By Marcella Wright, CCP
On a recent trip to Los Angeles, I scored a substantial wedge of Award-Winning Fiscalini Bandage Cheddar. Made in the English tradition by Cheesemaker Mariano Gonzalez under the watchful eye of third generation dairy farmer, John Fiscalini. In 1999, John and his wife, Heather, traveled to John’s ancestral homeland of Switzerland and while there became inspired to add a state-of-the-art cheesemaking facility at the family farm in Modesto, California. By late 2000, he and the Head Cheesemaker created their first cheese, which would become San Joaquin Gold, named after the valley where the family farm has been since 1912.
Mariano joined John and his family from Vermont’s prestigious Shelburne Farms, where he had honed his craft making traditional cheddars. Included in the tradition is wrapping the cheese in cheesecloth, also referred to as a “bandage,” and stacking the curd slabs to expel more whey; a process called “Cheddaring.”
Farmstead means the cheese is made at the same farm where the cows providing the milk live. John, Heather, and their children manage the dairy farm and its 3,000 plus Holstein and Jersey cows, with more than 1500 of the cows providing milk to make their line of cheeses. The Fiscalini’s believe that great cheese comes from great milk, and with their own cows, they can control the quality of the milk to ensure superior cheeses.
As mentioned above, when John and Mariano made their first cheese in 2000 and 2001, they were making a Fontina. When they tasted it, Mariano commented, “this is not Fontina; it’s good but it’s not Fontina.” The two tinkered with the recipe and the final cheese became San Joaquin Gold, an American Original, filled with lots of Tyrosine crystals, those crunchy deposits of amino acid (protein). These “flavor crunchies” can also be found in aged cheddars, aged goudas, and hard Italian cheeses such as Parmigiano Reggiano.
San Joaquin Gold, when young, is buttery and mild with a pale paste. As it ages, the flavor develops a nuttiness and the paste becomes a darker golden hue, reminiscent of the golden hills that surround the valley. SJG has a natural, thin, straw-colored rind with a cow stamped into it. You can read a more detailed review at my website.
The bandage cheddar has won numerous World Cheese Awards, holding its own with the English “big dogs,” including “Best Cheddar in the World” in 2007, and in 2012 being chosen as one of the top 16 cheeses in the world. Hard to beat that…
Like San Joaquin Gold, this cheese has the crunchies that come with age; the flavor is amazing. The nuttiness hits the palate and finishes with just a bit of sweet smokiness. The bandage encourages the growth of the right molds which also contributes to its flavor profile. I have also reviewed this cheese and included a pimento cheese recipe using this cheddar. You can read both by clicking here.
Fiscalini uses raw milk to make both of these cheeses and a microbial rennet which makes them vegetarian friendly.
Please visit my website for hundreds of cheese profiles, cheese charts and interviews with more than twenty Cheesemakers, including John Fiscalini.