Laura's Slice of Life
Nicasio Valley Cheese Company "Lucas Valley"
There's a new cheese just hitting the market from California’s only organic farmstead cheese operation, Nicasio Valley Cheese Company. This latest creation is unquestionably my new favorite.
Nicasio Valley Cheese Company’s new cheese called Lucas Valley is a nod to the scenic valley just to the south of the equally beautiful Nicasio Valley. For Star Wars fans, Lucas Valley is also home to the famed Skywalker Ranch.
According to Scott LaFranchi, an owner of Nicasio Valley Cheese and head cheesemaker, the inspiration for this was the French washed rind cheese called Reblochon. The difference is that the French one is made with raw milk and can tilt toward the stronger side of washed rind cheeses. Lucas Valley is neither unpasteurized nor is it particularly strong. But boy, is it good.
A lot of care goes into making the cheese including hand-washing it with the brine and b, linen solution numerous times over the course of the first month and aging it for at least two. B. linens are the bacteria that make the surface of the cheese orange and lend washed rind cheeses their funk, though they have all kinds of ripening purposes beyond that.
The new cheese pays a nod to its older sibling, Nicasio Valley’s Nicasio Square. La Franchi explains they wanted a cheese similar to Square but one that wouldn’t get as strong over time. Rather than square, they wanted a round. The result is the four-pound wheel with a light orangish-tannish hue, a slightly tacky rind with “tiny crunchies”– basically crystallized minerals – and a texture that, when young, is something I’d call “bouncy” – firm enough to hold between two fingers and yet still creamy on the palate. It gets softer and creamier with just a little bit of age, and the funk factor on both the palate and in the aroma increases just a bit too.
On the palate, the first thing I tasted was roasted onion. I also got a hint of smokiness, some yeastiness, a bit of fruitiness, and some brown butter notes. The washed rind funk isn’t absent but neither is it dominant. The salt is spot on – not always an easy achievement with washed rind cheeses.
Lucas Valley is just beginning to hit the market so be on the lookout. It’s not my new favorite cheese for nothing!
Vineyard to Vintner 2023
Make your plans now for the 2023 Vineyard to Vintner event celebrating the wines and wineries in the beautiful Stag’s Leap District in the Napa Valley. This year, I was lucky enough to team up with Silverado Vineyards president Russ Weis to lead two seminars on cheese and wine pairing with some truffle mac & cheese thrown in for fun and flavor. See what we drank (1986 cab, anyone?) and get the delicious and yes, decadent, recipe below.
In addition to Silverado Vineyards beautiful Borreo Ranch Rosa (rosé of sangiovese), which I paired with the classic, Cypress Grove Humboldt Fog, and Borreo Kerner – a relatively unknown Italian white grape full of tropical aromas and bracing acidity, paired with Cowgirl Creamery’s Mt. Tam -- Russ brought out magnums of Silverado Vineyards’s 1986 Stag’s Leap cabernet sauvignon. Now that was special. Cheese-friendly too. I paired it with a cheese you may not know called Matos St. George “Piccante.” This is a small-production cheese made by Joe Matos Cheese Company in Santa Rosa, California. It’s been around for many generations starting in the Azores off the coast of Portugal but is made on such a small scale, most people beyond northern California don’t know about it. Luckily, they ship.
The final stellar wine poured was the 2018 Abel, a gorgeous Stag’s Leap District single vineyard cabernet sauvignon that is one of Silverado’s Classic Collection. Classic though it is, it is sold only at the winery and online. It’s worth the splurge.
As for that mac & cheese, the truffle in it came from Point Reyes Cheese Co’s TomaTruffle core – a clever creation and perfect for cooking and cheese plates – both of which I used it for.
Want the recipe? Find it here.
Ribera y Rueda
And finally, let’s talk about wine. I traveled to the land of castles and lions in Spain - Castilla y León - where I learned firsthand about the wines of Ribera del Duero and Rueda - together known as Ribera y Rueda.
The wines made there – Tempranillo (red) from Ribera and Verdejo (white) from Rueda – are as interesting, complex, historical, and exciting as it gets. I saw vines over 100 years old that were still producing grapes! Winemakers now are using modern techniques to make wines in both the traditional styles and more New World styles – something for everyone. All are thrilling, and most importantly for all of us, cheese-friendly. Read my introduction to Ribera y Rueda here.