What to Drink with August’s Cheese of the Month: Nicasio Valley Locarno
Written by Sterling Carlton, Beer, Wine & Spirits Specialist
Nestled in the beautiful Nicasio Valley of Marin County lies a sprawling pasture. Green and lush, the valley is full of life and the sweet smell of dairy cattle floats through the air. The pasture is Nicasio Valley Cheese Company’s 1,150 certified organic acres where they raise dairy cattle and chickens. The Lafranchi family have been stewards of this pasture, farming sustainably and raising dairy cattle, since 1919, when Fredolino and Zelma Lafranchi left their home in Maggia, Switzerland. They are one of the very few small scale family dairies to survive the last several decades of upheaval in the dairy industry.
The drive to the creamery is an easy one and quite beautiful along Lucas Valley road. The last bit of the drive takes you through a lush grove of towering trees. It’s a fairly unassuming facility. So unassuming that I drove past it on my first go as the sign on the road declaring “organic cheese tasting” took me a bit by surprise.
The dairy has been producing 100% certified organic milk since 2012 and the cheese, being made from an incredible base product, is of exceptional quality as well as delicious. The seed of cheese making was planted by Fredolino and Zelma’s son, Will Lafranchi, who traveled back to Switzerland to learn about cheese from his ancestors’ homeland. His dream was realized after his death when Nicasio Valley Cheese Company opened their doors in 2010. The family has a distinct appreciation for the cheese of their homeland and they present products of the highest quality.
The Lafranchi family achieves this quality through thoughtful management of their pasture from which their roughly 400 dairy cows derive a large amount of their calories for at least 120 days out of the year, a requirement for certified organic pasture-raised cows. The ranch is also home to over 3,000 chickens that produce equally high quality free range eggs. The Lafranchi’s maintain healthy pastures by rotating their herds through different sites and utilizing a significant onsite composting program. This compost program, in conjunction with the thoughtfully managed grazing regime of the ruminant animals, helps create incredibly healthy soil in the pastures and high biodiversity, leading to healthy cows and delicious cheese. Rick Lafranchi, the second eldest of the six Lafranchi siblings, explains it this way:
“…this region is regarded as having some of the richest pasturelands in the world. Conventional milk production isn’t as viable an option in Marin as organic is because it’s all pasture based. That went hand in hand with us developing an organic cheese company.”
Of their more than half dozen offerings, one of our favorites was brought to market in 2016: Nicasio Valley Cheese Company Locarno Brie, a creamy brie aged for at least 5 weeks. A tangy, firm center is sandwiched between a cream layer just beneath the rind that turns to an oozing heap of delight as it warms or matures. Pair a smear of this beautiful cheese on a Walnut, Honey, and EVOO cracker from The Fine Cheese Co. out of England. The combination of the creamy, lactic sweetness of the dairy intermingling with every crunchy bite transforms the cracker into an almost graham cracker like flavor that compliments the cheese perfectly.
I also have two wines I dutifully tasted along with the Locarno. I opened the 2019 Avni Chardonnay and the 2018 Avni Pinot Noir from Lingua Franca in the Willamette Valley.
Founded in 2012, Larry Stone set out to ensure the vineyard was taken care of using the most sustainable agricultural practices they could manage. The use of low impact, biodynamic, and no till farming was only improved through collaboration with one of the heroes of the regenerative ag movement within the wine industry, Mimi Casteel. Permanent cover crops are kept in the vineyards which encourages all kinds of wildlife such as owls, hawks, foxes and coyotes to naturally mitigate pests. Originally planning to only sell fruit, Stone was encouraged to make his own wines by one Dominique Lafon of Burgundian fame (when Lafon thinks you need to make your own wine because you have an exceptional site, simply put, you listen).
The Chardonnay always starts off a little bit closed on the nose. As it opens up, you’ll find layers of lemon citrus, grapefruit, pear, baking spices, with a slight mineral edge and oak in the background. It’s a lean Chardonnay with racy acid and orchard fruit characteristics that play nicely with the creamy richness of the Locarno cheese.
The Pinot is similarly lean and taught. It is a laser focused wine with aromas of red cherry and blackberry fruit, wet rocks, and forest floor all backed up slightly by an edge of oak and fine grained tannins. Here the fruity aspect plays nicely with the cheese and the acid again functioned to help cleanse the palette and bring me back for another bite.
Nicasio Valley Cheese Company has a host of other delicious cheeses as well as pasture raised eggs and a nice little house you can stay at on the property that is just a short drive away from Point Reyes Station. Be sure to stop by the cheese shop for some eggs and ask their very knowledgeable and cheerful cheesemonger, Melisa, for some of her favorite cheeses.
Find Avni Wines and Nicasio Valley Locarno at your Co-op.
Nicasio Valley Cheese Co. Organic Locarno Brie is 10% off during the month of August.
2019 Lingua Franca Avni Chardonnay $29.99/750 mL
2018 Lingua Franca Avni Pinot Noir $29.99/750 mL
Questions? Feel free to ask our Specialty Department experts! Cheesemonger LaShundra and Beer, Wine & Spirits Specialist Sterling can be found in their departments most days.