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How-To

Italian-Style Cheese, Made in Sonoma

Fine Cooking Issue 38
Photos: Amy Albert
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Cindy Callahan and her husband didn’t exactly set out to become sheep farmers when they bought their weekend place in Sonoma years ago. “We just needed a few animals to graze the pasture,” she explains, “but I found myself becoming very interested in raising them.”

 The Callahans had trouble finding anyone in the United States who could teach them about sheep dairying, so off they went to Italy, “armed with an Italian-English dictionary, a camcorder, and a notepad.” After years of research and trial and error, Cindy and her sons, Liam and Brett, craft handmade sheep’s and cow’s milk cheeses that have been compared to some of Italy’s very best at their sheep dairy, Bellwether Farms. 

Liam and Cindy feed lunch to “the girls,” their flock of East Frisian ewes.
Ricotta is poured into basket molds.

The sheep’s milk comes from Bellwether’s flock of 300 East Frisian ewes, a northern European breed that produces two to three times more milk than domestic breeds.

 Bellwether Farms’ ricotta drains overnight in Italian basket molds; it takes on a basketweave imprint that’s unique to the mold. Rich sheep’s milk and proper drainage gives this ricotta a sweetness that mass-produced cheese just doesn’t have.

 Aged cheeses need turning to ensure that they develop an even rind and maintain a symmetrical shape as they lose moisture and ripen. In the ripening room, Liam tends to wheels of San Andreas, a sheep’s milk cheese aptly named for where the farm is located—right along the San Andreas Fault.

 Bellwether Farms’ newest cheese is Bellwether Blue, a cow’s milk blue with the deep flavor of Stilton and the creaminess of Gorgonzola. The cheese is exceptional not just for its full flavor but also because it’s much less salty than most blues. The cheese gets its golden hue from the milk of Jersey cows (Holstein milk is whiter), which are bred with this in mind.

Liam turns wheels of San Andreas.

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