How old is cheese making? Five thousand years, at least, so you would think every possible technique has been tried. A cheesemaker who wants to create something original doesn’t have endless options. You can play with milk blends, cultures, washes, shapes. But probably somebody else has done it first. That said, the new Bishop’s Peak (pictured above) doesn’t remind me of any other cheese I can think of.
Reggie Jones, the cheese’s creator, operates Central Coast Creamery in Paso Robles, California. Only four years old, the business already appears to be thriving. Unlike many of his colleagues, Jones did not study dairy science, apprentice on some goat farm or come up through the artisan-cheese ranks. Instead, he put in 25 years on the high-volume side of the industry, working in quality control for large cheese plants and, later, selling cultures to other cheesemakers.
He had never made cheese on a small scale until he started his creamery, but he understands cultures and he understands sales. Central Coast cheeses are consistently well made and well-priced, and I see them everywhere. Maybe you have tried the Swiss-inspired Holey Cow; the creamy goat Gouda; the mellow Big Rock Blue or the mixed-milk Seascape, a sort of Gouda-Cheddar hybrid.
In 2015, the year it debuted, Bishop’s Peak won a third-place ribbon at the American Cheese Society judging in the highly competitive “Originals” category. That’s a feat. Production is now up to 250 ten-pound wheels a month—not much but enough to spread around a bit.
Jones describes Bishop’s Peak as “alpine cheese with a California twist,” mentioning Gruyère and Comté as inspirations. “Somewhere in there is what we were shooting for, but a little more creamy,” says Jones.
Made with pasteurized milk from the last remaining dairy in Santa Barbara County and matured for six months, Bishop’s Peak is indeed creamier and softer than a six-month-old Comté. It's also sweeter and not as beefy. Jones uses the Gouda technique of curd washing to minimize acidity, and he adds cultures that accelerate flavor development.
The interior is semifirm, pale gold, with a few tiny round eyes that glint with moisture. I find nutty aromas and a pleasing, balanced flavor but not the layered complexity of the best alpine cheeses. Jones seals the wheels with a thin coat of a breathable polymer that keeps mold down, another technique more common to Gouda than to alpine wheels.
And so we have a new cheese produced by hybrid methods, inspired by Europe but taking its own path. Tasting it, I was reminded of a panel discussion that I attended earlier this year. Dutch cheese merchant Betty Koster was asked what advice she might have for American cheesemakers. Koster operates a cheese shop near Amsterdam, but her reputation in the U.S. derives mostly from her work as an affineur, or cheese ager. The widely acclaimed L’Amuse Gouda is her handiwork.
Koster said she hoped American cheesemakers would develop their own recipes and stop trying to imitate the classics from Europe. I can understand why she wants to protect Gouda, which enjoys no legal name protection, but there are only so many ways to make cheese.
Jones says he has some 40-pound wheels of Bishop’s Peak in the cellar that he plans to release at 12 to 18 months. Now that’s something to look forward to.
A California Chardonnay, not too buttery, would be a nice match for Bishop’s Peak. Beer lovers, choose a malt-forward style, like a porter. In California, look for Central Coast Creamery Bishop’s Peak at Cheese Shop of Beverly Hills; Oxbow Cheese Merchant in Napa; Monsieur Marcel in Los Angeles and Santa Monica; Market Hall Foods and Sacred Wheel in Oakland; Venissimo in San Diego; Cheese Plus, Market on Market and Say Cheese in San Francisco; Say Cheese in Santa Barbara; and Village Gourmet in Studio City. Fromagio’s in Anchorage also stocks it.
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.