Keith Adams started making soft-ripened cheese a decade ago when he launched the Alemar Cheese Company in Minnesota.
But after he moved back to his native California in 2015, the cheesemaker decided to leverage his experience and pay tribute to the venerable cheeses of England, where he had spent a couple of years as a child and a teenager.
“I fell in love with British cheese then, and for the last 15 years, English cheese has enjoyed a renaissance,” he said at the Wm. Cofield cheese-making facility in Sebastopol’s Barlow Center. “There wasn’t anybody doing it out here on the West Coast.”
So Adams flew back to England to learn how to make two British cheeses. For a Stilton-style cheese, he worked at the renowned Stichelton Dairy 150 miles north of London. For the aged vheddar, he studied at the Westcombe Dairy in Somerset County in southwestern England.
“I learned the techniques, but there’s also terroir with cheese,” Adams said. “Here we’re doing the same thing (as the British cheesemakers), only with beautiful Sonoma County milk.”
The timing was right when Adams drew up a business plan six years ago and showed it to his old college buddy, winemaker Rob Hunter of Bennett Lane Wines in Calistoga.
“We are like yin and yang with our partnership,” Adams said. “We complement each other.”
In December of 2016, Adams and Hunter opened their storefront and launched the cheeses of Wm. Cofield, sourcing milk from a Two Rock Valley herd of Jersey cows owned by the Camozzi family.
Together, they helped build the 3,000-square-foot cheese production and retail facility at The Barlow, complete with cheesemaking room, a lab. an aging room and a retail counter.
For the first time, the Wm. Cofield cheese will be showcased at California’s 12th annual Artisan Cheese Festival this Friday through Sunday, March 23 to 25, at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa.
“Last year we only had curds, so we did not participate,” Adams said. “This year we’re coming out with all our guns blazing.”
Although it is the new kid on the block, the cheese company will take part in all facets of the festival, from an Artisan Tour on Friday and the Best Bite Competition on Friday night to a Cheese and Cocktail event on Saturday night and the Artisan Marketplace on Sunday.
Adams, who lives in Santa Rosa, dedicates himself to cheesemaking while Hunter, who lives in St. Helena, handles finances, compliance and any kind of building or repair project.
About 40 percent of the Wm. Cofield production is devoted to the McKinley Cheddar, which has salty and tart highlights, a hint of fruitiness and a nutty finish. The McKinley is aged for 6 months, and the Big McKinley is aged for 12 months.
“When I was making cheddar at Westcombe in England, they said ‘We’re working on a five-mile cheddar,’” Adams said. “It’s a cheddar that you can still taste after you walk five miles.
The McKinley Cheddar is wrapped in muslin cloth before being aged. “It’s like the Saran Wrap of the 1800s, only better,” Adams said. “It protects the cheese but lets it breathe.”
About 35 percent of the production is devoted to Bodega Blue, a Stilton-style cheese that is crumbly and earthy, with a touch of sweetness. It is aged between 4 to 6 months.
What: California’s 12th annual Artisan Cheese Festival, including tours, seminars, tastings, pairings, a culinary competition, and a marketplace.
When: Friday through Sunday, March 23 to 25
Where: Sonoma County Fairgrounds, Santa Rosa
Tickets: $25 to $160, includes parking.