Capital Press

Updated: Friday, June 17, 2011

New products inspired by grandparents’ favorite cheeses


For the Capital Press

VALLEY FORD, Calif. — Karen Bianchi-Moreda, a fourth-generation Californian, grew up on the family dairy farm, but another door opened several years ago when she bought a small cheese-making kit from a mail-order company.

“In 2008, I had an idea to add another level to our Jersey cow milk production,” she said. “I knew the milk was higher in fat and protein and perfect for making cheese. However, I didn’t really know where this new path would take me.”

The family dairy, Mountain View Jerseys, was established in the late 1890s and is nestled on 640 acres of grassland along Highway 101. In 2002, it was designated by the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District as an open space in perpetuity.

Maria J. Capriani, assistant generation manager of the district, applauded Bianchi-Moreda’s desire to protect the family farm.

“Karen is passionate about keeping local agriculture viable,” she said. “Her enthusiasm for the family’s dairy business led her to work with the district to permanently protect their land.”

She began experimenting with cheese cultures and took another leap in 2009 to establish the Valley Ford Cheese Co. It took almost seven months to get all of the required permits.

The unpasteurized farmstead cheese comes from the family’s herd. The dairy, which milks about 450 cows daily, has also been certified under Humane Farm Animal Care standards.

“I knew that I wanted a cheese that was reminiscent of the one that was always on my Italian grandparents’ table,” she said. “The result was a hard rind, buttery cheese made in the asiago style with a California twist. I call it Estero Gold. This cheese reflects the Swiss-Italian heritage of my ancestors’ dairy country.”

The other variety, Highway One, is mildly fruity with a nutty, creamy flavor and is made in the style of a fontina.

Bianchi-Moreda makes about 500 pounds of cheese a week from 500 to 650 gallons of milk. Highway One is aged in a climate-controlled room for three months and Estero Gold for six months.

A fifth generation — Bianchi-Moreda’s two sons — is returning to the family business. Joe, a recent graduate of California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, with a degree in dairy products technology, is working on the cheese-making side of the business and continuing his post-graduate education. Jim is studying dairy science husbandry and industry at Cal Poly with plans to return to the farm after graduation in 2013.

“Business is good and it is growing,” she said. “I have about 50 accounts and we are in high-end restaurants like French Laundry in Yountville, Cyrus in Healdsburg and local farmers’ markets.

“The days are long but I love what I do,” she said. “It’s our way of life.”

Karen Bianchi-Moreda

Quote: “I grew up loving the dairy life. I took the passion, the resources and a dream and made it a reality.”