By Teri Tith Concannon and Denise Creek Garcia
When in Paso Robles, be sure to get yourself some great local artisan cheese to accompany you on your expedition. Wine adventures in the region – picture endless rolling hills dotted with rocky outcroppings and oak trees – have been covered on this e-zine. Perhaps on your next trip you will want to discover the fine artisan cheeses made by Reggie Jones at the Central Coast Creamery (CCC).
You will never know how handsome or tall he is as he likes to take a backseat to his cheeses, nor will you find much information about him on their website, so we felt lucky to spend 30 minutes with this talented cheesemaker while he was making cheese. Indeed, it’s all about the cheese at Central Coast Creamery. A typical cheesemaking day is a nine-hour process, just to make the cheese, let alone run other aspects of the business. We caught up with him right in the middle of the pasteurization at 8:30 a.m. on a recent visit to his production facility, discreetly housed behind an unmarked entrance in a rather industrial zoned complex just off the 101 Highway.
The creamery story begins with a dream to make fine cheeses and settle in the picturesque setting of California’s Central Coast. In 2007, the first cheese was ready to go to market. It had taken two years to perfect the culture blend and the technique, and not just a little help from a fellow cheesemaker. The dreamer found that the local authorities were not too sure about having a cheese production facility in their zoning mix, and the barriers to entry were so great, with determination, Reggie turned to John Dirk Bulk, owner of a creamery in Oakdale, Calif., who had some extra capacity and was willing to lend it. That is where their first cheese, the Goat Gouda, was made. Goat Gouda won the top honor, best in show, at the 2010 American Dairy Goat Association, standing out among 185 cheese entries.
Reggie made his business plan, and a new cheese was added every year. Quantified, this represents a well-though-out plan and an impressive 100 percent growth annually for the business. Last summer, he accomplished the milestone of moving into his own production facility in Paso Robles and he has hired Lindsey Mendes, a graduate of the top-notch dairy program at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo to be his apprentice cheesemaker. He was also just appointed to the board of directors of the California Cheese Guild and will be at the California’s Artisan Cheese Festival at the Petaluma Sheraton March 21-23, 2014. Reggie has focused on making the cheese, not offering production tours or branching off into selling direct to the consumer, and the quality of his product alone has lead him to a certain measure of success. You can find his award-winning cheeses at almost any reputable cheesemonger’s counter.
When visiting Paso, you can find all six of Central Coast Creamery’s cheeses at Vivant Fine Cheeses, located in their brand-new location, tucked in between Salon Roux and the City Hall Annex at 821 Pine Street. Even the Courtyard Marriot sells one of Vivant’s small artisan cheese boxes featuring Seascape, a very popular, wine-friendly goat and cow milk blend cheese made by Reggie.
The creamery’s logo and signature label features the visage of a goat, a cow and a sheep, indicating that all three milk types are used to make their cheeses. Reggie insists that all his milk is sourced from hormone-free animals, and has developed local sources for goat and cow milk, coming from farms in Lemoore and Hanford respectively. Sheep milk proved somewhat harder to source. Sheep produce much less than their larger dairy counterparts and Reggie made the business decision to “go where the sheep are” rather than give up on making that type of cheese. So, he brought the proprietary cheese culture that he developed for Ewenique, his only cheese made with sheep milk, to Holland and taught them to make it there. To this day, Ewenique is made in Holland to Reggie’s exact recipe and all of it is brought back to the States to market.
Central Coast Creamery cheeses include:
Big Rock Blue – A hand-crafted artisan cheese made from local cow milk. Big Rock Blue has an ivory-colored paste laced with brilliant teal veining. The Big Rock Blue is mild and approachable yet brimming with hints of fresh butter and salty bacon.
Ewenique – A semi-firm hand-crafted sheep milk cheese made in Holland exclusively for CCC, with a velvety white paste and delicate texture. This complex cheese boasts incredible sweetness and flavors redolent of salted caramel and fresh vanilla beans with a slight hint of citrus to contrast the savory qualities of the sheep’s milk.
Goat Gouda – A semi-hard cheese made with goat milk and some added goat cream that is aged four months or more. This ivory colored cheese is firm, dense and smooth with the slight graininess of a long-aged cheese. The cheese has a caramel scent with a slightly nutty and cooked milk flavor, followed with caramel notes. The product has a hard, thin natural rind.
Goat Cheddar – This exceptional cheddar is made from 100 percent whole goat milk. This semi-firm cheese is pure white with a smooth, velvety texture.
Holy Cow – a pasteurized cow milk cheese is filled with small round openings, characteristic of a Swiss cheese but with a smooth, creamy texture and a crisp and buttery finish.
Seascape – A blended goat and cow milk cheese. Seascape is a semi-soft cheese with a smooth, creamy texture and a complex tanginess that make this cheese a true American Original. This cheese has a brown cheese coating on the rind and has been aged to perfection for a minimum of four months.
We can’t wait to see what kind of cheese Reggie and Lindsey make next!
Teri Tith Concannon and Denise Creek Garcia are co-founders and cheesemongers at Cheese Therapy, an emerging mobile cheese business based in the Livermore Wine Country. Look for their Artisan Cheese plate at the Bankhead Theater in Livermore and like Cheese Therapy on Facebook to follow their progress.