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It's all about the cheese

  • Donna Pacheco, right, and Ramon Ramirez pack curds into buckets at the Achadinha Cheese Company, on the Pacheco Ranch, near Petaluma on Friday, March 7, 2014. Tours of the ranch are being given as part of the California Artisan Cheese Festival, on March 21.

    (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

Sonoma County's goat nannies are busy giving birth this spring, providing a bonanza of fresh milk for North Coast's many cheese plants.

For cheesemakers, it's time to transform all that liquid goodness into tasty, aged cheeses, such as the venerable and versatile feta.

"Starting in May, we make some of our hard, long-aged cheeses, so that we can use up the surplus," said Jennifer Bice of Redwood Hill Farm, who has been making a raw-milk, feta-style cheese in Sebastopol since the 1980s.

Achadinha Cheese Co.

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In its native Greece, where feta is protected with an AOC designation of origin label, the cheese is traditionally made from goat or sheep's milk, or a mixture of both. After being cured and stored in a salty brine, it offers a distinctive tang and a creamy, crumbly texture.

At one time, the shepherds of the Balkan Peninsula would take their animals to the mountain pastures in the spring and summer to graze, then milk them and make feta once a day, over an open fire.

"There was no refrigeration, so they would pack it in wooden containers, and put in water and heavy salt," Bice said. "That would preserve it until they came down out of the mountains."

Because of modern-day refrigeration, Bice makes a lower-salt feta that still boasts a salty tang to balance the grassy flavor of the milk.

"Even today, a lot of the fetas from Turkey or Bulgaria or Greece are 20 percent salt content," she said.

Along with Achadinha Cheese Co. of Petaluma, which makes a pasteurized goat's milk feta, Redwood Hill Farm will be showcasing its fabulous feta at California's Artisan Cheese Festival this weekend at the Sheraton Sonoma County hotel in Petaluma.

Bice will be serving slices of cheese at Zazu Kitchen + Farm during a Friday farm tour and at a Friday night reception. The Redwood Hill cheeses will be paired with Paul Mathew Vineyard of Graton at Saturday's Grand Tasting and sampled at Sunday's marketplace.


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