Meet the Cheesemaker: Rick Lafranchi of LaFranchi Ranch
For the past nine years, this ranch in Nicasio Valley has been producing award-winning European-style cheese.
The LaFranchi Ranch in Nicasio Valley is a 100% organic ranch based on sustainable agriculture since 1919. Their award-winning European-style cheeses has milk produced from their dairy cows that derive a large part of their diet from their grass growing pastures in West Marin.
MM: What is the origin of and philosophy behind Nicasio Valley Cheese Co.?
RL: Our family dairy was founded in 1919 by our grandfather, Fred Lafranchi. In 1920 he married our grandmother, Zelma Dolcini. Her family had been successful dairymen in Marin since the 1850’s. My grandfather emigrated from the village of Maggia, Switzerland, in 1910.
In 1973, our family made our first trip to our ancestral home village of Maggia. It was our father’s first trip since he was a small boy. There, we experienced cheeses unlike anything we had ever tasted at home. I can vividly remember our father saying, “Wouldn’t it be great to one day make these cheeses on our Nicasio ranch.”
Thirty years later, when we were thinking of what to do to ensure the long-term success of our dairy, we recalled his statement and decided to carefully study this opportunity. In 2007 we spent a good part of the summer making cheese with Maurizio Lorenzetti, a Swiss cheesemaker, in Maggia. At the end of this visit we knew two things: We wanted to make the cheeses of the Valle Maggia, and we wanted Maurizio to mentor us in the making of these cheeses of our Grandfather’s home village. In early 2010, Maurizio arrived and we started making cheese a few days later.
We are now nine years in the business, and we make nine cheeses – all based on recipes from Maurizio and reflecting the character and flavor of those made in the Valle Maggia, Switzerland, combined with our pure cow’s milk.
MM: How does your location in West Marin influence your cheese?
RL: Marin County was home to the first commercial dairies in California and was the leading dairy county in California for many years. The growth of dairying in Marin was not an accident. West Marin in particular is home to some of the richest grazing lands found anywhere because of our unique ecosystem. Along with our unique terroir, Marin was a relatively short trip to a booming San Francisco by boat.
MM: Do you have any specialties? What are your top sellers?
RL: We make nine different cheeses. All are special in their own way. Foggy Morning is our Fromage Blanc-style cheese and our most honored, capturing six national awards. Our Locarno is a Brie-style cheese that ripens from the inside of the rind through a chalky middle that gives it a really delicious unique flavor. Other popular cheeses are San Geronimo, a Raclette-style, Nicasio Square, a Taleggio-style, Nicasio Reserve, an aged Alpine-style, and Tomino, a lightly washed soft ripening cheese.
MM: Is there any particular cheese that’s a go-to for local chefs?
RL: Foggy Morning, Nicasio Square, San Geronimo, and Nicasio Reserve are all popular with them.
MM: How is your cheese best stored (after opening) and for how long?
RL: I suggest after opening to store the cheese in either cheese paper, wax paper, or a zip-lock bag, and place it in the refrigerator. It should hold for at least ten days or longer by doing this. If any mold develops on the paste, just scrape or cut it off. Cheese is a living thing and is always developing.
MM: Besides eating it straight up, do you have any favorite methods for incorporating your cheese into recipes?
RL: Foggy Morning is a great addition to most any food, beer, or wine, anytime of day or night. Mercato Restaurant in Santa Rosa has just rolled out a new Mac and Cheese featuring our brie-style Formagella, along with Nicasio Reserve. It’s really good. Our San Geronimo is a great melting cheese that can be used as a Raclette-style cheese.