After visiting two wineries near Santa Rosa on Sunday morning, we were ready to head home taking a roundabout route. Larry had done some research to locate two cheese factories along the way. We drove off into nowhere following the directions on his GPS to the Matos Cheese Factory. The review reported it was located on a farm where they make a Portuguese-style cow’s milk cheese in the tradition of the family’s homeland in the Azores.
We almost missed the roadside sign, but turned down a bumpy dirt road deep in farm country. We finally arrived at a farmhouse where there were cows and dogs and a whirring tractor in the driveway, along with several elderly weather-worn men, none of whom took any note of us.
Then we saw the sign in the window of a shed announcing the Cheese Factory was OPEN. It looked like a farm shed to me. We gingerly opened the door to a small room with a single wheel of cheese in a display cabinet. A buzzer sounded as we opened the door. After waiting several minutes, an older woman appeared. As we had read, she didn’t speak English, only Portuguese. But she offered us each a nice sized chunk of the cheese to sample.
The St. Jorge cheese looked dry like Parmesan, but had a much creamier texture and a slightly nutty flavor. It was delicious and only $7.99 per pound. We purchased a pound with no hesitation. There was a map of the Azores on the wall and Larry showed her where he had visited in the Navy. She then showed us the different island where her family came from. She clearly understood English, but she spoke only in Portuguese. Although my Portuguese is very rusty and I couldn’t reply, I had no trouble understanding everything she said. I explained to her that I had studied Brazilian Portuguese but understood her. I’m sure we would have sounded very strange to anyone who overheard us. What a kick! She let me take photos in the back room where the cheese ages.
Larry couldn’t resist checking out the happy California cows after our purchase. I kept my distance as I have an irrational fear of cows due to a childhood mishap where I fell off the back of a pickup truck into a group of what I perceived as aggressive, unfriendly cows. But these definitely appeared happy. They kept running around clicking their rear heels in the air; behavior I’d never seen before!
Our final stop was the Marin French Cheese Company-another place you’d never find if you weren’t looking. This cheese factory was a large traditional store, with many samples of their different varieties of soft-ripened Bries and Camemberts available for tasting, along with condiments. This company has been making these cheeses for 145 years. Again, quite delicious. I used some of the Camembert we purchased to make a cheesy polenta for dinner last night.