Blue Cheese at Point Reyes
Organic Greens at County Line Harvest
After assembling at the Ferry Building and driving north through Marin County about 65 miles with our personable and curious driver, “DJ,” we passed this windblown tree by the lane to Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company.
Think there might be a strong prevailing wind here? Well, it wasn’t around for our spectacularly beautiful day on the farm.
After arriving, while folks relieved themselves from the bus ride, we hung out for a while at The Fork, the facility here for education, entertaining and specialty chef dinners. We would later have lunch here. Nice place.
Soon, we donned sanitary boots. I wasn’t present for the “why” of that, but imagined we might be slogging through some — shall we say, waste material? — on our tour. Far from it, the farm is one of the cleanest I’ve experienced. The boots protect the clean environment in the warehouse from the various evils us city folk track in while observing the wrapping and packing operations.
This was our first time in a tight group, a perfect opportunity for a few questions and answers. Bob Giacomini and his daughter Jill were our fearless leaders.
Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company. Farmstead means that they only use milk that they produce themselves on this 700 acre farm where they are milking 330 cows.
One gallon of milk, weighing about 8 1/2 pounds, produces one pound of cheese. Since they make 700,000 pounds of their Original Blue cheese a year alone, that’s a lotta milk. On the other hand, big commercial cheese producers make a million pounds a day.
Booties off, we proceeded to the shed where the expectant mothers wait for their time.
some pregnant ladies
A calf is born; let’s call her Molly, she weighs 80 to 90 pounds at birth. It could have been Harry, the birth rate is about birth rate about 50 – 50, male – female. Harry would be weaned, then sold.
Molly’s first 30 days are spent in “Calf Condos”
At 24 months old, Molly has her own calf and begins producing milk.
She is productive until about age 11, and although her lifespan is about 20 years, she will most likely be sold at the end of her productive life.
Cows have been artificially inseminated for many years, but now it is possible to buy “sexed seaman.” Point Reyes chooses to do that only on rare occasions.
Here is a calf in her “Calf Condo. Calves are separated from their mother and kept here for their first 30 days; primarily because they are small and their bones are fragile. Mothers are big, could bump their calf and bye-bye calf. Here also, the weaning process can begin, although she is fed her own mother’s milk for the first week or so.
These cows are enjoying a bite to eat, we’ll get into what they’re eating, later. Right now, we’re concerned with the poop. Behind the cows is a shallow trough for poop collection. Every so often it is flushed with water.
The poop/water mixture flows through the trough here, to a pit under the black tarp beyond.
Production and use of methane gas
cows eat in shed
poop falls in flat trough
trough is flushed with water
flows to pit, solids separated
water is recycled to flush next batch of poop
manure ferments to produce methane gas
gas collected under fabric closure and piped to the generator to make electricity.
Electric generator run by methane gas produces electricity. Hot water produced in the process is then used to heat the milk in the cheesemaking operation.
Bob and Jill are standing where the milker works. We’re standing where the cows will be.
The milking parlor is a one man operation.
Cows are brought in and hooked up to each of the 15 stations. The milker punches the cow’s number into the computer which records the amount of milk, time to milk, and other good information. These records are kept as long as that animal is on the farm.
It takes about 6 minutes to empty a cow of about 4 to 5 gallons of milk at each milking.
Point Reyes milks twice a day. If they milk more times a day, they get more milk, but it wears out everybody — cows and workers.
Point Reyes makes cheese for 5 days per week, the other two days they sell their milk to Clover Stornetta Farms (Clover has the highest standards for milk in the country). http://cloverstornetta.com/Clover_Stornetta_Home.asp
Cow feed –
Cows are in pasture about 7 months. In the summer, the pasture is too dry for grazing so the cows are fed silage. Even in winter months, the cows diet is supplemented by silage. Point Reyes Farmstead has a nutritionist to formulate the cows’ diet:
1 – best diet for a healthy cow
2 – cheapest mix to give most milk
3 – mix that will not adversely affect the taste of the milk or cheese
Point Reyes adds whey to the silage, it is nutritious and saves about 2 pounds of corn per cow per day
some of the grain, minerals, protean that go into the silage
A pile of silage is just outside the shed. Silage for later use is stored under plastic weighed down by tires.
another method of silage storage, in big plastic tubes
Cows at Point Reyes are Holsteins. The Nutritional and care Objective is for each generation to produce a better cow.
Visitors are no longer allowed in the creamery, so we saw a 7 minute video produced by The Cooking Channel on the making of Original Blue.
The curds are gathered into molds, but not pressed.
Once the wheels are stable, they are removed from the molds and salted 3 times a day for 3 days. I don’t remember what happens after that, but ultimately, they are “cave cured” and wrapped in foil for distribution.
Great tour! and time for cheese tasting and lunch at The Fork.
Cheese Plate Clockwise from 11:00
Toma – pasteurized milk, aged 3 months, 1st in Class at the American Cheese Society judging last week in Montreal (ACS)
Mountain – pasteurized milk, not in distribution because has to age too long… the ‘beta production’ is available at the Farmstead and Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, $20 for half-pound wedge… I bought some. Oh my that’s good.
“new blue” – not yet named, pasteurized milk, it’s like a young Stilton, not in full distribution yet, but available at Ferry Plaza Farmers Market…
Original Blue – raw milk, aged 5 months, voted “Best Cheese or Diary Product” at Fancy Food Show in Washington DC. Point Reyes produces 700,000 pounds per year… wheel is about 6 1/2 pounds.
Fresh Mozzarella – a new product, pasteurized milk, 2nd in Class ACS
We helped ourselves to a lunch of a green salad from County Line Harvest vegetables and grilled cheese sandwiches. The sandwiches were made with Point Reyes Toma cheese; some had tomatoes, some had pluots or berries in the sandwich. Yum.
Chocolate chip cookies for dessert… warm. Oh my.
COUNTY LINE HARVEST FARM
Farmer David Retsky wasn’t available, but we were met by his assistant Tiffany Glover, and Kitty Dolcini (pictured in bright blue), who owns the property. A few years back Kitty sold her land development rights to MALT (Marin Agricultural Land Trust) in an agreement called an easement; this allowed her to buy the inherited land from her siblings and will ensure that all 600 acres will remain in agriculture in perpetuity. (photo by Barry, copy by Twilight of CUESA)
Kitty raises around 350 hens on pasture, but has to protect them in houses like this mobile home at night when the raccoons and coyotes some down from the hills. Locals stop by the farm to buy the eggs on the honor system, and Kitty was talking about setting up a farm stand that also offers produce. (photo by Barry, copy by Twilight of CUESA)
Strawberry fields forever… about 40,000 Seascape strawberry plants. They are small and sweet and developed for a cool, coastal climate such as this one on Point Reyes.
When we walked into the County Line field, I said to Julie, “Standing next to a full grown cow at Point Reyes was pretty awesome. Somehow, being in the presence of a vegetable doesn’t bring that kind of feeling.”
On the other hand, the vastness of these fields of strawberries and lettuces is pretty awesome in another way. Each of those leaves has to be selected, clipped, washed and readied for sale.
Lettuces comprise around 50% of County Line’s total sales. The farm’s salad mix is made up of a variety of lettuces (like the red Lolla Rosa). Each bed yields two or three harvests before it is turned into the soil
We were there on a Wednesday, which is a farm day off. Normally these fields are teeming with a dozen or more workers…
Tokyo Turnips, one of my favorites. We were told to “pick away” here, as this bed was about to be turned under to enrich the soil.
The beds are made by a new roller and digger pull attachment to the tractor.
Tiffany told us about the floating row covers the farm uses to keep beetles away from their Brassica vegetables. This thin fabric allows water and breeze in, but protects the plants in their vulnerable early weeks. And it’s reusable! Some of these covers have been in use for nearly a decade.
The tour completed, Kitty’s eggs and u-pick strawberries were purchased (the strawberries largely consumed on the spot).
Good tour… one of the best ever. Thanks Julie and Twilight and CUESA.
From the farmer’s perspective, I feel the need to clarify that:
–Harry would be weaned, sold, then slaughtered and turned into hot dogs, unless he’s very lucky and he’s grown into veal before he’s slaughtered;
–a dairy cow can have calves on an annual basis until their about 10 years old, and they *could* live to 20 years old, but unless it’s a very favorite pet cow, or the cow has unusually excellent genetics, their careful measurement of milk output vs. feed costs will determine that the cow is better turned into hamburger well before it reaches the end of its natural life;
–Methane from cow poop that runs the farm and cheese operation; awesome!
Eric is right, I erred in my statement of milk production.
I noted “It takes about 6 minutes to empty a cow of about 12 gallons of milk at each milking.”
I’ve corrected the text to read, “It takes about 6 minutes to empty a cow of about 4 to 5 gallons of milk at each milking.”
What fun, Marcus. Thanks for sharing. Sarah
Farming just isn’t what it was when I was growing up. It sounds like it takes a lot of business management skills to run a profitable operation.
That plate of cheese looked delicious.