Nestled in a valley outside of Petaluma, stands the landmark where the well-loved cheese Rouge et Noir is made. Known locally as The Cheese Factory, its real name is the Marin French Cheese Company, and it has produced hand-crafted, soft-ripened cheeses in this same location since 1865, making it the oldest cheese manufacturer in the USA. Iâ€™ve passed it many times on the way to Point Reyes, always promising to stop next time. Last week I finally took the time to visit and Iâ€™m glad I did.
The moment I stepped into the cheese shop,Â I was invited to taste. I delighted in the various aromas, textures and flavors of brie, Camembert, and bleu cheeses, before taking aÂ mini tour of the facility. Through a window I watched as workers poured warm milk into containers with added culture. From here, the natural process of converting milk to cheese only takes a few hours. Once the curds have thickened,Â the whey is allowed to drain away andÂ the new cheese is formed into molds. Each cheese is aged for a specified period of time depending on its type, and then finally packaged for sale.
As lunch time approached, I headed back to the shop and picked out a Petite Creme Rouge et Noir, a packet of crackers, and a drink. Resting outside by the duck pond, I savored my snack, along with a view that encouraged me to pull out my watercolor paints. This area of northern California, known for its artisan cheeses, is especially beautiful in late autumn, after seasonal rains have begun to fall. Rolling grass-covered hills that were sere and golden just last month are now a brilliant emerald green. The cows that dot these hillsides are no doubt happier of late, eating newly sprouted grasses.