12 California Cheeses that Everyone Should Know

Photo by Muy Yum
One may think of Europe when one thinks of great cheese, but over the past few years California dairy farmers have been stepping up their game, and the Golden State is now home to a wide range of truly excellent cheeses, from cows, sheep and goats. Some of the best are listed below -- what are your favorite California cheeses?


Foggy Morning, Nicasio Valley
Tangy and sharp, this spreadable cream cheese-like cow cheese is especially nice on toast with a drizzle of honey or your favorite jam. Its texture is slightly crumbly, but melts on the tongue.

Humboldt Fog, Cypress Grove Chevre
World famous Humboldt Fog may be responsible for solidifying California's place in the cheesemaking world. Progressive techniques combined with some old-world nuances (the ash rind) impressed the world nearly 20 years ago, and now this cheese is a household name among aficionados. Even if you don't enjoy this chevre, it's one to know about it.

Bandage Cheddar, Fiscalini Farms
For those who like a distinct cheddar, this is a gem. Its geode-like interior has all of the flavor you would expect in a small production farmhouse cheddar. The best part? Finding an occasional pocket of blue mold among the craggles and crannies.

Mezzo Seco Jack, Vella Cheese Co.
This is the godfather of California cheese. A staple among cheese stores up and down California, Vella's Mezzo Seco is coated in cocoa powder before being sealed in wax. Its firm body is similar in density to a young parmesan and makes for an excellent grating cheese over soup, salad or pasta.

Mixtress, Bleating Heart
Subtle, nutty and, well -- just right. This blended cow and sheep's milk cheese is modeled after French Basque cheese. While it is firm enough to slice, you may be surprised by the creaminess of the texture as it melts on your palate. Pinot Noir fans will adore the way this pairs with their favorite bottle.

Photo by artizone
Red Hawk, Cowgirl Creamery When ripe, this little washed-rind cow cheese oozes forth from its sticky red skin. Almost liquid, the pâté (interior of the cheese) drenches your tastebuds in flavor. A sharp, salty introduction is followed by a mellow nuttiness as it melts. Many people avoid the sticky, smelly rind but I emplore you to indulge: it provides a texture that complements the ripened interior.


Burrata, Gioia
Of all of the producers in Southern California (and there are several) making this style of mozzarella, Gioia is by far the best. The skin is tender and thin, just strong enough to cradle the delicate interior of shredded curd and cream.

Winchester Gouda, Winchester Cheese Co.
Of all the cheeses made in Southern California, this one displays a unique taste of terroir. Milk sourced from right next door to the dairy is immediately cooked and pressed into wheels before the aging process, which can last from 60 days to 8 years or longer, begins. To enjoy this cheese is to enjoy the rolling dry hills of Temecula and its arid climate.

Aged Goat Gouda, Central Coast Creamery
Sharp and sweet, salty and robust, fruity, floral, herbaceous: Goat goudas and their fantastic flavors have really exploded in the California market. They're firm enough to slice, dense enough to crumble, and easily paired with white wine or rosé. A little sweetness goes a long way in enhancing the rich bouquet the goat milk has to offer. The one year aged variety is particularly grand.

Point Reyes Blue, Pt. Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co.
Produced just a stone's throw away from the Cowgirl Creamery, this rich cow's milk blue is a force to be reckoned with. This quintessential California blue will transport you to your first blue cheese-topped salad or burger.

Fresh Ricotta, Bellwether Farms

Although most traditional ricotta is considered a byproduct of cheese making rather than a cheese itself, this American-style ricotta made with whole Jersey cow's milk or sheep milk is definitely deserving of recognition. Fluffy as a cloud and tasting of fresh buttermilk, this cheese is a wonderful treat for breakfast and will enhance your favorite lasagna or pastry,too.

Rumple, Weirauch Farm
While more and more farms seem to be concentrating their efforts on clean tasting goat cheeses, Weirauch Farms stands apart, producing Old World-style ripening cheeses that linger on the taste buds with earthy, barnyard-like flavors like dry straw and fresh earth.

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About the Author

Henry is an illustrator, sculptor and computer artist. He works on his comics, Fiscal Cliff and the upcoming series The Wig, when he is not writing for kcet.org. His sculptures can be seen at The Hive Gallery and Cactus Gallery bo...
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