Barinaga Ranch: Excellent Basque Cheese From Marin
Just as the Bay Area has a shorts-to-sweater array of micro climates, it has a stunning selection of micro-cultures of cheesmaking. You can find examples of cheese styles from countries around the world and milks across the animal spectrum throughout the Bay.
Barinaga Ranch in West Marin adds Basque cheese to the choices. Owner Marcia Barinaga is, "continuing the ancient shepherding and cheese making traditions of my Basque family and ancestors in Euskadi, the Basque region of Spain," she says.
Barinaga makes cheese seasonally, with the natural milk cycle of her sheep. Animals produce milk to feed their young, not to make cheese. To meet volume demands, many cheese makers will raise animals indoors or use other tricks to stimulate year-round milk production. Baringa's herd grazes outdoors all year. The ewes have their lambs in March, and have milk enough to spare for cheese from April through October thereafter.
Barinaga uses raw milk for her cheese which means, by U.S. law, it must be aged. Hence cheese you can buy today likely came from milk from this summer and early fall.
Barinaga makes one cheese in two sizes; the larger Baserri, "which means 'farmhouse' in Basque," and the smaller Txiki, "which means little." Basari is a 4- to 5-pound wheel, but you can buy it by the piece at the Ferry Building Temple to exceptional cheese, Cowgirl Creamery. Txiki is a 2-pound tommette-sized cheese.
Both come from the same recipe, and are hand made in small batches to mirror the cheeses one can buy from farmhouses speckled across the Basque countryside.
The rind has a color and texture of light toast crust with the cheese itself a soft, pale, yellow-white color. It has a dense, modestly rubbery, body, like an aged mozzarella
The taste is pleasant, light, nutty, and mild throughout. Like an ultra-mild farmstead cheddar without the sharpness, but without losing the complexity. There's a hint of fruitiness, and a note of the tropics.
This cheese wears its terroir on its rind. One clearly senses the seasonality of the milk, almost with a taste of the field, and perhaps a diet of cover.
Eat the cheese with its rind. It adds a nice offset to the mild flavors, and is modestly more intense in its nuttiness. It also delivers a pleasant textural contrast.