Rebecca King makes some excellent aged cheeses in California’s Monterey County with milk from her 100 ewes. But if you want to taste her fresh cheese, Sweet Alyssum, now’s the moment. In early October, her flock will start a two-month sabbatical, resting up for the lambing season that begins in December.
Moist, fluffy and velvety, Sweet Alyssum is a sheep fromage blanc, about as simple as cheese gets. King adds culture and rennet to her pasteurized sheep's milk, waits about 24 hours, scoops the curd into a pillowcase-like bag and hangs it to drain for two days. After salting and packing in tubs, the cheese is ready for you.
When I asked King about the fat content of her milk, she sent me a lab analysis of nine samples (eight different ewes plus the bulk tank). One of her ewes was producing milk that tested over 12 percent fat, which is off the charts.
King makes Sweet Alyssum in minuscule batches—15 gallons of milk at a time—and sells much of it at Northern California farmers’ markets. “Customers wanted something to put on bread to eat right then and there,” she told me. It tastes a bit like whipped cultured butter, so I understand that impulse. Slice a farmers’ market nectarine on top and there’s breakfast.
With its lemony, lactic flavor and luscious texture, the cheese complements all late-summer fruits. Add it to any pasta made with tomatoes, eggplant or peppers. Just put a big spoonful in at the end—off the heat—and toss until it melts. Delfina, the popular San Francisco restaurant, has used Sweet Alyssum in dessert custards. King puts dollops on pizza before baking. In winter, her local bakery makes a chocolate cherry bread that she toasts and slathers with Sweet Alyssum. She also makes cheesecake with it, but perhaps only the cheesemaker can afford to do that. A four-ounce tub runs about $7.99.
A few more ideas:
- Grilled bruschetta with garlic, extra virgin olive oil, Sweet Alyssum and dried oregano
- Fines herbes omelette filled with Sweet Alyssum
- Danish rye bread topped with Sweet Alyssum and cucumbers or radishes
- Whole-grain bruschetta topped with Sweet Alyssum, sautéed cherry tomatoes and basil
- Linguine with extra virgin olive oil, Sweet Alyssum, pecorino romano and cracked black pepper
- Sweet Alyssum topped with honey and poppy seeds and served with sliced stone fruit, apples or pears
Unopened tubs last about three weeks, King says, although the sell-by date on the tub is two weeks from make day. But as with any unripened cheese, fresh is best.
Sources for Garden Variety Cheese Sweet Alyssum:
California Farmers’ Markets
Mountain View (Sundays)
Noe Valley (Saturdays)
Oakland Temescal (Sundays)
Palo Alto (Saturdays)
Palo Alto California Ave. (Sundays)
Santa Cruz Downtown (Wednesdays)
Bi-Rite (San Francisco)
Good Eggs (www.goodeggs.com)
Mission Cheese (San Francisco)
Other Avenues (San Francisco)
Rainbow Grocery (San Francisco)
24th Street Cheese (San Francisco)
New Leaf Community Markets (multiple locations)
Staff of Life (Santa Cruz)
Whole Foods (Los Altos, Los Gatos, Monterey, San Francisco Harrison Street)