We are happy to welcome our newest vendors to the Monterey and Aptos Farmers Markets — Elizabeth and Walter Nicolau of Nicolau Farms, producers of a delectable selection of goat cheeses. Walter Nicolau is a fourth-generation dairyman who began making cheese ten years ago at his 30-acre farm just south of Modesto, using several different breeds of goats.
Nicolau Farms offers a dozen varieties of artisanal cheeses that are made from either goat milk or are blended with Jersey cow milk that is sourced from a nearby dairy. Nicolau does everything possible to make certain the milk his herd produces is the best quality.
“Today we’re milking about 200 goats, and it’s all done by hand,” explained Nicolau. “No machines touch our goats. They are fed with grasses that we grow on our farm. In the summer we plant Teff grass, a fine-stemmed grass that the goats really like. It’s drought resistant and highly nutritious. In the winter we plant Triticale, which is a hybrid of rye and wheat.” Nicolau believes the method for baling the grasses affects the flavor. “The goats seem to prefer the round bales as the hay is of higher quality and provides more of a natural foraging when they are eating.”
All of the cheeses Nicolau Farms produce use California-sourced curd, unlike many commercial cheeses that use imported frozen curd. The cost is higher, but the flavor is worth it. “Using frozen, imported, lower quality curds is one of the reasons why commercial cheeses are so much cheaper,” said Nicolau.
Nicolau prefers to use a technique called ‘vat pasteurization’ to cook the milk prior to turning it into cheese. Most pasteurization processes involve using higher heat for shorter periods — a process that kills both good and bad enzymes. Nicolau cooks the milk in small, 50-gallon batches for a longer period but at a lower temperature for a longer time, a process that preserves much of the beneficial microbes that are otherwise lost at higher temperatures. Nicolau believes that by using lower temperatures for longer periods prevents the milk from taking on a ‘cooked’ taste. And that makes for a better tasting cheese.
The steps that follow pasteurization depend on the cheese being made. “For fresh cheese, the milk it is cultured for 24 hours and then hand-ladled into cheesecloth, mixed with sea salt and other spices, and then drained for another 24-hour period.
Nicolau will be bringing an assortment of cheeses to the markets, ranging from young cheeses that are good for melting to aged cheeses better suited for grating. “The fresh cheeses we sell are no more than five days old,” Nicolau says with a note of pride in his voice. Among the aged cheese selection is an Asiago-style cheese made from a blend of Jersey cow milk and goat milk that Nicolau calls ‘Casiago,’ a tribute to using all California-sourced ingredients.
Here are the current cheeses and descriptions from Nicolau Farms website:
FRESH GOAT CHEESE
One bite of our light, fluffy, snow white Classic Chevre and you will realize the ultra high quality of the milk on Nicolau Farms. This pillowy delight is slightly tangy with hints of lemon, and notes of sweet grass. Enjoy this cheese with anything and dab it on everything; it lends a whole new meaning to goat cheese “Chevre” which you will quickly become addicted to.
Garlic Chive Chèvre
Even though our classic chèvre is a true masterpiece of its own, we decided to lace it with the full body and savory flavor of garlic, and sprinkle about vibrant, onion-y green chives. This cheese is an amazing complement to a morning bagel, baked potato, or pasta dish. This light chèvre with the intense flavor of garlic and chives will make it something you can’t live without.
Spicy Red Pepper Chèvre
We turned up the heat with our proprietary blend of spicy red chili peppers and exotic spices that have been married with our classic chèvre to create a tangy and spicy delight with a secret bite! The heat of the chili is masked with the tangy acidity of the cheese and pleases your palate with a spicy finish. Enjoy this pinkish, fluffy cheese with stone ground corn chips as an appetizer, or kick up any dish with its creaminess and bold spicy flavor.
Lavender Honey Chèvre
A four-ounce ‘cloud from heaven’ is an appropriate description for this cheese. We take our classic, light and fluffy chèvre and drizzle locally pollinated honey into it. Then we carefully infuse it with fragrant lavender flowers. This cheese has the perfect balance of tartness from the cheese, and sweetness from the honey with a delicate floral finish of lavender. Serve this cheese with fresh fruit or use it to complement any fresh baked treat.
AGED GOAT CHEESE
Our flagship aged cheese made in Stanislaus County is made from our ultra high quality farmstead goat “Capra” milk which has been pasteurized to 145°F. This semi-hard goat milk cheese has a perfect balance of creaminess and dryness. The cheese is creamy when young and becomes slightly crumbly as it ages, with its flavors becoming more complex. Its mild and creamy flavor lends notes of buttermilk, with a light olive finish from the sea salt brine.
Quatro Pepe Capream
One bite of this masterpiece and the flavors of four (‘Quatro’) different peppercorns (‘Pepe’) explode in your mouth, and are suddenly paired with the creaminess of the cheese. This semi-hard, pure goat milk cheese has a firm and creamy texture, studded with four unique peppercorns (black, white, green, and pink) giving this cheese a bold and intense flavor with a perfect balance of salt and pepper. The body of the cheese lends notes of sweet and creamy goat milk with explosive bursts of intense peppercorns.
100% Goat Milk Feta
A light and creamy feta cheese made only with the freshest ultra high quality milk from the morning milking. This cheese is produced and aged in the fashion of a true Greek style feta cheese and will make anyone feel as though they are dining in Greece. Our feta never leaves its light sea salt brine, which allows it to develop a flavor and texture unlike any other feta you will find. Crumble it on any salad, pasta, or pizza and it will make you dish come alive with an unforgettable flavor and texture.
MIXED GOAT AND COW MILK CHEESE
An Italian classic style Asiago crafted as a true California farmstead cheese, made up of Nicolau Farms 75% Jersey cow milk and 25% goat milk. The light buttery notes and silky smooth textures make this a staple cheese in any kitchen. Mildly aged, it is a marvelous melting cheese and yet becomes more complex and dryer as it ages.
Calabrian Chili Casiago
Starting with our classic Nicolau Farms Jersey cow and goat milk Casiago, we blend imported Calabrian chilies creating beautiful veins of spice. This creates a uniquely mild heat flavor that is well rounded and perfectly balanced, making it the star attraction of any cheese board and a ‘bomba!’ of flavor on your palate.
Black Truffle Casiago
A symphony of flavor takes over our classic Casiago, highlighted by the intricate and robust flavor of imported Italian black truffles coursing throughout. The distinguished notes of black truffles, Jersey and goat milk crescendo into a beautiful finish, inspiring an encore bite after bite.
Our newest addition to the Nicolau Farms collection, Bianchina — named after one of our beloved goats! Taking inspiration from classic, old world cheese making traditions, Bianchina is made using only all natural goat rennet. A blend of Jersey cow and goat milk, each two-pound wheel is aged for approximately 10 days. A special mixture of geotrichum and penicilium candidum is introduced to the cheese that encourages the rind to develop a pillowy exterior. Both the rind and paste are a stark white, a reflection of how young and fresh this cheese truly is. The paste is creamiest just under the rind a becomes increasingly dense towards the center of the wheels, while the flavors showcase the classic buttery quality of Jersey cow milk, complemented by the typical bright and grassy flavors of goat milk.
MIXED GOAT AND SHEEP MILK CHEESE
This mixed (‘Misto’) milk semi hard cheese is a masterful blend of goat and sheep milk made in the true Italian style of cheese making. The cheese starts out slightly tangy with notes of citrus from the goat milk and finishes with the nuttiness of sheep milk. The clean finish lends itself to the sea salt brine and the hint of extra virgin olive oil that the rind is rubbed with during the aging process. The small two-pound wheels with their basket indented rind and their mild flavor are pleasing to the both the eye and the palate.
Photos and above descriptions courtesy of Nicolau Farms.