By Micah Cheek
Bohemian Creamery, based in Sebasopol, California, is turning heads with unique goat, sheep, and cow cheeses crafted by the proud hands of Lisa Gottreich. Gottreich began selling her cheeses commercially six years ago, but she was honing her skills in cheesemaking for years before that in her home kitchen. The transition was natural for Gottreich, who said, “Really, the principles are very much the same, but the equipment is different.” The cheeses she produces are held in high regard, even served in Alice Waters’ restaurant, Chez Panisse. When asked how she managed to sell to such a prestigious pantry, Gottreich simply said “I marketed to them.” That confidence is well earned. Her depth of knowledge at every stage of the cheesemaking process commands respect and assures the buyer of a carefully crafted and unique eating experience.
Cheese lovers will notice some unusual offerings in Bohemian’s selection. One cheese, called Cowabunga, hides cajeta, or goat’s milk caramel, in its center. Surf and Turf has a fine vein of local seaweed running through the middle. In cold and wet months, the conditions are perfect to make The Bomb, a goat and sheep milk cheese conditioned to render the gooeyness and funk vaguely reminiscent of an Epoisse.
For a newcomer to artisan cheeses, Gottreich suggests one of her soft goat cheeses, called BoDacious. “It’s got a candidum rind, it’s very mild. People are used to the chevre style, and know that as goat cheese,” she said. For a different goat cheese experience, try the more firmly textured and nutty Capriago, which is brined and aged for up to 10 weeks. Her current favorite is the Romeo, aged a year and a half for complexity and crystallization.
While some cheesemakers gloss over the microbes required for cheese production, Gottreich makes sure the cultures she uses get their time in the spotlight. “Cheeses are defined by their rinds, of which there are basically three: bloom, washed and natural or traditional. But you couldn’t really talk about them without talking about mold.” Her water buffalo milk Agua Bufazola, for instance, is made with a milder strain than is normally used for blue cheeses. The Italian gorgonzola blue mold eases the punch of the six-week-old cheese without compromising flavor. With the milking season’s first offerings, Gottreich has made a batch of Boho Belle, a creamy semi soft cheese that requires six to eight weeks of aging. The end result will show off a delicate bloomy rind of geotrichum candidum.
Bohemian Creamery stresses the importance of not only picking the right cheese, but the right time to eat it. Her quality cheeses can, with proper care, give you a variety of flavor experiences over time. “People say, ‘This isn’t the same cheese I had before.’ Well maybe that cheese was a month old, and this one is a month and a half old,” she says. “Just like I’m not the same person I was when I was 10, many of my qualities have changed. Cheese is living and dying, just like we are. You can pick which qualities you like at a certain age.”