A Day at Valley Ford Cheese Company
by Justin Dolezal
Part of the “mission” of Mission Cheese is not just to serve people delicious products, but to truly connect people with the food they eat. To that end, we try hard to know the producers whose products we sell on a personal level. Our goal is to promote American artisan cheesemakers by passionately serving their products, telling their stories, and helping you, the consumer, connect with what makes each cheese special.
This was the goal a few weeks ago, when the Mission Cheese crew was lucky enough to get a tour of the cheesemaking operation at Valley Ford Cheese Company. Nestled in the idyllic hills of Sonoma County, Valley Ford was founded in 2008 by Karen Bianchi-Moreda, whose family has owned and operated the ranch since immigrating to the region from Italy in 1918. Karen grew up working on the farm, and when the opportunity to pursue her dream of making cheese arose, she jumped in. Today she runs the business side of Valley Ford, along with her son Joe Moreda, the operations head cheesemaker.
Valley Ford draws their milk from a closed herd of 500 Jersey cows, meaning that extreme attention can be given to animal welfare, nutrition, and milk quality. From this milk Valley Ford produces two (soon to be three!) cheeses, both examples of classic Italian farmstead styles. They are best known for Estero Gold, a Montasio style cheese that bursts with flavors of spicy pineapple and toasted nuts. They also produce Highway 1, a rustic cheese based on Fontina that is comparatively mellow but equally refined. A third cheese based on Gorgonzola Dolce should be produced soon, and based on the samples we tried, it looks to continue Valley Ford's proud tradition of excellence.
After we'd arrived and gotten acquainted with some of Valley Ford's beautiful bovine, Karen led us through Valley Ford's cheesemaking and aging facilities, providing our mongers with a intimate glimpse into the cheesemaking process. Valley Ford's production facilities are small, but planned expansions should allow them to increase their output soon. The aging rooms provided a glimpse into cheese evolution, as wheels at different stages of the aging process varied noticeably in terms of appearance, aroma, and rind development. Karen spoke lovingly about each cheese, the way their recipes and practices honor their family's lineage, and the thrills and challenges of cheesemaking in general. The entire tour was a cheesy, educational delight, and we hope to visit again soon!
Of course, you can't survive on cheese alone. Sonoma County has no shortage of delicious drink options to match their fantastic cheeses, and so the MC team took the opportunity to check out two producers who fine products have graced our wine and beer menus. The first was Wind Gap Wines, an unorthodox maker producing complex, drinkable wines from rare varietals such as Trousseau Gris (their impressive lineup of Syrah is also recommended for those looking for something more classic). Next up was Henhouse Brewing, whose Saison has been a fixture on our rotating tap 1. Henhouse focuses on farmhouse ales, but our visit provided an opportunity to check out some of their other offerings, including a single-hopped Galaxy IPA, as well an insane Imperial Stout brewed with a panoply of stoner-approved ingredients: Cheetos, M&Ms, and a whole birthday cake were all thrown directly into the fermentation kettle during the brewing.
A concept like Mission Cheese is only successful because of the hardworking, talented producers who make the cheese, wine, and beer that we happily sell. It's truly a treat to be able to visit these producers and learn more about their operations. Such experiences make sharing their passions with you, our customers, even more enjoyable.