The tale of a new start that led to a very delicious (and different) new blue.
Cheesemaker Kuba Hemmerling traces the origins of Bay Blue all the way back to the day he arrived at Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company in 2009. “I had just driven from the Midwest in my little red Honda Civic,” he recalls. “I was tired and a little nervous.” Somewhat understandably. Because, for all his cheesemaking expertise, Kuba was new to blue. From that day forward, however, Kuba would be committed to, and fully consumed by, the never-ending quest for the perfect blue cheese. Fortunately for him, and us, he’s also a quick learner and a consummate perfectionist. So, it didn’t take long for Kuba to realize that his journey would start by finding ways to improve the Original Blue recipe and cheesemaking process.
What followed was nearly eight months of refining and improving to give Original Blue a shorter aging period and more proficient blue veining. It was hard work. “After that,” Kuba said, “I swore I’d never make another blue cheese. It’s too hard, too delicate and technical.” He turned his efforts towards creating another beloved cheese – Point Reyes Toma.
But a funny thing happened as Kuba dialed in Original Blue. He developed a fascination with the art form of making blue cheese. And, following a request from the Giacomini sisters, Kuba started experimenting. As he tells it, “One day, we had about 80 gallons of milk left over, and I was wondering what to do with it. We had some cultures. And I started thinking, this is my chance to create a blue that would be different from Original Blue yet still complement the flavors of our milk.” Kuba then created a single batch in the tiny brine room and tended to it with, as he put it, “not very high hopes.” And yet, after about 45 days, he gave it a taste. “It was kind of interesting,” he said. “There was a sweetness to it, with mushroom-y notes up front but overall very mild in blue flavor. Blindfolded, you might not have even known it was a blue.”
Sure enough, everyone who tried it totally loved it. Kuba had created the cheese he said he would never make. But now the real work started. He had to scale-up production and craft what was then called New Blue to have a long enough shelf life to take it to market. That basically requires breaking down the recipe and rebuilding it so the flavors would last longer than a few weeks. No small task, but well worth the effort.
Now you’re probably wondering, “Why did Point Reyes, maker of the amazing Original Blue, need yet another blue cheese?” Jill, Lynn and Diana always knew they wanted another blue in the product line – something milder and approachable enough for even non-blue-cheese-lovers (yes, those people actually exist) to have a version of blue they could appreciate. A blue cheese for beginners or, as we sometime say around here, a “gateway” blue cheese. That’s certainly not to say that Bay Blue isn’t richly delicious. There are layers of flavor that start with a mild earthiness as you notice the fudgy, dense texture. Then comes the yeasty, sourdough-like flavors that give way to a toasted malty-ness and, ultimately, a slightly sweet, almost salted caramel finish. That texture, by the way, comes from the use of traditional rennet, made from animal-based enzymes. Bay Blue is our only cheese made with traditional rennet and, note to self, that makes it our only cheese that is not vegetarian.
Bay Blue’s natural rind also makes it look beautiful on a cheese board and pair exquisitely with fall flavors, game and richer dishes like a mushroom tart or hearty beef stew. It’s also a lovely accompaniment to sweets such as apples, pears or dark chocolate. Plus, anything you might like to melt cheese on, like a steak or burger, Bay Blue will give it a yummy flavor and tantalizing texture.
Now, what are you waiting for? Pour yourself an iced coffee, a vintage port or a glass of stout from your local brewery and enjoy some Bay Blue today. While you’re at it. Give a shoutout to our faithful cheesemaker Kuba for secretly creating the cheese he swore he would never make. Like us, you’ll be glad he did.