Island Gem


Are you up for a quiet island vacation in a natural setting with few other tourists around? After hearing Manual Maia describe Terceira, one of the nine islands in the remote Azores, I put it on my bucket list. “There are more cows than people,” says Maia, whose company, TradiFoods, imports Portuguese specialties.
Plentiful rainfall generates abundant grass that supports Terceira’s main industry: dairy farming. Because the island is in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and three hours by air from anywhere, the locals long ago learned to transform all that perishable milk into cheese. Castelinhos (pictured above) is one of their exports, and it delivers a lot of pleasure for the price.
Maia, who is Portuguese, says the name means “little castle,” a reference to a fortress on the island. The creamery that produces the cheese is not small, and Castelinhos is not an artisan product by any definition. But the cheese exceeds expectations, says Maia, because of the high-quality milk supplied by cows that are on pasture year round.
Castelinhos debuted around 1960 and is now marketed by Lactogal, the Portuguese dairy giant. Produced with pasteurized milk, the 2-1/2 pound wheels leave the island when they are about 30 days old. Brine-washed as they age, they develop a meaty beef-bouillon aroma with hints of celery and roasted onion. The wheels are coated with a food-grade paint to prevent moisture loss and mold growth, and they have a barely-there rind underneath. The interior is supple, smooth and buttery, with a butter-colored hue.

Grass-fed Girls: Terceira dairy cows

Grass-fed Girls: Terceira dairy cows

Some descriptions compare Castelinhos to Saint-Paulin or Port-Salut, two of my least favorite French cheeses. I think it has much more character.
“This is not a sophisticated cheese, but among the industrial cheeses from Portugal, it is probably the best,” says Maia. That may be faint praise, but honestly, a lot of cheeses at twice the price are not as well made. Castelinhos’s seasoning is just right, its aroma intrigues and its creamy texture pleases. What’s not to like?
Look for Castelinhos at the Pasta Shop in Oakland and Berkeley; Farmstead in Alameda and Montclair; Wine Thieves in Berkeley; Sonoma Market in Sonoma; Oxbow Cheese Merchant and Browns Valley Market in Napa; Sunshine Foods and V. Sattui in St. Helena; and Corti Bros and Nugget Markets in Sacramento. A dry white wine with little or no oak or a young, fruity red wine would be my choice to pour with it.

Your Best Yogurt Ever


People are telling me that, using the recipe in my new cookbook, they are making their best yogurt ever. Now it’s your turn. Join me at SHED, the beautiful Healdsburg café and shop, on Saturday, June 13, for a late-morning workshop in DIY yogurt. We’ll meet in the upstairs Grange, where I’ll demonstrate the process and answer your yogurt questions. You’ll sample my creamy homemade yogurt and a couple of recipes from the book. Here’s a thought: Shop the charming Healdsburg farmers’ market first, then come learn some new yogurt techniques. Class details here.