Redwood Hill Crottin, Redwood Hill Bucheret, Redwood Hill Terra…so long. Great to have known you. Rest in peace. Redwood Hill founder Jennifer Bice (above right) has made her last batch of California goat cheese.
After thirty years of production, Bice has decided to cease making the pioneering Sonoma County chèvres that helped launch this country’s artisan cheese movement. I’m sad but not too sad. Bice has taken some unusual steps to ensure that these cheeses will soon live again.
In a move that, to my knowledge, has no precedent in the American artisan cheese world, Bice has decided to give—not sell—her cheesemaking equipment and all her recipes to Seana Doughty of Bleating Heart Cheese (pictured above with Bice at Cowgirl Creamery’s 20th anniversary party). Doughty has never made bloomy-rind goat cheese—she makes mostly aged sheep cheese—but she doesn’t know fear and is eager to grow.
When Bice proposed the unconventional arrangement late last year, Doughty saw the win-win immediately. Bice would have the satisfaction of knowing that her creations would survive her imminent retirement, and Bleating Heart would get a much-needed new revenue stream.
“I didn’t have to think about it for more than a few seconds,” says the young cheesemaker, whose own West Marin creamery is just seven years old. “What an honor. Jennifer has been a mentor since I started.”
Redwood Hill Creamery is not closing. The Sebastopol plant will continue to make Redwood Hill yogurt and kefir and the Green Valley Organics line of lactose-free dairy products. But the goat cheese production there is now history, although there is still some aging feta and cheddar in inventory.
In truth, cheese represented only about six percent of Redwood Hill’s sales. But it was the prestige part, says Bice, and the part West Coast consumers knew. And she has always been the head cheesemaker, the one deciding when the finicky Crottin or Cameo needed a little more pampering. Bice had secured a future for the brand by selling the company to Emmi, the Swiss dairy giant, in late 2015. She continued to run the company, but who would make the cheese when she retired?
“I came up with this idea, and every step of the way it was a long shot,” says Bice. “I’m telling Emmi that they bought a cheese plant, but we’re closing it down. But everybody was agreeable to it. Emmi wants to support up-and-coming cheesemakers and thought it was a great idea, too.”
Doughty has to relocate to a larger facility in Marin or Sonoma County before she can put Bice’s recipes into production. She’ll be getting all of her goat’s milk from Bice, who plans to keep operating her Sebastopol goat farm in retirement, and mastering the recipes a couple at a time. Expect to see Bleating Heart fresh chèvre and aged Crottin, Terra and Bucheret in 2018.
And Bice's giving doesn't stop there. She has also announced a pledge to provide an annual $10,000 scholarship for an aspiring cheesemaker.
March Class: Northern California All-Stars
Monday, March 13
5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Silverado Cooking School, Napa
Discover what the most talented local cheesemakers are up to in this sit-down guided tasting. We’ll sample several of the best new arrivals plus a favorite classic or two. There’s a reason cheesemakers everywhere look to Northern California for inspiration. We’ll drink local, too.