I’ve lived in California for 40-plus years and had no idea that “Eureka!” was the state motto. Apparently, that’s what you say when you strike gold. Spelled creatively, it’s also the name of a terrific new cheese from California’s Central Coast Creamery. The Paso Robles cheesemaker struck gold with it last month, winning a blue ribbon for Ewereka, a sheep’s-milk wheel, in the American Cheese Society’s annual competition.
What an impressive debut for this newcomer, a nine-pound wheel produced with pasteurized sheep’s milk from a large flock near Fresno. Fresh sheep’s milk is hard to come by in California, so Central Coast’s owner Reggie Jones snapped it up when the rancher offered it. Then he had to figure out what to do with it.
“What could we make quickly and get right?” Jones asked himself. Americans love Cheddar. He knew how to make goat Cheddar. Nobody was making a sheep Cheddar. How hard could it be?
In fact, sheep’s milk presents some special challenges. It is much higher in fat and protein than cow’s or goat’s milk so a gallon of it produces a lot more curd. And that curd is heavy—so heavy that it can bend the wire device that cuts the curd into smaller pieces.
Apparently, it didn’t take long for Jones to understand this new milk. His second batch of Ewereka performed well in the ACS judging last year. This year, the cheese leaped to the top of the “American Originals/Sheep’s Milk” category.
Jones uses conventional Cheddar cultures for Ewereka but then goes his own way. He adds other cultures that accelerate ripening so the wheel is ready to release—and packed with flavor—in three months. He coats the young wheel with a breathable polymer rather than letting it develop a natural rind. These techniques and others allow him to bring an aged sheep cheese to market at a decent price.
In aroma and texture, Ewereka reminds me more of a Pyrenees sheep’s milk cheese than a Cheddar. it is nutty and sweet, not grassy or tangy. I could nibble on it all day long.
With his new sheep-milk supply, Jones was able to move production of Central Coast’s sheep Gouda—Ewenique—from Holland to California. Which meant Ewenique could compete in the American Cheese Society judging this year. Ta-da. Another blue ribbon.
And we’re not done yet. This overachiever took home two more blue ribbons: for Bishop’s Peak, a cow’s milk wheel; and for Goat Gouda. Four first-place finishes is a showing that I don’t think any other creamery has topped.
Central Coast Creamery made its first cheeses only a decade ago, in borrowed premises, and sold $26,000 worth of cheese that first year. The cheeses are consistent, well priced and aimed at a sweet, mellow flavor profile that many Americans like, three attributes that have led to rapid growth.
Jones told me that his 14-year-old daughter, Avery, has been hanging out at the plant and will soon be launching her own creamery. She intends to make bloomy-rind, washed-rind and alpine-style cheeses with sheep’s milk. I asked him why he was creating a separate company to do this. “Because it’s hers,” he said. “She’s doing all the market research. Before, she wasn’t interested in what was going on here. Now she’s all over it.”
Distribution for Ewereka is growing, but for now it is California-only. Look for Central Coast Creamery Ewereka at Cheese Shop @ The Mix (Costa Mesa); SHED (Healdsburg); McCall’s Meat & Fish (Los Angeles); Sacramento Natural Co-op (Sacramaneto); Small Goods (San Diego-area farmers’ markets); Bi Rite Markets and Cowgirl Creamery (San Francisco); Farmshop (Santa Monica); Paradise Pantry (Ventura); and Woodlands Markets (multiple locations).