“The discovery of a new cheese does more for human happiness than the discovery of a star.”
Okay, nobody ever said that. Brillat-Savarin came close, but his admiration lay with cooks over cheesemakers. I think a successful new cheese trumps any recipe a chef might invent, in part because the former depends on so many hard-to-manage actors, like bacteria, yeasts and fungi.
Nicasio Valley Cheese Company Tomino, which debuted just a few weeks ago, may be this California creamery’s best effort yet. Honoring their ancestry, the siblings behind Nicasio Valley look to Switzerland for inspiration—specifically to the Italian-speaking canton Ticino. Their grandfather emigrated to the U.S. more than a century ago, settling in West Marin with $35 in his pocket and starting the dairy farm that they operate today. They rely on a cheesemaker from their grandfather’s village in the Valle Maggia—near Lago Maggiore—to guide them in developing new recipes.
Scott Lafranchi, the brother in charge of cheese making, returned to Switzerland last year to visit family and his cheese mentor, Maurizio Lorenzetti. Lorenzetti introduced him to the local Tomino, a mild, lightly ripened cheese that didn’t impress Lafranchi initially. When Lorenzetti wrapped the cheese in foil and warmed it, the flavor blossomed, but Lafranchi wasn’t sure of the American demand for a cheese intended for baking.
Back home in Marin, he began experimenting with a Tomino recipe, and Lorenzetti came over to help. For Lafranchi’s taste, the initial cheeses didn’t have enough oomph. Finally, he put some in the fridge and left them for a month. Bingo.
The California Tomino may not be recognizable in the Valle Maggia, but it’s a lovely hybrid. Made with pasteurized organic milk from the creamery’s own herd, the eight-ounce Tomino has both a bloomy rind and a washed rind. Lafranchi brine-washes the wheels only a couple of times to produce a subtle beefy aroma. He doesn’t want a lot of funk. Reddish bacteria appear first on the surface, followed by the white mold bloom. The disks are wrapped at two weeks and matured for another month or so before release.
A ripe Tomino has a dappled rind, thin and edible, with no hint of ammonia. The ivory interior smells mostly of mushrooms mingled with bread yeast, garlic and aged beef. With only 20 minutes at room temperature, the paste becomes squishy and easily spreadable. Good bread is a must. Tomino is a crowd pleaser, creamy and fragrant but not too stinky for people who are just learning to like washed-rind cheeses. It does no harm to red wine, but a Belgian-style saison is its real love match.
Look for Tomimo at Andronico’s (multiple locations); Bryan’s and Falletti Foods (San Francisco); Cal Mart (Calistoga); Fairfax Market (Fairfax); Oliver's Market (multiple locations); Pasta Shop (Oakland and Berkeley); Petaluma Market (Petaluma); Roberts Market (Woodside) and United Markets (San Rafael and San Anselmo). And coming soon to the Nicasio Valley Cheese Company online store.
Please, somebody, tell me why ricotta salata is not better known. Its savory, salty, sheepy flavor brings so many salads to life. I like to shave it and toss it with ribbons of green and yellow zucchini, radishes and carrots. Toasted almonds add crunch, and a light olive oil and lemon juice dressing pulls it together.
You don’t really need a recipe but here are some pointers:
- For 4 people, shave about 1 pound of raw vegetables.
- Toss with just enough dressing to moisten and let stand about 5 minutes to soften slightly.
- Add a couple of big handfuls of arugula, frisée or both. Moisten with a little more dressing.
- Toss in some toasted sliced almonds and shave the cheese into the bowl last, adding as much as you like.
- Toss gently, taste and serve.