Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Bellwether Farms

"Once upon a time, Cindy Callahan (my mother) needed a way to keep our pasture grasses under control, so she bought sheep. That one innocent act triggered a series of events that placed our family at the forefront of the American revival in artisan cheese making."

Family owned and operated, Bellwether Farms is located in the beautiful rolling hills of the Sonoma County coast, the farm is only a few miles from the ocean and well known areas like Tomales Bay and Bodega Bay. This region is known for mild temperatures and coastal fog.

Heat stress adversely affects milk production and quality, so our mild temperatures are ideal for dairy production. Dairies in our area are reknowned for producing the richest and sweetest milk in the land. No herbicides or artificial fertilizers are ever used on our pastures.

Counting on sheep
Our sheep are a Northern European breed called East Friesian, among the best milk producing sheep in the world. Taller than ordinary sheep, they’re known for their relatively long and pointy ears. Each ewe has from one to three lambs each year and these lambs stay with the mother for 45 days before we start milking the ewe. After the lambs are weaned, the ewe is milked for up to eight months. But a sheep gives less milk than a cow or goat, averaging less than ½ gallon a day.

Our sheep are free to roam the pasture year round, but they’re also fed grain and alfalfa to keep them in top condition for milk production. We believe in letting nature do her thing as she sees fit, so our sheep are never injected with hormones to increase production.

How now brown cows?
Our cow’s milk comes from Jersey cows on a nearby dairy. Jersey cows are brown in color and much smaller and less common than the black and white Holstein cows.

More importantly, their milk is much richer with higher fat and protein, which makes it far superior for cheese production. Again, it’s quality, not quantity that takes the front seat –– a Jersey cow may only give five gallons a day while other breeds give more than twice that. The cows are never treated with hormones, and are fed a mix of grasses, supplemented with alfalfa and grains.

This cheese has great milk flavors like butter. The creamy texture also allows it to coat the palate and soften harsh tannins found in big reds. We have found our favorite combination to be with barrel-fermented Chardonnay.

Fromage Blanc
A traditional, European-style cheese. Tangy, buttery and easy to spread, it’s a tasty alternative to cream cheese and chévre. This cheese is one of the most versatile ingredients available to the home chef. Fromage Blanc is at its best when used as an ingredient in appetizers, main courses and even desserts. It is fabulous with sauces, herbs and spices, and specialty breads. If you’re presenting Fromage Blanc on a cheeseboard, whip the cheese and serve in a ramekin. Then drizzle with honey and top with toasted nuts.

Crème Fraîche
Whey from our aged cheeses (both cow and sheep) goes into making our ricottas. Both are creamy with a sweet, delicate flavor that must be featured. Drained in the Italian baskets for this purpose, it is never mushy or grainy.

The recipe for our Crescenza was learned on a trip to Northern Italy. We were introduced to a small cheese maker a little west of Milan who processed about 100 gallons of milk at a time and made a variety of cheeses from each batch.

When it is young and milky it pairs well with a rounded Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. For a divine experience, try it with a Champagne or Sparkling wine. As it ages it becomes tangy and acidic matching well with a crisp white wine like Pinot Grigio, dry Riesling or Rose.

Sheep's Milk Yogurt
Our sheep's milk yogurt is sweeter than goat's milk, tastier than soy and richer than cow's milk! Made with naturally homogenized sheep milk, our yogurt contains no antibiotics or growth hormones. For an added benefit, sheep milk could be the answer for those who are lactose intolerant.

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