My Traveling Tales by Linda
"You have to be a romantic to invest yourself, your money, and your time in cheese."
~ Anthony Bourdain
Once upon a time there were four sisters. This is exactly how the story of the Salvation Sisters begins, and so does the story of the Giacomini sisters, who, along with their parents, have built a thriving cheese business from the dairy that their family has operated for generations on pristine and fecund land that is located just above beautiful Tomales Bay in Point Reyes Station, California. It all started more than a century ago when their great-grandfather, Tobias Giacomini, landed in Northern California from Italy with a dream of raising chickens and cows.
|Diana, Lynn, Jill and Karen pose for me in The Fork; the beautiful culinary center
on the farm that was custom-built for education and entertainment.
Lynn invited our team to take a farm tour in the morning and then do a focused cheese tasting that would be paired with beer and wine. Afterward we would have lunch. Since I last visited the farm, the Giacomini's have built a beautiful and inviting facility that they call The Fork. The Fork has a state of the art kitchen, dining room, edible garden and outdoor patio. They had set a beautiful table for our arrival.
|The gardens just outside The Fork... wire mesh provides protection
from frisky raccoons that like to dig for grubs.
|A beautiful Fall-themed table was set for our group in The Fork.
|The California hills are dry in October, and the farm must grow enough grass and
hay for the cows to last the entire year.
|Young calves, once they are strong enough, are transported to a new pasture up the hill.
The Giacomini Dairy sold only fluid milk for 40 years before Bob Giacomini decided that he would like to keep his milk on the farm and try his hand at making cheese. Not just cheese, but great cheese. Little by little, Bob along with his wife Dean, convinced their four daughters to join into the business together and begin making cheese. In 2000, the dream became a reality when the first wheels of Point Reyes Original Blue Cheese were made. Thirteen years later, the farm now makes not only the Original Blue, but Bay Blue, Toma, Point Reyes Mozzarella and four flavors of Point Reyes Blue Cheese Dips that are just being launched in time for this holiday season.
|Beautiful Tomales Bay on a sunny October day. The farm is not far from
Hog Island Oyster Company.
Our tour began with Lynn and operations manager Jim Kehoe (who has been a dairyman his entire life) showing us around the farm. It is hard to fathom just how much work goes into operating a large dairy. Lynn explained to us that our dairy farms are in crisis in the United States. Just last year over 200 dairies went out of business, according to Lynn. The price of milk simply does not pay the operating costs of a dairy, so making value added products such a cheese, is a way for dairies to survive in these modern times.
Aside from a milking schedule that starts at 2:00 AM (no that is not a typo), the farm must maintain its pastures, because healthy grass is key to the renowned quality and flavor of their cheese, as well as preserving the land. They must also grow grass which is cut and turned into silage to feed the cows during the months before the rains start, and the grass begins to grow again.
Then there is the complicated issue of waste and what to do with it. Where there are many cows, there is also a great amount of cow _ _ _ _ (I'll let you fill in the blanks) to deal with. Jim has been instrumental in developing the farms methane digester, which breaks down the dangerous gas that is produced by the manure, and they harness the energy produced to run the farm. The dairy and cheese plant operations are all powered by the energy produced. Stewardship of the land and long-term sustainability are goals of the Giacomini family.
|Jim explains operations in the "milking parlor" to our group.
|We surprised the Cheesemaker, Kuba Hemmerling, who just happened
to be strolling by on a day off from work. He takes a moment to greet our group.
|Lynn cheerfully answered our many questions.
|Our team watches cheese being made through a window. The cheese making
room must be kept sterile, so no visitors are allowed within.
|Bob Giacomini, the patriarch of the family, says hello to us. He and his wife convinced
their daughters to leave successful business careers in other fields to return to the
farm and help make his dream to produce cheese come true.
"In the early 1960s, Marin County’s plan for coastal development envisioned a dramatic change for West Marin, including plans for a city with a population of 125,000 on the shores of Tomales Bay. If implemented the planned development would have ended a 150-year-old tradition of family farming. Change seemed inevitable, and many farmers "read the writing on the wall" and agreed to put their farms up for sale. As “For Sale” signs started to line rural roadways farmers, environmentalists and other Marin citizens joined forces to do something about it.
The coalition worked to change Marin County planning and zoning plans for large-scale development of farmland. Phyllis Faber, a biologist, and Ellen Straus, a rancher, founded MALT in 1980 to give permanent protection to family farms. The farmland trust became the first of its kind in the nation. Since then MALT has worked with more than 70 farming families to preserve more than 45,000 acres."
So thanks to Phyllis and Ellen, some 30 years later, there are farms that produce food dotting the pristine coastline of Tomales Bay, instead of houses, hotels and industrial development.
|Our team about to begin our focused cheese tasting led by Lynn. The cheeses were paired
with Hop Stoopid from Lagunitas Brewing Company, and a French Colombard.
If you would like to have your own farm visit or attend dinners and events at The Fork contact the farm. An appointment is required. Point Reyes Farmstead cheeses are widely available for purchase, including from the cheese counter at your local Whole Foods Market.
|The long and winding road that leads to delicious cheese!
Linda's Holiday Salad with Point Reyes "Original Blue", Persimmons and Pomegranate Seeds