Cheese worth waiting for

If you shop at certain local farmers markets, you may have noticed that some of Weirauch Farm & Creamery's cheeses haven't been available for a number of weeks.

Lucky for us all, that's changing.

This weekend, the Penngrove-based farm should have a selection of fresh cheeses, including Doubloon, aged just one week; Tomme Fraiche, aged two weeks and, maybe, a sheep's milk Tomme Fraiche, along with some other fresh sheep's milk cheeses, including Primo Fresca -- literally, "first fresh," the first sheep's milk cheese of the year. There may also be sheep's milk ricotta. To snag these cheeses, you must get to the market early.

Weirauch Farm's production slowed substantially late last fall, when their supply of milk was interrupted when a large dairy contracted with their supplier. Six other Bay Area cheese makers found themselves in the same situation, without the milk to make their hand-crafted cheeses.

"We're all so small," Carleen Weirauch explains, "that we cannot compete, contract-wise, with larger companies."

If a large producer wants all the milk, what's a dairy to do but sell it to them?

Recently, Weirauch Farm entered into a contract with Nicasio Valley Farms, the Lafranchi Family's ranch, with a herd of more than 400 cows. Most of the milk is sold to Clover, but Weirauch has been granted a six-month contract for 140 gallons of milk a week.

Buying a small amount of milk seems to be getting trickier all the time, but cheese makers are limited by the size of their vat or vats. Weirauch Farm's single vat holds just 70 gallons.

The smaller the vat, the harder it is to find, it seems. Carleen and Joel Weirauch found their vat, which was refurbished, on the East Coast. They've ordered a new one, with a capacity of 200 gallons, from a manufacturer in Europe, but it won't arrive until mid to late summer.

Even a 500-gallon vat is considered small. A vat is a cheese maker's major investment.

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