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Cheese wrap up: The big cheese

Find out why California is a favorite among chefs and cheese heads alike!


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California ranks second in U.S. cheese production and has been quickly gaining ground on Wisconsin in becoming the nation's largest producer. And over the years, more and more artisan, handcrafted cheese operations are popping up throughout the state, with some pretty spectacular success stories.

Take, for example, the Marin French Cheese Co., which has produced artisanal, handmade cheese in the same location in Petaluma since 1865 and is the oldest continually operating cheese factory in the United States. The company has had huge accomplishments in recent years—their triple cream Brie was named best in the world back in 2005 and today the company continues to churn out more than 40 different styles and varieties of cheese, each handmade, one at a time, with an eye for detail that can't be matched.

Nearby you'll find the Giacomini family, which has taken handcrafted cheeses to a new level. Family patriarch Bob Giacomini actually started the dairy back in 1959, but it wasn't until 2000 that he launched his cheese-making business, the now wildly popular Point Reyes Farmstead Blue Cheese. Bob and daughters Jill, Karen and Lynn handcraft cheese, made with milk coming in from the dairy—just 50 yards away.

While small artisan cheese makers like the Giacominis are seeing huge success, they're not alone. Another big growth area is the Hispanic cheese market. Production is up 50 percent in recent years and no one is happier about that than the Fagundes family. They're hoping their Old World Hispanic-style and Portuguese-style cheese recipes will create a new market in California cheese.

California is actually the largest producer of Hispanic-style cheeses in the country, which is one of the main reasons farmer John Fagundes got into the cheese-making market. His family started their dairy in the small Central Valley town of Hanford back in 1916, but only recently did they decide to take the plunge into the specialty cheese-making business. Their Hispanic-style cheese and Portuguese-style cheese, both of which are recipes from John's mom, have been voted best in their class by the American Cheese Society.

So now when you say the word "cheese" in California, the first smile just might come from farmers responsible for making some picture-perfect products!

For more information about California cheese and about any of the cheese makers in the story, visit www.realcaliforniamilk.com.


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