New-Aged Cheese
James Dudlicek
(847) 205-5660 ext. 4009
As I’m sure you’ve noticed, Dairy Field’s coverage takes me all over the country. And while I try to coordinate my travel so I wind up in warmer climes when it’s chillier here in the Chicago area, that’s not always possible.
But I finally managed to luck out, and as I write this, it’s the day after getting back from a visit to California’s San Joaquin Valley for our May cover story.
DF tends to focus on the medium to large players in this industry. But there are plenty of folks out there who are working much closer to the soil, and a brief side trip gave me a chance to meet some of them.
On the outskirts of Modesto, among the almond groves and irrigation canals, sits Fiscalini Farms, a family dairy farm in operation since 1914. But for the last four years or so, the Fiscalinis have been shaking things up in one of the industry’s strongest growth areas: specialty cheese.
At their 530-acre spread, I met John and Heather Fiscalini in their office that overlooks the milking parlor where their 1,500 Holsteins are milked thrice daily. I was already somewhat familiar with their products; some of them have appeared in DF over the past few years, like their flavored and wine-soaked cheddars.
John and I walked through the barn and out to the cheese factory, which uses a fraction of the dairy’s daily output. A simple facility as befits a maker of farmstead cheese, the structure houses a small two-vat cheesemaking area and a generous cold room for aging several varieties of raw-milk cheeses. The wooden shelves hold wheels in varying degrees of age, some bandage-wrapped, all tagged with date of manufacture, some exceeding two years.
John took particular pride in showing off his San Joaquin Gold, a multiple international award-winner for the Fiscalinis. “It started out to be a fontina,” John explained. “It turned out to be the greatest mistake we ever made.”
On the way back to the office, he shared more details about the farm and its cheesemaker, a master from Paraguay by way of Vermont. Turns out the Fiscalinis’ dairy heritage dates back three centuries to John’s Swiss ancestors.
Then we sampled cheese. The Gold offers hints of fontina, gruyere and parmesan. The Bandage-Wrapped California Cheddar is equally excellent. “We recently added ‘California’ to the name,” Heather told me, noting that before just a few years ago, few would have thought much about cheese from the Golden State.
But supported by booming milk production and the “Real California Cheese” campaign, the state stands poised to surpass Wisconsin in cheese production next year. That puts cheesemakers big and small, including Fiscalini, in a great position, as foodies continue to turn their discerning palates to homegrown specialty cheeses.
Operations like Fiscalini Farms are a reflection of the industry’s roots, and it should be rewarding to folks like John and Heather that more people are starting to pay attention to dairy’s time-honored traditions.