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California’s Fiscalini wins international prize for cheddar

Fiscalini

The owners of the company said they have weathered the economic slump by keeping an eye on quality while offering new products.

“We have a good following,” said John Fiscalini, who started the business with his wife, Heather, in 2000. “We have people who are aficionados of our cheese. They continue to buy.”

They are farmstead cheese producers, meaning that the milk comes from the Kiernan Avenue dairy farm that has been in the family since 1914.

The company employs 10 people full-time and adds up to 10 part-timers when volume is high. It turns out about 400,000 pounds of cheese a year, tiny compared with the big producers of low-priced cheese in the Northern San Joaquin Valley.

The Super Gold award was for a bandage- wrapped cheddar, named for the cloth that encloses it during the 18 months of aging.

Fiscalini_2

A key step is the “cheddaring,” in which blocks of curds are piled on each other to drive out some of the moisture, said Mariano Gonzalez, master cheesemaker at Fiscalini.

“It develops the texture and the acidity in the cheese so it later can develop flavor,” he said.

Fiscalini cheese is pricey — much of it more than $20 per pound — but fans swear by it.

Restaurateur Eric Davis uses the products at the Diamondback Grill in Sonora and the Standard Pour, a brew pub about five miles to the east. He has laid them on cheeseburgers, stirred them into macaroni and cheese, and added them to pork loin sandwiches.

“Their products are extraordinary,” Davis said, “and I think we’re really fortunate to have that kind of quality production right in our back yard.”

Fiscalini mainly makes cheddar, some of it studded with peppers, garlic and other flavors. It has branched into other types, such as a smoked mozzarella called Scamorza. A Parmesan is in the works.

The cheeses are sold online and at grocery chains and specialty retailers around the nation.

The company got a permit in 2007 to expand production nearly 10-fold and build a visitors center. The project is on hold because of rising costs.

Fiscalini has a system that captures methane from the cow manure and turns it into electricity. It was one of the first California dairy farms to install such a system, which cuts down on fossil fuel use while improving waste management.

The company also has been recognized for efforts on cow comfort, sustainable farming and food safety. The animals get feed rations designed to produce the best milk for cheesemaking.

Heather Fiscalini also cited the human touch provided by Gonzalez.

“We have an extraordinary cheesemaker who really knows his craft and is passionate about making cheddar in America,” she said.

 

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