I’ve been trying to figure out how Central Coast Creamery has come so far so fast. The five-year-old California producer has already earned heaps of ribbons in competition, and I see its cheeses everywhere. Last summer, cheesemaker-owner Reggie Jones claimed three more blue ribbons at the American Cheese Society judging, including one for Dream Weaver (above). That’s a brag-worthy feat for any creamery, much less a newcomer. How has Jones engineered his success? Are there lessons here for others…in any business?
“I felt like there was a hole in the market for this style,” says Jones about Dream Weaver. I agree. Washed-rind goat cheese is an underpopulated niche. So maybe that’s lesson number one: Find a need and fill it.
Jones also spent years as a culture salesman before opening his Paso Robles creamery, so he understands the culture options and how they perform. Did that give him a running start?
“For sure,” says the cheesemaker. “The biggest struggle for artisan cheesemakers is the lack of information they get from culture companies.” The culture salespeople don’t call on the little guys because they’re not big enough to place a minimum order. So the artisan producers don’t learn about new cultures or even know what all the choices are. And they don’t get the benefit of the salesperson’s insights.
For Dream Weaver, Jones uses five different cultures, a cocktail of yeasts and bacteria that produces the aromas and texture he wants. But where did he start? Did he have a model in mind? I wanted to know this lovely cheese’s back story.
Jones says he has wanted to make a washed-rind goat cheese for years; he just didn’t have a humid ripening room. (His other cheeses require a dryer environment.) In development, he focused on avoiding the defects that plague similar cheeses: excessive barnyard aroma and bitterness. And he asked retailers what size cheese would work best for them. Good idea since they’re the ones selling it.
This style of cheese slumps when cut and suffers terribly in plastic wrap, so at the cheese counter, smaller is better. One leading retailer suggested a one-pound format. But larger cheeses are more efficient for the producer. It takes four people 20 minutes to put the Dream Weaver curds in their draining baskets. If the cheeses were smaller, it would take longer and the last cheeses molded would be different from the first. “You need to get the curds out of the whey and into the baskets fast,” says Jones. He settled on a two-pound wheel.
The cheeses are lightly pressed by stacking one basket on top of another, then washed with brine for two weeks. The wheels ripen at the creamery for three more weeks, then head for cheese counters. Jones says he likes Dream Weaver best at about eight weeks, but it can hang in there for four months.
I am totally smitten with this cheese. It smells of bread yeast, garlic and smoke, with the smoky note especially noticeable near the surface. The damp, flesh-colored rind is thin and a little crunchy; the interior is supple, open and as squishy as a feather pillow, with none of the fudgy quality that such cheeses sometimes have. There’s no bitterness and the salting is spot on. Italian mostarda, pictured above, is a wonderful complement.
Distributors report brisk sales, especially to restaurants. Jones is making only about 400 wheels a month now, but that will increase. Look for Dream Weaver at the following retailers or come to my Best Newcomers class on April 19. I plan to serve it.
NEW Cheese Class: Meet the Best Newcomers
Thursday, April 19
Trefethen Family Vineyards
5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m
Join me for a class devoted to impressive American cheeses that didn’t exist five years ago—all of them destined for glory. Some are from veteran cheesemakers, others from newcomers—but all are cheeses you need to know! If Dream Weaver is available, we’ll have it.