In the Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co.’s growing family, the buttery, cow’s-milk Toma is the second child, ushered into the world in 2010 under the loving hands of Head Cheesemaker Jakub “Kuba” Hemmerling. At the time, Hemmerling was relatively new to the company run by three daughters of the Giacomini family, but he already had succeeded in his first task: to improve their firstborn, the wildly popular Point Reyes Original Blue, launched 10 years earlier. “He spent about a year refining that recipe and ended up shortening the aging,” said Jill Giacomini Basch, co-owner and chief marketing office for Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co. “In the process, he really understood the quality and the flavor profile of the milk.” Although the Point Reyes Original Blue became the darling of chefs across the country, the Giacomini family wanted to produce a second cheese to satisfy all palates, with enough complexity to please a foodie or chef but approachable enough to appeal to non-cheeseheads.
“We had many conversations about what we wanted,” Giacomini Basch said. “We wanted a cheese that would be great for snacking and cooking ... and would represent the flavor of the milk and the grass and the terroir.” As a native of Poland who had lived in Europe, Hemmerling suggested making a cheese like a Havarti or a young Gouda, with Dutch cultures, that would reflect the region of West Marin. “He referred to it as a village cheese,” Giacomini Basch said. “Everyone in the village buys it by the wheel. You store it and age it, and then you start to use it for different things. When the wheel is gone, you go and buy another wheel.” The idea of a village cheese called Toma, which means “wheel of cheese made by the farmer,” resonated with the family, who traces their ancestry back to the Italian Alps where the famous Toma Piemontese is made. That popular Italian cheese is closely related to the tomme cheese of France and Switzerland.
“Drawing upon our ancestry in Northern Italy, we knew it would be great to have a Point Reyes Toma,” Giacomini Basch said. “We hit the mark with our Toma.” At first, the pasteurized table cheese grabs your taste buds with its rich, buttery flavor and creamy mouthfeel. But like a fine wine, the richness is balanced by an herbaceous acidity that cleans your palate. “We refer to it as a grassy, tang finish,” she said. “Subconsciously, you want to have another bite and another bite.” Equally delicious on a cheese board or in the kitchen, Toma is infinitely versatile, whether you are snacking on it with some simple olives and nuts or you are cooking with it, melting it in a grilled cheese sandwich or on top of a pizza. “It melts beautifully,” Giacomini Basch said. “It’s a really great cooking cheese ... but also good for snacking and pairing with beverages like beer and wine and even spirits.” Toma is a pasteurized cheese made from the farmstead’s whole Holstein milk. As with most of the other cheeses, it is now made at the company’s second creamery in Petaluma, which opened in 2018. (Only the raw-milk Original Point Reyes Blue is still made at the farm, because they need to use the raw milk as quickly as possible.)
Toma With Attitude
The development of the farmstead’s Toma cheese was as smooth as the cheese’s waxed rind, making it seem meant to be. “The cheese came together so easily, from scaling it up to larger batches and the naming to the marketing and the reception by our customers,” Giacomini Basch said. A few years ago, the family decided Toma deserved to have a family of its own, so they started research and development on a trio of flavored Tomas. “We call it Toma with attitude,” Giacomini Basch said Luckily for them, Hemmerling is married to chef Jennifer Luttrell, who became culinary director at The Fork, the farm’s cooking school, and a consultant on which flavors to add to the Toma. “We wanted to do flavors that are unique and on-trend in cooking styles,” Giacomini Basch said. Luttrell came up with 15 possibilities and collected samples. Then Hemmerling made test batches of the different flavored cheeses, and everyone sat down together to debate the pros and cons of each. The family loved the savory flavor of the Herbes de Provence, but they were not crazy about the perfumey flavor of the lavender in the mix. So Luttrell did some research and found an herb mix that left out the lavender. The result was the TomaProvence, which includes rosemary, basil, marjoram and thyme. Those Mediterranean flavors pair nicely with olives, a fresh baguette and a buttery chardonnay.
The team also loved the idea of adding truffles to the cheese, especially the black truffles they had hunted in Italy. “We knew we were going to do something with the Sapotino family from Umbria,” Giacomini Basch said “We have gone on truffle hunts (with them) and really wanted to use the real thing.” With Luttrell’s input, however, they decided to dial back the amount of truffle added so the powerful essence didn’t overpower the palate. The TomaTruffle offers an earthy, aromatic flavor that marries well with the buttery richness of the Toma and is decadent enough for a special celebration, even if you’re just getting together with a few friends. “My favorite thing is to grate it over really good kettle chips and throw them under the broiler for 20 seconds,” Giacomini Basch said. “I call it a truffle nacho, and you drink it with a really good, sparkling wine ... with some chopped herbs over the top.”
The final Toma spin-off, TomaRashi, added the umami and nutty flavors of schmichimi togarashi, a Japanese spice blend that includes nori, chile flakes, ginger, toasted sesame and poppy and hemp seeds. “The TomaRashi is great in Mexican or Asian food,” she said. “You can wrap it in nori instead of a cracker alongside a gin and tonic. ... With the right accompaniments, it’s a head-scratcher in a good way.”
Although not widely available yet, there is a new cheese in the works at the picturesque creamery overlooking Tomales Bay: the family’s first bloomy rind cheese called Quinta in honor of the sisters’ mom, Dean Giacomini, who passed away in 2012. “Our mother was Portuguese, and it means farmstead or estate grown,” Giacomini Basch said. “It also means fifth in Spanish, and it’s the fifth cheese in our cheese line.” The soft-ripened cheese is wrapped with spruce bark and topped with bay laurel leaves from the farm, which impart extra flavor. It is inspired by Vacherin Mont d’Or and its close cousin, L’Edel de Clérron, both from the Jura mountain region along the French-Swiss border. The 9-ounce cheese can be enjoyed at a single sitting by removing the top rind and digging into its silky interior with a small spoon. “It's really exciting,” Giacomini Basch said. “We needed that style of cheese to round out our product line.”