Sep 29, 2017 | Sonoma | Featured Gourmet | Best Of | Sammy
Top 5 Jack Cheese Creameries in California
Cheese is loved the world over, but especially in America. Proof is in the 5 million metric tons of cheese produced in the U.S. per year. And cravings only continue to grow more ravenous with production.
According to a recent Bloomberg Report, the government began tracking U.S. cheese consumption in 1975, and since then, it has only continued to rise. The most recent records indicate Americans currently consume an average of 35 pounds of cheese per year.
While Wisconsin continues to be the cheese capital of the U.S., sunny California was close behind, producing an impressive 2.31 billion pounds of cheese per year. And of all of the 2,000 varieties, jack cheese tends to be a particular favorite.
The above statistics are what make a cheese gift basket a perfect treat for any occasion. And with so many great various and jack cheese creameries in California, you have a wealth of delicious local options to add to the contents of your gift basket.
Some cheese manufacturers open their creameries for shopping and/or tours so you can see the process of how the cheese is made and taste the cheese at their very farm. California Cheese Trail provides a terrific map showing 74 cheesemaker manufacturers that you can visit throughout the state. Other creameries are known for their long history in California or their innovative, sustainable way of making their cheese.
Here are some of the most celebrated jack cheese creameries in California, how you can plan a trip, and what types of fun may be in store if you do plan a visit:
Planning a Trip to a Top 5 Jack Cheese Creamery
1. Sonoma Creamery
If you're on a search for sonoma jack cheese, this is the creamery you need: it's their brand, in fact.
The Sonoma Creamery opened in 1931, in the midst of the Great Depression with a determination to provide the highest quality cheese from the highest quality milk. Since then, sonoma jack cheese has spread across the country and even the world with such popularity that it can be treated as its own cheese variation.
Sonoma Jack cheese is offered worldwide and can be found everywhere from local stores to top online retailers. The company has even ventured into some other cheesy snack varieties including crisps and crunchy snacks.
Sonoma creamery is known for their rich flavors: hot pepper, garlic, pesto, sonoma blue, habanero and chipotle cheddar. They offer their cheeses in wedges, nuggets or party trays. Each shape and variety of cheese pairs perfectly with wine, which makes sonoma jack cheese gift baskets such a popular choice.
Caption: Vella Cheese Co. High Moisture Jack Cheese
2. Vella Cheese
Vella Cheese, (#69 on the California Cheese Trail) might be less known, but the care that they put into each handmade, handcut cheese product makes their jack cheese a must-try. They've been a family owned creamery for 86 years, and they pride themselves on knowing the entire process inside and out: From the cows and cultures, to those who work at the creamery or in the retail shop, which offers free samples of their variety of jack cheeses.
Owner, Ig Vella and Vella Cheese have received a variety of awards including a Lifetime Achievement Award from the esteemed American Cheese Society in Portland, Ore.
"We think of ourselves as very friendly," says facilities manager Chickie Vella. "Don't think you're coming in for a tasting. You're coming in for an experience. You can learn a lot."
When you stop in, try the Dry Jack- it's their specialty. Carefully aged to perfection, Vella Cheese Dry Jack is another terrific contender for the perfect cheese gift basket.
3. Spring Hill Jersey Cheese
Spring Hill Jersey Cheese has been making cheese for Petaluma and beyond for over 20 years, and true to their name, it's very important to them where that cheese comes from.
Molly B. says, "We use 100% natural, organic Jersey cow milk in all of our products." That 100% natural, organic Jersey cow milk goes into making variations of jack cheese like: monterey, Mike's firehouse pepper, garlic, pesto, colby, and veggie.
If you're looking for more of an experience, Spring Hill doesn't offer tours but their farm is open daily from 9-5 in October, and entrance and parking are completely free.
"We get lots of visits from school kids, and we really value education," Molly explains. "You can meet the cows and learn how to milk them, learn how to dig up potatoes and pick your own pumpkin."
4. Rumiano Cheese
Award winning Rumiano Cheese has been family owned since it's opening, four generations ago in 1921. They pride themselves on natural and organic cheeses, including monterey and pepper jack cheese.
Owen Rumiano says, "We do make conventional [cheese] too, but our main focus is on the organics."
All of their products are made with pasteurized milk or whey and are produced in a USDA certified factory in Crescent City, California. Every holiday season, they have an Annual Holiday Recipe contest for recipes including their cheese. You can find details on their blog.
"The biggest aspects separating us from competition is the size of the dairies, and the frequency of pasture grazing the cows are allowed," Owen explained. Of the 22 local dairies from which Rumiano purchases their milk, 180 cows on 180 acres of land is a pretty average size. And on average, the cows at these dairies are at pasture 250-300 days per year, eating fresh grass from naturally growing fields.
Rumiano Cheese doesn't offer tours of either of their plants, but the retail shop in Crescent City does have a large viewing window facing the plant. They also have a "How It's Made" Youtube video series to give customers an inside look at their farm and their cheese-making process. Here's the first video: Masters of Cheese: Introduction -Ep. 1
5. Fagundes Old World Cheese
Fagundes Old World Cheese is a creamery that opened in 1999, but their story began far earlier, in the 19th century on the island of Sao Jorge. There the widow Isabel Fagundes supported her 6 children by buying milk from the local milkman and making cheese to sell to Portugal. When her son immigrated to America in 1886, the family carried on the tradition and that tradition eventually became Fagundes Old World Cheese, creating 'Portuguese-style but purely California aged cheese."
According to an employee at Fagundes, however, the thing that makes them stand out the most is the variety of flavor.
"We don%u2019t just have the one thing," she says, %u201CWe have flavors like jalapeno, habanero, cheddar, cabernet, and cranberry." Any of these aged cheeses would be excellent choices for a cheese gift basket, and the "Six Jacks" gift box sold in Fagundes store is particularly popular. Fagundes also offers tours by appointment so customers can see the farm and learn how the cheese is made.
Keep it 'Cheesy'
Each of these creameries offers a different experience with one thing in common: delicious jack cheese. So whether you crave a unique history lesson and experience, hands-on learning and education for the kids, or just some fun times and tasty cheese, planning a trip to one of these creameries may very well be the answer. It's the perfect trip with the girls', date venue or annual family detour!
And next time you want to do something thoughtful for someone, keep it 'cheesy'. With American's cravings for cheese continuing to rise year over year, you can bet that the gift of a beautiful cheese basket, will be well, and deliciously received.
Cheese Production in the US by State - WorldAtlas
Americans are Drinking Less Milk But They Can't Get Enough Cheese - Bloomberg
Cheese Facts - International Dairy Foods Association