Cheese has always been on my radar, working as a photographer with many years of hearing people say "cheese" when I took their pictures. Sure, I thought it was a little cheesy, but I have always loved a good cheese. It took me a while to discover California has a lot going on when it comes to making cheese, however. Traditionally buying the European imports, I didn't realize that California produces some award-winning cheeses worth pursuing when you can find them. The chefs in restaurants know about and use them, and once you discover these superior products, the only challenge is finding a steady supply. Sometimes you can have them shipped, but there are some shops such as The Cheese Store of Beverly Hills that seem willing to help. The fun way of finding great cheese is to hit the road and travel to the places that make it. The majority of cheese companies are found in the central and northern portion of the state.
October is National Cheese Month and a great time to start exploring the 2011 Award-Winning California cheeses that took home honors at the recent 2011 American Cheese Society Awards. 1,676 cheeses and cultured milk products from 258 different companies in the United States, Canada, and Mexico competed, and California cheeses won over 40 awards in 1st, 2nd and 3rd place categories.
There are cheese factory tours in places such as Loleta at the Loleta Cheese Factory (loletacheese.com) in Loleta, CA, or Hilmar Cheese Company in Hilmar, CA (hilmarcheese.com). The factory tours show the cheese-making process and offer samples and sales, ideal for accompanying your California wines.
Like nearly every other endeavor Californians take on, cheesemakers like to do things in a BIG way, much to the chagrin of the Cheese State (Wisconsin). Ten years ago California whomped Wisconsin when it overtook the dairy state for milk & cheese production, and even Land ‘O Lakes opted to build their next cheese factory in California, not Wisconsin! That hurt! Today there are Land ‘O Lakes facilities in Fontana, Tulare, Turlock and Wasco, California, among the many companies that produce cheese in California.
Here's a cheese recipe for California Cheese Club Grill
Yields 1 Sandwich
3 slices herb bread (approx. 1/2″ slice, 5-6″ ovals)
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 oz. California Cheddar cheese, sliced into two slices
1 oz. California Monterey Jack cheese, sliced into two slices
1 oz. California Pesto or Jalapeño Jack cheese, sliced into two slices
1 oz. black forest ham, thinly sliced
1/2 tomato, sliced
4 large basil leaves
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
Melt butter in small pan. Brush a little of the butter on both sides of one slice of bread and press in a non-stick sauté pan over medium high heat, turning once to grill both sides. (This will become the middle layer of the sandwich.)
Spread one teaspoon Dijon mustard on bottom slice of bread (not grilled piece). Place one slice of Cheddar cheese on top. Cover with sliced ham. Place one slice of plain Jack cheese on top and cover with the grilled slice of bread. Place one slice of Cheddar cheese on top of grilled slice. Top with basil leaves and tomato slices. Cover tomatoes with two slices of Pesto Jack cheese, and one slice plain Jack cheese.
Next, spread one teaspoon Dijon on bottom of top slice and place on sandwich.
Brush remaining melted butter on bottom and top of sandwich and fry over medium high heat until golden and cheeses are melted. Cut in half and secure each half with a toothpick. Serve warm.
Courtesy: California Milk Advisory Board