Mar 15, 2017 10:58AM
By Fran Miller
Cindy Callahan never intended to start an artisanal cheese empire. It all happened quite by accident. When a friend pointed out that the flock of sheep she maintained on her small Petaluma farm might be good for more than lawn mowing, a cheesemaker was born. In 1992, Cindy toured Italian dairies and creameries to observe milking and cheese making techniques, and shortly after began producing California’s first commercial sheep cheeses. These days, the cheese making is left to son Liam, while Cindy tends the flock – consisting mostly of Dutch East Friesian and French Lacaune breeds.
Bellwether Farms now produces some of the country’s best artisanal cheeses and dairy products. Regularly featured in high-end restaurants and national publications, Bellwether uses traditional techniques to create expertly aged farmstead sheep milk cheeses—San Andreas, Pepato and Ricotta. They also produce fresh and aged cow milk cheeses—Carmody, Fromage Blanc, Crescenza and Ricotta—along with a line of yogurt with milk from a neighboring Jersey dairy farm. A trove of 2016 awards and accolades recognized Liam’s artistry, particularly for the fluffy and delicate texture of his whole milk ricotta.
To make ricotta, Liam starts with a vat of cultured Jersey milk and Pepato whey before adding cultures. (Traditional ricotta is made with only whey and acidified with vinegar or citric acid.) The concoction sits for 25 minutes while fat, puffy curds resembling melted mozzarella begin to form. Once set, he scoops handfuls into perforated molds to solidify. The retail product is sold in this original draining basket. The exceptional flavor and texture is legendary and elicits oohs and aahs from cheese aficionados who won’t use anything but in ricotta-based recipes. “Liam’s ricotta is absolutely the best,” says Barb Welms, a former Cowgirl Creamery employee who knows a little something about cheese herself. “It’s the smoothest, creamiest ricotta on the market. It’s actually a shame to use it in a recipe, when the best way to enjoy it is simply by the spoonful.”
working farm, Bellwether is unable to host the legion of fans who want a first-hand
look at their processes. Admirers instead can find it in the dairy case at Whole
Foods Market, where many of Bellwether’s products are carried.
CHOCOLATE RICOTTA ICEBOX CAKE
Nonstick cooking spray
14 ounces semisweet chocolate (do not use chips)
2 containers (15 ounces each) Bellwether Farms Whole Milk Jersey Ricotta, room temperature
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 package (9 ounces) chocolate wafers (about 44 cookies)
Prepare pan: Remove sides from a 9-inch round springform pan. Place sheet of waxed paper on bottom, leaving an overhang; lock sides onto bottom, firmly securing paper. Spray with cooking spray; line sides with a strip of waxed paper 28 inches long and 4 inches wide.
Make mixture: Break 12 ounces of chocolate into pieces. Place in heatproof medium bowl set over (not in) a pan of simmering water. Cook, stirring occasionally, until chocolate melts, 8-10 minutes. In a food processor, blend ricotta until smooth, scraping down sides of bowl. Add warm chocolate; blend until smooth. In a large bowl, beat cream until stiff peaks form. With a rubber spatula, gently fold cream into chocolate-ricotta mixture.
Assemble cake: Arrange half the cookies in an overlapping pattern to cover bottom of pan. Spoon half the chocolate-ricotta mixture on top of cookies; smooth top. Cover with remaining cookies; top with remaining chocolate-ricotta mixture, and smooth. Cover with plastic wrap; refrigerate at least 6 hours and up to 2 days.
Cut and serve: Release sides of pan and remove waxed paper from sides. Using bottom piece of waxed paper, pull cake onto a platter; with a metal spatula, lift cake and remove waxed paper. Using a vegetable peeler, shave remaining 2 ounces chocolate over top of cake. With a knife dipped in hot water, cut cake into 10 slices (wipe and dip after each slice). Enjoy!