I remember going to the farmer's market in San Francisco long before it relocated to the Ferry Building, when it was still in a parking lot by the Embarcadero. Any San Francisco native will brag about this with an "I knew it when..." kind of nostalgia and pride.
And way back when, I was also a frequent visitor of the Redwood Hill Farm stand, before it became what it is now: a full-fledged, bustling cheesemaking facility, with reach beyond Northern California farmer's markets. And so, when I saw it in my now hometown of New York, I couldn't help but feel a bit of wistfulness for those childhood days when I'd hop around, sampling Redwood Hill cheeses with mini wooden tongue depressors.
Redwood Hill Farm has been family owned and operated since 1968 in the small Sonoma town of Sebastopol, about sixty miles north of San Francisco. It's also the very first goat dairy in the States to be Certified Humane.
In the early days, I recall there being mainly yogurts and fresh cheese. I loved those cheeses, fluffy and delightfully curd-y chevres.
Now, Redwood Hill has a wide selection of milk products, and they're all 100% goat milk-based. I'd be particularly remiss not to mention Redwood Hill Farm's seriously tasty goat cheddar, which probably deserves a separate post to do it appropriate justice.
Camellia is Redwood Hill Farm's 5 oz. round, made in a camembert style. The difference is that Camellia is made with goat milk, while all traditional camemberts are made with cow milk. Camellia is buttery, definitely reminiscent of a brie or camembert, but has a slightly gamey, grassy-goaty flavor. I'd say that it's mild and sweet above all else, and less redolent of mushrooms and earth than your typical brie or bloomy.
Rather than donning a straw-colored interior paste like most other bloomy rinded cheeses, it's stark white on the inside. It's the inability for goats to retain beta-carotene from the food they eat that the cheese is snow-colored rather than butter-colored; beta-carotene gives yellow hues to cheese, and so every goat cheese, young or aged, has a crispy white color.
When at room temperature, the cheese will ooze from within. Each portion carries a delightfully smooth, spreadable texture. The rind is delicious, and carries more flavor than what's beneath. I happened to be drinking a pretty innocuous Pinot Grigio while I tasted the cheese, and the pairing heightened the experience of each.
Growing up, Redwood Hill cheeses were a revelation for me, and I can actually recall them in my taste memory. My mom was as big a fan as I was, and if I was lucky, we'd bring home a small tub of something new from the market each week. Now neither of us needs to wait for Saturday morning, because the cheeses are more and more easy to find, regardless of coast, East or West.
Nora Singley used to be a cheesemonger and the Director of Education at Murray's Cheese Shop in New York City, where she continues to teach cheese classes for the public. She is currently a TV Chef on The Martha Stewart Show.
Related: What Can I Do With Camembert Cheese?
(Images: 1. Victoria Pearson via Edible Communities; 2. Nora Singley)