Schoch Family Farmstead Gives Us a Taste of Cheese Making
Good cheese, like good wine, comes from years of practice and perfecting the craft, and Schoch Family Farmstead is no exception.
We here at the Monterey Bay Food Tours can’t get enough of the cheese from Schoch Family Farmstead — especially the ones we include on our Old Monterey Food Tour! We’ve learned so much from our partners about the behind-the-scenes production of their wholesale products — like the process of making wine from Comanche Cellars — and we wanted to highlight some of the products and back-of-the-house work from another of our favorite partners.
Initially opening in 1944 as Schoch Dairy by brothers Adolph and Ernest, Schoch Family Farmstead is now on its 2nd and 3rd generation of family-owned and operated business. Although the farm itself hasn’t seen too many changes over the years, there’s one thing apart from their dairy they’ve become a little more well-known for these days: their cheese.
“If you take something like raw milk and leave it on the countertop, it’ll go bad in a few days,” says head cheesemaker Beau Schoch. “You can take nutrition from the milk to make it last longer, so cheese making is essentially a way to preserve all of the healthy things like milk solids and fats and proteins from the milk itself. There are thousands of varieties, but aged cheeses are a combination of fermentation (lactic acid bacteria) and most (not all) cheeses use rennet, a natural enzyme, where you end up with the curds and whey. Churn the two and dry the moisture to end up with the concentration of cheese. Cheesemaking was born out of necessity and has evolved over thousands of years as a way to concentrate and preserve the nutrition naturally found in milk. Each cheese has a unique history and story, and that is what is so fascinating. To understand cheese and its origins is to understand the land, the animals, and the people.”
The Changing Dairy Landscape
Monterey County has such a rich history of dairying, and the Salinas Valley was once home to hundreds of small dairies that were owned and operated by immigrants of Swiss or Portuguese descent. Nowadays, Schoch Dairy is the last remaining. In addition to producing great cheeses and yogurts, they’re also only one of three dairies in all of California certified to sell raw milk. Are you a fan of the ever-popular Monterey Jack cheese that originated here in Monterey County? While the cheese itself has been in production since the 1700’s, Schoch Family Farmstead is the only dairy that still produces this cheese right where it originated. You can try this cheese alongside Big Sur Salts and Friend in Cheeses jams on our Old Monterey Food Tour.
“Cheese making is the art and the science of concentrating the nutrients in an already-nutritious substance like milk that tastes great and can last months and months or years and years. Fresh raw milk is converted to cheese using only lactic acid bacteria and rennet, just as it’s been done for countless generations.”
Running a farm is by no means an easy feat, and everyone in this five-member family has a distinct role. John, the father of sons Beau, Seth, and Ty, wakes up at 5 o’clock every morning to milk the less than 100 cows used in dairy production, and milks them again every night before he goes to bed. He believes in developing a connection with the cows, and in turn, maintains a more effective breeding and feeding program. Mary, the matriarch of the farmstead as it stands today and a business owner in her own right, helps guide all of the marketing and runs the business side of things, always making sure her boys are working smarter, not harder.
As for the third generation, each of the sons plays his own role in production, as well. Ty, the oldest brother, ages the cheeses, cuts and wraps them, and delivers them all throughout the Monterey and Santa Cruz area, as well as the MPC and Aptos Farmer’s Markets. Seth, the middle son, joins alongside of John for the herd management, but also uses some of the knowledge he got in college about cheesemaking to help Beau, the youngest and primary cheesemaker. Beau handles the cheese making and yogurt production, and his main focus when making the cheese is to help guide the operation as it transitions back into a more sustainable and pasteurized-based model for the cheese to help them stick to their roots from their original dairying days that started 75 years ago.
“Farmstead” indicates that the product is made on the same premises where the animals were raised and the milk produced. Different farms these days specialize in different things, so a farmstead operation is typically smaller — they’re raising the animals, milking the cows, and the warm milk goes straight into the beginning process of making the cheese.
Schoch Family Farmstead Cheeses You Can Enjoy
East of Edam cheese — a Dutch-styled cheese similar to a Gouda. It’s made from a local variant with fresh, raw milk and then naturally aged. If you ask Mary, this will be the one she lists as her favorite.
Junipero cheese — a younger, higher-moisture Swiss cheese. This cheese is creamier than the others, and is made in small batches using fresh, raw milk.
Santa Rita cheese — the newest creation, made in Trappist-style. This is the youngest and softest cheese, and one of Beau’s favorites. He develops a lot of the flavor from the repeating of the washing. Every wheel has to be washed and flipped every day. It then goes through an “affinage” — or cheese ripening — process before the final product is ready.
Mount Toro Tomme cheese — “Tomme” is a type of cheese that reflects the terroir (or territory) of the product made, and this cheese is named after Mount Toro, which is one of the more prominent summits in the nearby Sierra de Salinas mountain ranges.
Monterey Farmstead Jack Cheese — the only Monterey Jack still produced in Monterey County! Additionally, it’s more robust than the industrial versions of Monterey Jack, and a cheese Beau recommends even for every day snacking.
Even better, you can try out those last two for yourself on our Old Monterey Food Tour.
Have you ever tried any of these cheeses? If so, what was your favorite? If not, which sounds the most delicious? Let us know in the comments!
*All photos courtesy of Schoch Family Farmstead.