inconsistencies and shortly thereafter their second cheese, “Toma,” was born. Soon after that, Bay Blue followed. Both are outstanding cheeses! Check’m out: 

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Point Reyes Farmstead Toma

Toma is a cheese lover’s cheese! Often compared to a young Gouda, this natural rind, California original is both delicious and extremely versatile. Bursting with sweet cream notes and a bright, tangy finish, Toma’s a perfect cheese to enjoy on a picnic or whilst sucking down a cold IPA porch-side!

Toma is $1 off/lb. for the month of June while supplies last!

 

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Bay Blue by Point Reyes Farmstead

Made in the style of Stilton and open-air aged for at least 90 days, this fudgy blue is mellow, sweet and wonderful. Bay Blue pairs well with Virginia Chutney Company’s Mango Chutney and an Extra Special Bitter, Imperial Stout or Vintage Tawny Port.  

Bay Blue is $2 off/lb. for the month of June while supplies last!

 

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Point Reyes Farmstead Original Blue

A creamy and milky unpasteurized blue cheese with a punch! This zippy cheese begs to be melted atop a steak or crumbled over a crispy, fresh garden salad topped with caramelized pecans! Original Blue is California’s first classic-style blue cheese, cherished by chefs and cheese lovers the world around.

Original Blue is $2 off/lb. for the month of June!

As well as hosting three of our favorite domestic cheeses, today the Point Reyes Farmstead cheese company boasts over 500 head of cattle, creates a variety of dips and spreads, stretches fresh mozzarella and is home to the  Fork, a culinary gathering place that holds classes and private farm-to-fork dinners featuring top chefs from all walks of life.

Come by Southern Season for a taste and familiarize yourself with California’s Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company!

Other cheeses you’ll find on a table this month:

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Abbaye de Belloc

A rich and creamy French sheep’s milk treasure from the Pays Basque region. This 3,000 year old recipe is one of our favorites to feature! Pairs magically with lighter, fruit-forward reds, crisp whites and Saison-style French and Belgian Farmhouse ales.

Abbaye de Belloc is $4 off/lbs for the month of June 

Also available for purchase online at here

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Rolf Beeler Aged Gruyère

Aged a minimum of 16 months, this toothsome cheese is milky, fruity and complex. Come by Southern Season and taste an aged Gruyere full of caramelized onion notes that’s packed with crunchy, crystallized protein. If you’re looking for a cheese to pair with a warm weather wine or beer, look no further! Enjoy this treat while supplies last!

Rolf Beeler Aged Gruyère is $10 off/lb. for the month of June!