Bellwether Farms – San Andreas

“Once upon a time, Cindy Callahan needed a way to keep our pasture grasses under control, so she bought sheep,” explains Cindy’s son, Liam.  ”That one innocent act triggered a series of events that placed our family at the forefront of the American revival in artisan cheese making.”

 

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Liam Callahan and his wife, Diana, now run Bellwether Farms, located about an hour north of San Francisco in the beautiful hillsides of Sonoma County.  It would be fair to say that everything relating to this farm is beautiful, from the family’s mission of creating a perfect American Pecorino to the care of their flock of 200 East Friesian sheep.  To sum up: Their cheeses are absolutely stupidly fantastic.

 

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“Our philosophy?” asks Liam, who, in turn, answers his own question: “Use the highest quality milk available to make the best cheeses possible. Period.”  It’s really that simple folks.  There may be a shit ton of hard word behind it, but there is pure simplicity in striving to create such a perfect product.

 

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California’s original sheep dairy, Bellwether Farms’ raw milk San Andreas is a Bellwether original.  The smooth straw-colored paste is dotted with tiny eyes with rich flavors reminiscent of butterscotch, nuts and hay.  Flavors that have garnered them a few gold medals in the World Cheese Awards.  At once sweet yet clean, you can taste the quality of the milk in every sumptuous bite, as the luxuriousness of fatty sheep’s milk coats your tongue like a Snuggie.

 

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Bellwether Farms produce a number of award-winning cheeses.  I’m also a huge fan of their Pepato which is pretty much the San Andreas studded with peppercorns, however, it gives off an almost citrus bite.  I didn’t take a picture of it because I was too busy eating a whole wheel of San Andreas as though it were a personal pizza, but picture this cheese with bits of big, bold peppercorn dotted throughout.

 

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East Friesian sheep are known for producing some of the best milk in the world.  Recognizable because of their tall limbs and long, pointy ears, Bellwether ewes are happy sheep, free to roam the pasture year round.  However, when it comes to milking, these mamas can be downright stingy little scrooges.

 

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Sheep’s milk ain’t easy to come by, averaging less than a half gallon a day, unlike cows whose prolific milking earned them a nasty reputation of giving it away for free.   And since Bellwether believes in ‘letting nature do her thing as she sees fit’ they would never, ever inject their sweet, yet sometimes selfish, sheep with hormones to increase production.  Sheep like to play hard to get.

 

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A little backstory ….Bellwether Farms first started to age sheep milk cheeses in 1992. After a couple of years of fromage blanc-making, Cindy and Ed Callahan toured Tuscany, returning with a desire to try their hand at an American Pecorino.  Although the results were promising, years later Liam returned to Italy to perfect their technique.  He learned how to better control the moisture level and acid development which lent itself to a smoother mouth feel and more complex depth of flavor, while still being utterly, deliciously, wonderfully sheepy.

 

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This is definitely a cheese for the books.  Now y’all know you can find it at the shop.  And I hope y’all already know you can come in and sample any time.  But, be prepared, it’s a game changer.

 

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