Each time I’ve had the opportunity to visit a farm, I have cultivated a new friendship with a cheesemaker and/or dairy farmer. Once I’ve enjoyed seeing a farm, met the family, toured the cheese plant, petted the animals and had a cup of coffee at the kitchen table, I have created an experience that I can then take back to my cheese shop and share with each guest—so we then become ambassadors for these amazing cheeses.
Last month my travels took me to Pugs Leap Cheese and Gypsy Cheese Company. Pugs Leap Cheese rents part of its facility to Gypsy Cheese Company, providing a double benefit, with two admirable cheese companies under one roof.
Upon arrival at Pugs Leap, you are greeted at the beautiful barn by the ranch dog Sam and a few heritage Mangalitsas pigs—and this is all before you get a chance to meet the goats. After touring the cheese plant and admiring the beautiful selection of cheeses, all made from farmstead goat milk, we enjoyed a tasting of the fresh-made cheeses crafted by Anna Hancock, owner and cheesemaker.
We loved all of the cheeses equally, truly!
The Chèvre is fresh and fluffy, with a creamy finish; the Tomme is a raw milkwheel, with snow-white interior and an earthy, full-bodied flavor; the Petit Marcel has a bit of bloom to create a visual treat made in the shape of a small disc of soft and delicate goat cheese; and to finish, the Pave, which has a semi-firm and flaky texture with a perfect exterior of bloom. You can tell these cheeses were made by hand, by someone with a passion for her products.
Pugs Leap Cheese is located on White Whale Farm in West Petaluma and is open by appointment; look for spring tours of the farm. In addition, you can find Pugs Leap Cheeses at Oliver’s Market, The Epicurean Connection, Petaluma Market, Oxbo Public Market, Freestone Artisan Cheese and fine cheese shops and restaurants around the Bay Area.
“Made with Love in Valley Ford, California” is the opening line Gypsy Cheese Co. has on its website, which made me love them before I had met them! Gypsy Cheese Co. was founded in 2013 by Jon and Lauren Bowne with the help of their young son Benjamin.
The Bowne family relocated from San Francisco to West Petaluma after the couple made a career change from working as attorneys; in their free time together they began experimenting and dreaming their cheese business. The Bownes now live in the bucolic countryside of Petaluma, as they pursue a life of rural harmony and cheese- making.
Jon and Lauren learned their cheese craft by experimenting in small batches, sourcing milk from local dairies. They are a welcome addition to the cheese culture of Sonoma County and we thank Pugs Leap Cheese Company for welcoming them onto the farm.
Jon and Lauren believe Valley Ford’s foggy, salty air creates a wonderful atmosphere for cheese ripening, and its pastoral vistas inspire the ‘fromage artiste.’ The Bownes’ philosophy is to maintain simple cheesemaking practices that allow the marvelous and unique Valley Ford terroir to shine. The milk is never pasteurized, and only minimal amounts of commercial cultures are utilized. Most of the magic happens simply by allowing the milk and local environment to freely interact.
Look for spring tour dates to meet the Bowne Family, or you may find them offering demos at your local cheese shop, Oliver’s Market or The Epicurean Connection.
After touring the Pugs Leap Cheese and Gypsy Cheese Company, we stopped in at Keller Estate to taste their wines and enjoy the beautiful view of southern Sonoma County. We were greeted with Brut Bubbles, made by the traditional Champenoise method, employing a blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. This wine, which is produced every five years, is in limited supply.
We tasted a variety of Chardonnays, Pinot Gris, Rosés and Pinot Noirs. Keller Estate is truly a shining star of our Sonoma County. The winery is open for walk-in tastings Friday through Sunday; reservations are required Monday through Thursday and the weekend. Stop by and enjoy a flight of wine, the view, original works of art by local and international artists, and a delightful afternoon. Be sure to visit their website, too, as it is filled with delicious recipes and culinary pairings.
After departing Keller Estate, we stopped in at Ernie’s Tin Bar on Lakeville Highway in Petaluma for a crisp, cold brew. They pour over 20 beers on draft—a mighty fine selection, I would like to say. Amanda greets us and she always remembers our names! Enjoy a bag of chips, peanuts or a snack, but do remember: No cell phones; if your phone rings, you have to buy a round of drinks for the entire bar. SD
Pugs Leap Cheese & White Whale Farm
Gypsy Cheese Company
Ernie’s Tin Bar