Christine Maguire is a farmer with opinions and she’ll happily share them with you. “No one should buy commercial pork, it’s not remotely humane,” she said recently while standing by her pen of gorgeous Duroc pigs at her Central California farm in San Luis Obispo County. Or she’ll tell you how American cheese is the hot dog of the dairy world made from the cast-offs of the industrial cheese industry and held together with a grotesque cocktail of chemicals. Cheese is something she knows about. Riconanda Dairy, which she and her husband founded in 1999 on 52 acres in Santa Margarita, with a couple goats, eight East Friesian ewes and one Ram, now boasts two hundred ewes with a recent introduction of Lacaune sheep genetics from France. One of only two licensed sheep’s cheese makers in the state, she produces gorgeous raw sheep milk cheeses using methods modeled on those used in Italy and Spain.
The Pozo Tomme is a yummy, earthy and nutty sheep milk cheese that has a mellow bite and great texture either grated on sliced. The Chaparral is a mixture of Nubian goat and sheep milk and has a creamier quality than the Pozo Tomme. Christine said it captures the “terroir” of the area’s evergreen oak landscape. It took Christine and her husband, Jim, about seven years from their first cheese-making class to their USDA licensing but it’s been worth the wait, she says. The farm abides by a no herbicide, pesticide or artificial fertilizer policy and no hormones are ever given to their animals. Willy the working dog, herds the animals, and Christine and Jim have just opened a farm stay– a private wing attached to their home where you can pick your eggs from the henhouse or berries off the bush and Christine, a graduate of the Natural Gourmet Institute in New York city, will make you breakfast. She’ll even make dinner if you ask (and if you’re lucky, you’ll get to taste some of the Duroc heritage pork). They also welcome those who want to come and help her around the farm by working in the garden or watching her make cheese. Riconanda Dairy cheeses are available in Southern California at the Cheese Store of Beverly Hills and at the Windrose Farm Stand at the Wednesday Santa Monica Farmer’s Market. - Stacie