Creamery of the Crop

Tomales cheese-maker carries it home in ol’ Virginny

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Happy goats make good cheese.

At the recent American Cheese Society annual convention in Richmond, Virginia, Toluma Farms and Tomales Farmstead Creamery took home a prestigious prize. The Marin County creamery nabbed first place in the all-milk, aged-under-60-days “farmstead cheese” category for their Liwa cheese. Perhaps the creamery’s well treated animals have something to do with the award?

The Tomales Farmstead Creamery is a A Greener World (AGW) animal-welfare-approved (AWA) farm. This means the animals range on pasture and meet the highest American and Canadian animal-welfare standards. Unlike other buzzy-but-nebulous food designations, this one actually means something.

“There are an infinite amount of companies and producers claiming sustainable practices without actually walking the walk,” says Emily Moose, the communications director of A Greener World. The Tomales creamery is talking the talk and walking the walk.

“What we’re hoping to elevate when we celebrate achievements like Toluma Farms’ and their Certified AWA colleagues,” Moose says, “is that their practices are actually verified to an incredibly meaningful standard.”

AGW has recognized and accredited the Tomales Farmstead Creamery, run by Tamara Hicks and David Jablons, for the treatment of their dairy goats and sheep for 10 years. This is significant because the couple bought the property in 2003 and started raising sheep and goats in 2007. It didn’t take long for the farm to be recognized for its leadership in animal treatment and product quality. In addition to focusing on the welfare of their animals and production of quality cheese, Toluma Farms is committed to educating the community on where their food comes from.

According to Moose, who is familiar with the farm, “the herd of goats at Toluma Farms is made up of a variety of breeds including Saanens, Alpines, La Manchas, Oberhaslis, Tobbenbergs and Nubians, and Tamara has said that they can identify every one of their 200 goats by name.”

It seems as if humane animal treatment and environmental sustainability go hand in hand with each other and with the quality of the product.

How the sheep and goats that give the milk for the cheese are raised matters immensely for both the quality of the cheese and the ecological footprint. Noting that emissions aren’t the only impact on the environment that our food has, Moose says, “Well-managed pastures are known to store carbon in the soil, while producing high-quality, nutritious food from sun, grass and water.”

The relatively high price of Tomales Farmstead cheese ($10.99 for ten ounces of Liwa) is inevitable in our current system. It is, according to Moose, set up to externalize costs and internalize profits to the greatest extent. “While our food appears inexpensive, we as a society pay dearly for things like pollution, antibiotic resistance, collapsing ecosystems and diet-related diseases.” Cheeses from the Farmstead show the true cost of raising and caring for animals, stewarding the land and creating the product, she says.

It’s not surprising a farm so committed to its animals would produce award-winning cheese. Moose continues, “It absolutely makes sense that farms raising animals well produce delicious cheese.”

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