A few years ago, I went to visit a friend with terminal cancer. Ira knew his prognosis, but he was in good spirits that day and eager to tell me about his new doctor, a thoracic surgeon who owned a goat farm in West Marin and wanted to make cheese. Alas, the doctor could not do much for Ira, but I remembered his name and eventually began hearing about his cheese.
This summer I had the chance to meet Dr. David Jablons and his wife, Tamara Hicks, at the American Cheese Society conference in Sacramento. They were wearing aprons and standing behind a table, serving samples of the cheeses from their year-old creamery, Tomales Farmstead. The next evening, they won a second-place ribbon for their aged sheep’s milk tomme, Atika. Ira would have been thrilled.
Last week, I visited the creamery, an impeccable facility designed to process the milk of the farm’s 200 goats and 100 sheep. Both Jablons and Hicks, a clinical psychologist, maintain busy practices in San Francisco and leave the cheesemaking to Jennifer Kirkham.
A creamery wasn’t on their radar when the couple bought the 160-acre property a dozen years ago. They enjoyed hiking in the area, and the landscape reminded Jablons of coastal Maine, which he loves. The goats came next, and for years Redwood Hill Farm bought the milk. But the fluid-milk business “didn’t pencil out,” says Hicks, so they began the arduous process of building a creamery to make farmstead cheese.
Jennifer Kirkham produces four cheeses currently, all of them first rate:
Liwa: a tangy, fresh goat cheese released at three days; tart, rindless and lemony.
Kenne: identical to Liwa but matured at the creamery for three weeks; the half-pound square (top picture, upper cheese) develops a geotrichum rind—a soft, wrinkled cloak that is fully edible. At optimum ripeness, about four weeks, Kenne will have a “cream line,” a molten layer just under the rind, and a firm yet creamy core. The cheese has a lovely sour-cream aroma with a hint of mushroom.
Assa: an aged 3- to 4-pound goat cheese tomme (top picture, lower cheese) washed with brine during its three-month maturation; Chardonnay is added to the final washings. The rind is thin and dry, the texture firm, friable and a little sandy. Assa’s aroma reminds me of cheesecake and light caramel, and I love its lively acidity and sweet finish.
Atika: a blend of sheep and goat milk in roughly equal parts, this 3- to 4-pound tomme smells like warm melted butter and crème fraiche. The rind is hard, dry and deeply marked by the draining basket. The firm, dry paste has numerous small openings, and the flavor is buttery and tart.