Seasonal Cooking with Rita Calvert~The Local Cook
From Marin Agricultural Land Trust
"Across America, 1.3 acres of farm and ranch land are paved over every minute. But in Marin County just above San Francisco, something different is happening. MALT has permanently protected nearly half of the farmland in the county.
Marin Agricultural Land Trust was created in 1980 by a coalition of ranchers and environmentalists to permanently preserve Marin County farmland. For more than 30 years, Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT) has worked with local families to save their farms and ranches. Marin’s farms provide delicious milk and cheese, meat, vegetables, fruit and wine to people in the Bay Area and beyond.
With the public parks that surround them, farms preserve a contiguous open landscape that is home to abundant wildlife, verdant grasslands, sparkling streams and dense woods. These working landscapes have been faithfully husbanded for many generations alongside nature and create an extraordinary place unlike anywhere else in the world."
I discovered MALT while perusing the web for more information on sustainable dairies across the US. Admittedly, I am a fool for goats and especially like to follow the dairy process from the birth of a female kid to generations later when her milk has morphed (with care and attention of the cheesemaker) into a glorious artisanal aged cheese.
The Farmstead Dairy
“Farmstead” meaning the farm owns the land, the buildings and the animals. A farmstead cheese is made from milk produced on a specific farm. Farmstead cheese are often made in creameries located on the farm, but always at least quite nearby, since fresh milk is perishable. This is not an easy endeavor financially or physically so being sustainable is a grand effort. My interest was to see the formula for these dairies or ranches that are "making it". After many phonecalls and confusing maps, Donna Pacheco of Achadinha Cheese Company (farmstead goat dairy) readily agreed to give me a tour if I could just coordinate my visit with her very hectic schedule. Just call her in advance and she'll be happy to give you or your group a tour. Make sure you have a good map or GPS and get the directions very clear!
Farmstead cheeses are thus made in relatively small batches and many steps are usually done by hand (such as turning the cheese, wiping the rinds, cutting, and packaging). Because farmstead cheeses are made in a specific place, they tend to develop unique flavor profiles based on the feed the animals receive, the climate in which they're made, and the natural microbes in the air where they are aged. You know that great French word, "Terrior".
By definition, some "artisan" or "artisanal" cheeses are also farmstead cheeses, although some artisanal cheeses are made by cheesemakers who buy milk from a few farms. Some larger creameries will make farmstead cheeses (cheeses made with milk from specific farms) and other artisanal cheeses made with milk from several farms, using the same care and techniques for both.
I had been so excited to follow the Cheese Trail mapped out on a charming brochure by the MALT group and had great hopes of many farms opening their doors to me while driving on a picturesque route through the mountains of western Marin. Well, reality set in once again that small farmers and ranchers are some of the hardest working folks on the planet and cannot be there with open arms to anyone who drives by-no matter what the MALT brochure says! If you decide to make a similar trip, coordinate your plans well in advance and know that any tours must be carefully scripted with that particular location. The cheese retail shops are usually open (except Cowgirl Creamery, Point Reyes) on a Monday.
The entire Pacheco family is involved in the farm and dairy process. Donna handcrafts all cheeses Achadinha sells while her son actually cuts the curds from the whey by hand, which is an arduous process.
The moral of the story is that the farming world, and most definitely the sustainable small farmer, has a tough go of it even to just protect their farmland from the big developers and government regulations which favor the large commodity "factory farm". These dedicated farmers do it for their connection to the land and the integrity of producing a pure product made with love. When you meet your small scale sustainable farmer, thank them for the beautiful food grown locally.